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Science Wednesday: Life after College

2012 April 4

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Rachel Belkin

As a college senior graduating this May, the number of times I have been asked ‘what are you doing after college’ has multiplied as each sweet week of the safety-net of college goes by. Questioned by everyone from my mother to the front desk person at my apartment, I began to doubt the general idea of life after college and developed a fear of getting stuck at one job forever.

After another sleepless night a few weeks ago, I went to my internship in EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD). That day was the Assistant Administrator Paul Anastas’s farewell. Dr. Anastas, a.k.a. the “Father of Green Chemistry,” was returning to his family and to his post as the head of Yale University’s Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering.

My fellow intern and I got assigned to the lobby to escort guests. We got to talking about life after college (what else!) and I told her about my crisis. She pointed to Paul Anastas’s vibrant career, which began as a staff chemist at EPA, then brought him to the American Chemical Society, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Yale, and then back to EPA as an Assistant Administrator.

During his farewell speech, Dr. Anastas gave excellent advice for the future of the EPA, such as the status quo being our enemy and not to steal from our children through environmental degradation. I couldn’t help but think about his career. I don’t know if Dr. Anastas had his own early life crisis, but he certainly didn’t get stuck. He’s had an amazing career doing things all across the spectrum.

Although I doubt I will become an EPA Assistant Administrator—and I definitely will not become a chemist—I took Dr. Anastas’s career as an outline for my own future. I know that whatever I end up doing this May does not have to be for the rest of my life.

With that in mind, I decided to revisit an idea I’ve been struggling with—joining the Peace Corps. Like Dr. Anastas’s two years at the helm of ORD, my potential two years and three months as a Peace Corps volunteer is really just a blimp on the radar of my evolving career path.

I finished my Peace Corps application two weeks after Dr. Anastas’s speech, and have been sleeping fine since.

About the author: EPA science Communication intern Rachel Belkin is a senior at the University of Maryland, and looking forward to what’s next.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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2 Responses leave one →
  1. Donny Lester permalink
    April 4, 2012

    Excellent choice Rachel. At 42 I decided to make a career change. We get comfortable and stagnant in our jobs and our lives. I have worked the same job for 17 years in banking. I wanted to try to make a difference for future generations and am now studying Environmental Science. I will graduate in May 2013 and the question gets old fast…”What will you do after graduation?” It doesn’t matter your age. Everyone asks. I say that I am not sure where I will wind up, but one thing is for sure it will not be in banking. Best of luck on the next chapter in your life.

  2. Sarah Blau permalink
    April 5, 2012

    Hi Rachel! In addition to Peace Corps (which I think is a great idea), you could also look into AmeriCorps. I did two years with two very different AmeriCorps programs and wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. You can volunteer nearly anywhere in the country doing almost anything you have an interest in. It’s a great way to travel, learn skills, and meet very cool people.

    Unfortunately, when I mention AmeriCorps to people, a lot of times I get a confused look and the question, “is that like Peace Corps?” Seems to me the AmeriCorps program is underutilized and overlooked, mostly just because people are unaware of what it is. So check it out at:

    And good luck with graduation!

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