When deciding what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, I struggled to find something that would be able to marry the two most important things for me in a career: my curiosity about the human mind and my undying spirit of creativity. Needless to say, I never imagined that I would be working in a STEM field. From a young age, I always pictured myself barefoot in a field of some rural countryside writing novels or moving to a big city to pursue a career in the arts. However, that wasn’t necessarily where the universe was taking me.
To give you a bit of history, I grew up in a mid-sized western Kentucky town. I was always a curious child and an avid reader and writer; my creative soul stuck out like a sore thumb until I learned how to use it to my advantage. Also, growing up as a transracial adoptee provided me with a more introspective aura than most of my peers. I questioned anything and everything more than the average kid, which I now know is a very natural thing for a child in my situation to do. High school theatre opened the doors to freedom for me; I could get on stage and transform into a completely different person within a matter of minutes. Choir was also my haven. Here, I gained the courage to sing in front of strangers.
Bridging the gap between science and creativity
However, as my childhood waned and adulthood slowly approached, I knew I craved something more than my beloved, rural-minded town could give me. I then began searching for colleges my senior year of high school. I settled on Georgetown College, a small private school in Georgetown, KY and three hours away from my hometown. Throughout my freshman year in college, I joined various volunteer and social organizations, still trying to figure out what I wanted to do. Slowly, my perspective of barefoot, carefree writer evolved into a scientist. I yearned to contribute to the world that I thought writing could not help me achieve. After taking a few psychology courses, I finally found it: neuropsychology; a way to explore the human mind (my creative side) and find tangibility with it (science).
After graduation, I was offered a job at the Alzheimer’s disease research center I had interned with for the past two semesters. As part of a longitudinal research study, I administer cognitive testing (among other assessments) to older adults with varying levels of cognition. In other words, I see those who function as we all hope to when we get older, who hold onto their memories until the day they die; I also see those who have their memories stolen from them, their basic human abilities swept right out from under their feet. I also work on several different research projects including focusing on topics such as of cerebrospinal fluid levels and their effects on cognition, MRI data, neuropsychological assessments, and more. However, my main research focus is aging in minority adults, specifically how types of trauma (intergenerational, developmental, childhood, etc.) affects cognition and the overall psychological well-being of a person.
While I have the job of administering tests that place some in the most vulnerable of spaces, I also take the hour-or-so I spend with these older adults to learn about their history. I hear about their careers, their families, and sometimes their deepest darkest secrets – you’d be surprised to learn what people feel compelled to disclose while testing. A visit can unintentionally become very emotional, meaning that I must go into work each day prepared to be a listening ear. Although this role is found nowhere in my job description, I have found that people leave the clinic feeling much less defeated and frustrated with themselves if they trust the person they interact with, whether that be myself, a clinician, or any other staff member. Each time this happens, my faith in humanity is restored. While my role sometimes seems small, I’m learning that the effects of the assessments I give have a much larger impact than I realize that reach outside the realms of doctor’s office.
When career and passion come together
In conclusion, it is evident to me that I have found my niche, my haven. I am fortunate to work in a very diverse (academically, religiously, and ethnically) office – something that most early twenty-somethings in central Kentucky don’t get to experience. I am fortunate to have a job I am passionate about. I am excited each morning when I drive to work, rather than dreading another 8-5 day at the office. I am grateful that I have a passion and an environment that allows me to explore my ideas, no matter what they are. I am humbled by those I have met and am inspired by their lives.
To those who are questioning how to bridge this gap between science and creativity, know that it is entirely possible. To those women in STEM and in my field, I thank you. I strive to fill your shoes; I strive to show other young women the importance of following your passions, to bridge the gap between what society has deemed “a dream” – and merely such, a frivolous dream – and a career in STEM. It is possible to do both and so, so very worth it to try.
Written by: Morgan Bailee Boggess