What I want to be when I grow up by Laura N. '09
Did I go with the baseball announcer idea? Or the Daily Show script writer? Read on to find out.
When I was in preschool, we had to make a crayon drawing of what we wanted to be when we grew up. My classmates drew astronauts and firemen. I drew a mail carrier.
I only know this because the crayon drawing still exists, in some scrapbook in the back of the kitchen closet. I don’t remember why I wanted to be a mailman, but I guess it just seemed like a fun job at the time.
During primary school, I remember wanting to be a librarian. I just thought all the electronic scanners and stuff they used all the time were really cool. I also wanted to be a novelist. One year the PTA sponsored an “Author Day” at my school. They invited a children’s book author to speak, and donated a copy of one of his books to all of the students. We each got it signed. I still have mine. It’s called “They Came From Center Field,” and it’s about this group of friends who teach a bunch of aliens how to play baseball. It’s like 50 pages long and awesome. Apparently a local newspaper covered the event as a feature story. Somewhere in that scrapbook in the kitchen closet there’s a newspaper clipping with the line: “It was really cool, because I want to be a writer when I grow up,” said Laura Nicholson, a third grader at Ocean Avenue Elementary.
Later life goals have less charm. In fifth grade I wanted to be President of the US. In middle school I wanted to be popular. Freshman year of high school I wanted to be anything on Earth but dear God not an engineer. Junior year of high school I secretly wanted to be an engineer. Senior year of high school I came out as a wannabe engineer and applied to MIT. Freshman year of college I wanted to never have to pick a major. Sophomore year of college I “wanted” to work in robotics, because they make you pick something eventually. Junior year of college I wanted to be a baseball announcer, a wedding planner, a movie producer, or one of Santa’s elves.
If I told you that now, right now, I finally actually figured it out, would you believe me?
Speaking Spanish started the whole thing. I’m going to let you in on one of the not-so-pretty secrets about MIT: it makes you feel really, really dumb. Some logical portion of my brain knows that I must be pretty smart, after all, I was accepted here and everything, and that’s not exactly easy. But after just a couple of years of never breaking 65% on an exam, you start to feel pretty stupid. In fact, it got to the point last year where I wasn’t sure what I’d learned since coming here. The professors obviously taught me something, but I wasn’t convinced that I had learned any of it.
In high school, I was good at Spanish. I mean really good. I was the teacher’s pet in every Spanish class I ever took. If I stumble across a Spanish word I’ve never heard before, there’s a decent chance I can figure out what it means- either by context, word roots, or just a gut feeling. Don’t ask me how you can have a gut feeling about what a word you’ve never heard before in your non-native language means, I just do. Languages just make sense to me.
I studied Spanish for about 7 years in high school, but after my first semester at MIT I didn’t touch the language. I was a little rusty starting out, but despite that, literally almost every person I met in Madrid exclaimed over how good I was at Spanish.
And I started back at them blankly. “Wait…you mean…there are things I’m good at?” After 3 years of MIT, I know there are lots of things I’m not good at. Like differential equations. They’re super useful, and controls engineering fascinates me, and I wish to God I understood it better, but it’s just HARD. It doesn’t “just come to me” the way that language does. And to be perfectly honest, I was getting more than a little jaded. My concentration in robotics was almost entirely influenced by the fact that I had fun on my high school FIRST team. Which is great and all, but doesn’t necessarily indicate lifelong interest. Okay, so I get this major in robotics, and then what? I work for iRobot and build a better Roomba? Am I really going to dedicate my life to designing robotic vacuums so that rich people can show off flashy toys to their friends? Uck, talk about dissatisfying.
So while in Spain, I suddenly realized, “Hey, here’s this thing that I’m actually good at, which I’ve forsaken for years in order to bang my head against various engineering textbooks. Clearly this means I was always a humanities person at heart, that I’ve been wrong this whole time, and I could never spend the rest of my life as an engineer.”
So I sat down at the desk in my room and started to list math-less fields which interested me. Within 30 seconds I had written the following:
I re-read the list and immediately freaked out. “I could never spend the rest of my life doing these things, there’s no engineering on this list!!!”
Wait, did I just say that?
Okay, this is getting ridiculous. I apparently hate engineering so much I can’t live without it. Or something. But I mean, it does seem like a shame to get an engineering degree from MIT and then…you know, not use it. Clearly I needed to consider some interdisciplinary career paths. Which makes a lot of sense. I’ve always had one foot in each world. Surely the world needs people like me for something.
So, I went to my fall-back: the web method. My brain works best when it can see the interconnections between my own thoughts. Whenever I have a problem to work out, I write down all of the components of it and look for the connections between them, and portray it in a neatly organized web. Actually, it’s a perfect example of the double life my brain leads: a weird cross between creative and analytical thinking.
I took out a sheet of paper and wrote on it all of the different topics I could think of that I found interesting. I rearranged them, clustering related topics together, drawing arrows between logical paths and lines between indirectly related groups. My plan was to find the dream career which would magically involved all of the diverse things I was interested in.
Well, that would have been a bit of a stretch. But after a few minutes of writing, erasing, and rewriting, I had a pretty coherent web of interconnection between all of these seemingly disparate topics. I drew a dotted line circle around the core of the web and next to it neatly printed the words “international development.”
Did I just…choose my career path? Just like that? Thirty minutes before this I was still contemplating the pros and cons of announcing baseball games, and then I just started writing and doing my diagramming method without really giving much thought to what I was heading towards and then just- BAM. There it was.
And it makes so much sense! I remember one time a few years ago someone asked me if I wanted to be a doctor. When I said no, they started talking about malpractice insurance. I said, “oh whatever, the only reason I would become a doctor would be to open a health clinic in sub-Saharan Africa or something like that.” Meanwhile, I was going along studying engineering and wondering how I could make a fulfilling career out of it.
It’s sort of like a retrospective facepalm moment. Duh! It was all right there, in front of my face, and I just couldn’t put 2 and 2 together.
But after a little traveling, some international experiences, a little returning to some non-science loves, and finally realizing that it is possible to combine science and humanities…everything came together.
Of course, I’m a little late in figuring this out. There’s even a 2A concentration actually titled “international development.” Too bad I didn’t have this revelation 2 years ago, huh?
Ok, you know what, forget it. Sure, it’s my senior year. Sure, this idea might be sort of insane. But I’ll just change my 2A concentration. That’s really only like half of my major. I have 8 classes left. It’s totally doable.
…and if it’s not, you might just get an extra year of blog entries out of me…