Friday, August 19, 2011

Life After Bio: Returning to My Roots

I got the invitation to be part of the guest speakers at the Bio Alumni Forum to be held at the UP Manila College of Arts and Sciences, the second time in my life. I forgot that it was Bioweek already for them and usually around this time, bio majors from my alma matter usually are very busy not just through acads but the bioweek activities.

I guess you guys all know that once upon a time in my younger life, I ticked undergrad courses that were pre-med courses. Had I followed that route, this blog wouldn't exist and I would have spent a good chunk of my waking hours in ERs and lived the life of the people you see in Grey's Anatomy instead of Project Runway. The story was that, I was an honor student in high school and I think at that time, we all had the notion that all smart kids should be doctors or lawyers. I chose being a doctor because I excelled in Biology in high school and it was a very agreeable career choice if asked. "When I grow up, I want to be a doctor!" sounds so appealing, right?

I do not hold a medical degree, obviously. I did however, finish the four-year program and graduated on time, with good marks. Three years after I graduated came the start of my life involving makeup and the rest is history. My career choice is quite far from the usual biologist courses, which I think they got me to speak again for the Bio Alumni Forum. I was just too happy because although college life was quite a rough road for me, I really missed seeing the teachers, the staff, and most especially seeing how the school turned out.

I was really excited for this day so I decided to get to UP earlier than our call time to see how everyone was. Everyone looked really great, like they haven't aged a day. Some of the people I knew as students during my stay there were now teachers. When I was asked, "So what have you been doing?" I would smile and say, "A lot!" because really, they were a lot.

By 9 am we transferred to the event venue, the Little Theater, which has been the venue not just for many variety shows and college activities but it has been the venue of many of my departmental exams and finals, where I have shed tears and sweat to. But this time, the LT would be a venue for me, along with 3 other speakers to share our experiences and hopefully, inspire bio majors.

A familiar face gave the opening remarks, Prof. Samuel Go, who was my thesis adviser back in 2004. Prof. Go taught me really tough subjects, and what's really cool about him is how he remembers his students, even those who graduated way before. Most importantly, when he knew I didn't want to be a doctor anymore and I was in that gray area of my life, he saw that I'm meant for something bigger. I took jobs after I graduated, and I remember that he didn't like my first-ever job. Not that it was horrible or anything. It's just that, it just wasn't me, like a "fish in the Sahara Desert".

The speakers were finally introduced. Two of them were doctors, one's a professor and we have me! So we have 3 speakers whose jobs were so much related to their courses and one speaker that had a job unrelated to BS Biology. The first question was how we got there, I let the others go first as mine would be a litany of stories, since it involves a lot of aspects. For those who don't know, here's a summary: I found out that I didn't want to go to med school anymore come third year not because I'm lazy or anything but because I didn't like it. At that time, it was too late for me to shift out. Sure, my brain can handle it but my body could no longer handle the stress. I was getting sick and I was remembered then as very skinny and very pale (skinny like super unhealthy skinny). If the body rejects it, I told myself stop. I didn't know what I wanted to do then, but I needed to work. I finished the course though, and did so quite okay, not marching with a medal, but my grades were quite good. So I went to the only industry that had relatively good pay that wasn't choosy with the degrees of their employees - the BPO industry. It was fine and all, but not really something I'm passionate about, and when the time came that I was dragging my feet to work, it was time to evaluate and know what I really wanted.

What I really wanted was pretty obvious - not becoming a CEO or suiting up in blazers. I wanted pretty things - shoes, clothes, makeup. I like browsing the internet for makeup tutorials and reading beauty blogs. When I had a personal blog then, I found myself injecting beauty entries once in a while. Makeup school was the next step, and I think by that time, most of you guys knew what went next, as my blogging records my journey and experiences. I love makeup and beauty, and it just perfectly happens to be my career choice. And another funny thing was that it loved me back. When I slack up, work somehow finds me, it's like the forces of the earth slapping my bum and saying "No honey, you are so not getting out of your job and we'll make sure!"

The moderators also went beyond the usual Q&A. They gave us a tiny whiteboard and marker each and asked questions which we were supposed to write our answers and then explain. Some of the questions include our least favorite subject in the program, what comes to our minds when we hear Department of Biology, and what animal would we like to be when reincarnated.

Prof. Anna Santiago was two batches higher than me and now currently a professor gave an epic answer I won't forget, how bio students are well-rounded students. They go beyond books and slides. Every year, Bioweek concludes with a variety show and it's amusing how the students reveal talents and confidence that no one else knew. We recalled several very quiet batchmates who surprised a number of people by being the star of their show dancing and singing with so much energy. So we're all not science geeks, you know! Anna's a superwoman. She's a UP Professor-slash-mom-slash-wife, and she sings well.

We were also asked to pick out interesting career options from a group of cards and share with the audience how they can be careers of a bio major.

Here's Dr. Joy Guerrero. She's a doctor and researcher by profession yet on that day, she reveals to us that she's a hobbyist photographer. Dr. Guerrero explained that a bio major with a knack for taking photos can be a wildlife photographer, just like the dudes we see over at National Geographic.

Dr. Judith Clemente is an OB-Gyne at PGH. She illustrates how biologists can apply what they've learned in Clinical Research. I was talking to her before the event and we both agreed that you must love what you do. Not discouraging medical careers, the scenes you see in medical dramas are far from what happens in med school. Being a doctor is a vocation. The glamorous life is a misconception. Yet despite this, if you really want with all your heart and might to be a doctor, then the trials will be nothing.

Anna points out the very interesting world of Forensics. Forensics is becoming really popular thanks to again, popular TV series and police dramas.

Little ol' me had quite a hard time choosing. I saw the Illustrator card and got it and grabbed the marine biologist card as well. I think marine biology isn't a new career option for bio majors. A few undergrad thesis have had marine bio as the topic of choice and once they invited a marine biologist to give a talk. Plus, we have the most beautiful beaches and a very diverse marine ecosystem. Plus, with diving becoming a very popular hobby nowadays (it's like 2 out of 3 people I know dive) might as well earn from it, if it's your hobby for those bio majors who took up Field Bio, Ecology, and Invertebrate Zoo, this would be a synch.

The Illustrator actually came from a joke during a lab class I had before. We were drawing specimens of rabbits, butterflies, shells, and so on. A classmate of mine joked that BS Bio was also minor in Fine Arts with all the drawing we did. An Illustrator is a far cry from BS Bio, yet it uses the skills we develop from our lab classes - eye for detail and structure. If a bio major is a comic geek, they can start graphic novels, work on animation, or if arts is really their thing, be a full visual artist.

After the event, we were asked to give advice and words of wisdom to the students. After recognition, the event ended, but my activity didn't stop there. I paused to talk and bond with people I haven't seen in a long time. It was great talking to my former teachers and colleagues and how we recalled our days in BS Bio when I was still the skinny pale student. It was funny though, because I still recalled pala some Bio stuff, like the D-shaped eggs of the pinworm, how E. coli was a lipase-negative organism that we had to extract lipid from avocado using non-chemical means, and capilliary action which causes us to have drenched jeans during floody days. I may be an artist now, but I guess being a bio major will always remain.

I had pictures taken with the faculty! That's Prof. Jasper Obico, who was a batch higher than me in UP. Prof. Miriam de Vera was our professor in Animal Physiology, and of course, Prof. Go.

I surprised Ate Tess and Kuya Edgar. I pretended to be a student first who'll be borrowing a microscope. These guys have been custodians of our microscopes and slides ever since. They're the most adorable people and never aged a day. I think these are the guys who knew my life so well since I get to talk to them while waiting for data and all.

Omigod I just had to post this: I work with Olympus cameras right? Omigod, ang Olympus na yan, noon ko pa kinakalikot!

Before I left, I spotted familiar friends - fat and happy kitties taking an afternoon nap!!! We've had fat kitties lurking around the school grounds ever since!
For gifts, they gave us certificates of appreciation (this is currently displayed in our living room, by the way) and a spill-proof mug to encourage earth friendliness.

One thing I'd like to add is the definition of success. We were described as alumni with success stories. For me, success isn't measured by how many medals were pinned to you during graduation or the titles you have accrued throughout your academic life, (M.D. Ph.D., MPH, etc). Success is doing what you truly love and rocking it. Do what you love, whatever it may be.

I'm not a rich girl. I live in a little house and have yet to own my first designer bag or a car even. I didn't graduate with honors. I had my share of 3.0s, 2.75's, and 2.5's and was thisclose to taking a removal exam. However, I wake up in the morning looking forward to go to work, whether it be a wedding, a personal client, a billboard shoot, or a fun shoot. The MRT ride to Shaw Boulevard is no chore because I know I'm on my way to pole dance class. This blog has recorded more happiness than woe, as you can see whatever experience I have, whether it be doing makeup for a stage play, being a model of a world-renowned photographer, I face with optimism. I do what I do because I love to, and it's a bonus that the world loves me back.

Grades can only do so much. The title magna cum laude can beef up a resume and it does sound nice on introductions. However, what really matters is knowledge learned beyond books and lecture notes. It's application of the skills that we have learned in school - resourcefulness, people skills, thinking out-of-the-box, and endless perseverance that counts. Most of the successful and people I know aren't honor graduates but they're the happiest people I have ever seen with their hearts burning with passion whatever they may be.

It's also true that when people say that "When God closes a door, he opens a window." For example, you didn't get in UP College of Medicine, it's not the end of the world. If you found yourself not being able to go on to med school for whatever reason be it financial, logistics, health, or what-not, it's okay. You are not the worst person in mankind. Maybe you're meant for something else that's better for you. Everything has a purpose and all will happen in due time. Ask help from Higher Power if you must. When I discovered that I didn't want to go to med school, it was a very, very rough road. Not only did I not know what I wanted to do, I didn't know how to get there. I don't credit all happy stories I have solely to my own skills. Remember when I said how my art loves me back and how the forces of the earth somehow throw me some luck when I'm slacking off? There's a Big Guy up there who loves me and constantly fuels my passion and brings it back. He probably gave me a very rough road to take for me to love this life I have.

I went back to UP to give young biologists inspiration. I unexpectedly left UP Manila being inspired myself. I appreciated what I have more. As of this moment, I'm chatting with one of our former lab attendants, and he told me, "Lahat ng desisyon mo wag mo pagsisihan, may nakalaan sayo na mas magandang opportunities."

I am Bambi - biologist, makeup artist, pole dancer, artist, pianist, blogger, and life learner. I do many things and I love each and every thing that I do and I do my best to rock at it. I am a success story.

(photos taken from my own camera. photos from the event taken by Julius Pronto)


Kat said...

I was hanging out with a friend from college yesterday and we both noticed that we're working in jobs that didn't make use of our degrees at all. It's funny how life can take you to places you never thought you'll be. I always imagined myself as a lawyer, but now I can't see myself there. :)

I have to agree that Bio makes you a well rounded person. One of my roommates in college was Bio and her eye for detail when it comes to drawings was better than mine. And half of my archery teammates were Bio students too. :D

Jian Marla said...

Woah! You inspired me MS.Bambi! :)

Jian Marla said...

woah! You inspired me Ms.Bambi! I really take time to read this post. :)

J said...

Thanks for posting this. I am inspired by your definition of success -- it's what you truly love and rocking it!

And it was great meeting you finally yesterday! :)