After a few years of field work, one typically gets tired of it—working for other people, never having much say in how things should work, etc. Some people are content just being told what to do, and enjoying the great outdoors and wildlife. You get to travel all over, meet so many wonderful people, and work with all kinds of wildlife. But I eventually got restless and decided graduate school might be the answer. After all, its hard to get out of field work without a masters, and I didn’t want to continue job hopping—I was getting tired of moving from state to state and across the country and back. The only thing that seemed to be stopping me was the GRE.
Sometimes even high grades and tons of experience don’t matter if a professor is trying to find graduate students. I had written to about 12 before I hit my breaking point. I took the GRE twice, and was not close to what some professors wanted. Personally I think the GRE is a horrible predictor of graduate school performance, just as the SAT is for undergrad. But, maybe that’s because I hate standardized tests. Anyway, I felt stuck between a rock and a hard place—I was still job hopping, couldn’t get into grad school, didn’t see any “real” job opportunities, and I was also trying to publish papers from undergrad. Those papers are still not published. I felt like a failure and my only option was a third year of WIFL work as a crew leader. I could have done something different—but why not stick with something you love with the people you care about?
I was finishing up a season on Santa Cruz Island with orange-crowned warblers and I finally broke down and wrote to Heathers advisor. He acted as if he didn’t have any openings on the WIFL project, but at that point I didn’t care, he said he didn’t care about the GRE. I was preparing myself for sweltering Texas summer research.
It seemed very surreal when I was actually offered the graduate position on the WIFL project a couple months later. I had been waiting for it for so long, and I wanted it so badly. I had thought about it for about a year. I took some time to think about it before I accepted, but I really couldn’t think of any reason why I shouldn’t. A chance to work with a productive advisor, as well as my best friend and mentor. A long-term data set with possible publication opportunities (my weak spot). So I accepted a few days later, and was really excited to finally get a degree for doing something I loved.
Of course, if someone had told me then that I’d lose my best friend by accepting it, I would have turned it down in a heartbeat.
Its not exactly working out the way I had planned. I’m still trying to tell myself that everything happens for a reason, I just don’t know where this one is going. Now I'm just in a hurry to get out and away more than anything else. And to answer my own question: why not stick with something you love with the people you care about? Because nothing lasts forever, and the longer you have it, the harder it is to let it go. I'm not sure why I can't seem to learn this lesson.