When life doesn’t go according to plan


Annabel Ellis is in her third year of a Bachelor of Science (Advanced) majoring in Biology and completed a Summer Research Scholarship at the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment during the Summer 2015/2016 holidays.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve dreamed of being a scientist. Being the curious person that I am, I love the question-inducing and problem-solving nature of science. I distinctly remember the moment my parents explained to me what a zoologist was. For a seven year old, studying animals sounded like a pretty cool job, so it was added to the list: doctor, veterinarian, teacher and zoologist. By ten, my heart was set on being a biologist.

‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’; the question asked of all school children, inspiring imagination and dreams. As we get older, it morphs into something different; something less inspiring and more stress-inducing.

‘What’s your five/ten year plan?’; the question asked of all interviewees. But what if life doesn’t follow your plan?My five year plan looked something like this:

  • Finish high school: check.
  • Get into my first preference university course: check.
  • Do volunteer fieldwork in my first year holidays: check.
  • Receive a summer research scholarship in my second year holidays: …

When I received my first rejection letter, I didn’t know what to think. I’ve always been so certain of where I wanted my career to go, that when faced with a closed door, I questioned my entire life’s plan. Those more experienced than me chuckled at my naïveté, there were plenty more rejections to come.

After three rejected applications, my persistence (or stubbornness) finally payed off and I was lucky enough to receive a summer research scholarship in microbiology. A mixture of excitement and fear followed me into my first few days, learning so much new information and skills. As I became more familiar with the experimental techniques and laboratory, work settled into a routine.

My project was in microbiology, so most of the time I was in the laboratory culturing bacteria from koalas. Unfortunately, bacteria aren’t quite as cute and interactive as one of Australia’s most iconic species. Some days I longed to be outside in the beautiful Australian bush, away from the tedium of bacteria. However, when I listened to my supervisor explain the applications they hope their research will achieve, I was struck by how important those tedious moments in the laboratory were. When you’re stuck in life’s intricacies, it can be hard to see the big picture.

I had the privilege to go to a koala hospital and see the amazing work the staff and volunteers do in rehabilitating sick and injured koalas. Looking into the faces of these beautiful animals, I knew that, regardless of whether life follows my plan, I am living my childhood dream.


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