Last Friday was my last day in Candice Hirsch’s maize genomics lab at UMN, and with it ends my “gap year” between undergraduate and grad school. In this post, I want to talk about how I spent the past 12 months and what I got out of them.
For some context, I graduated college with a degree in Ecology, Evolution & Behavior and Plant Biology. At the time of graduation, I had a vague idea that I’d like to pursue a career in tropical ecology, but felt completely unprepared to make such a decision. I thought I’d like to be an active researcher pursuing the answers to interesting but esoteric questions; I thought I’d enjoy being in the field, travelling to remote locations to collect plant samples; I thought I’d like to be a plant systematist, learning the names and characteristics of the world’s flora; I thought I’d like to be an ecologist, developing new methods and applying them to tropical forest systems; I thought I’d like to be an academic, constantly applying for grants and writing papers resulting from those grants, …. the list goes on. Point is, there were a lot of aspects of my proposed field that I’d never tried before, and I felt uncomfortable comitting to it.
The gap year was basically a chance for me to work on a few of those things I thought I’d like but had no experience with. So here’s what I did:
May: Travelled to Area de Conservación Guanacaste with Jennifer Powers for a 2-week-ish long field course
June – August: Interned the NHRE REU at NMNH. This was my first experience doing research 40 hours a week, which was definitely a new feeling!
August – September: Travelled to India, hung out with grandmas and cousins :).
September – October: Started writing graduate school application essays
October – December: Attended the AFEC field course at XTBG
December – May: Worked at a maize genomics lab at UMN.
Each of these addressed specific gaps in my knowledge/experiences. Being at ACG with Jennifer gave me my very first field experience, and while there, Jennifer gave me a lot of encouragement to stay in the field. Jennifer also encouraged me to attend the AFEC, which was another fantastic experience. My time at NMNH was brilliant — it was the first time that I did research for 40 hours a week, and really enjoyed it quite a bit (and I liked the area enough to return to it for graduate school!) Finally, by working in a genomics lab, I’ve developed a lot of critical computer scripts, which will help me in more ways than I know now.
So, here’s what I think gap years have to offer:
I spent a lot of time thinking of what I wish would have been different, but couldn’t come up with much:
If you took a break year (and especially if you did not), I’d love to hear about your experiences!