Good Advice–Part One

I am a member.
I am a member.

My college and career preparation process was one of trial and error. Heavy on the errors. I was one of four children within my generation who went to college – the first four from either side of our family tree. The high school my brother and I graduated from was geared toward moving kids into college. That was why my parents moved into that particular town. As I mentioned before, I didn’t feel like I fit in with that school system and I took advantage of the fact that there were so many of us that it was easy to fall through the cracks.

Late in the game, my father and I had one of “those” conversations, and I decided that I should attend college. I made a half-hearted effort at playing catch-up on the process most of my friends had started a year before. My grades were OK. Fortunately, my SAT scores rocked. My guidance counselor was shocked. He gave me a list of schools that he thought I could get into and cut me loose. The list included The University of Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Case Western Reserve, West Virginia University and The University of Georgia.

In September 1972, I arrived on campus at The University of Georgia in Athens, GA (UGA), ready to begin the pursuit of a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry. I had done well in chemistry in high school. I was good at math. I was actually better at math than my grades in high school would have indicated, but that’s a different story. I had spent years watching Hawaii Five-O, and I wanted to be the guy in the crime lab. I wanted to solve big important crimes. I wanted to put the bad guys away by identifying microscopic amounts of stuff that would tie them to the crime scene. I wanted to be Che Fong.

UGA had an interesting policy regarding advisors. If you were just bumbling around looking for something to major in, you got an advisor from a pool of professors who might be able to help. If you had declared a major, you got an advisor from that department. I met with my advisor a couple days before classes were to begin.

So, chemistry? I suppose you’re trying to get into med-school.”

No, I want to be a chemist.

What kind of chemist?

I want to work in a crime lab.”

Why on Earth did you come here?

Dumb look on face.

I could tell that reasons like “it was far from home,” “I had a friend who was also coming here,” “it was the coolest school I had been accepted to” “I wanted to be part of SEC football” weren’t the kind of answers he was looking for. He wanted an academic reason. I had nothing.

He went on to explain that to succeed in a crime lab, I would either need to go to medical school and become a pathologist, or I would have to get a graduate degree in forensic chemistry. Forensic chemistry sounded good, I told him that’s what I wanted. Then he explained that the only schools (at that time) that offered advanced degrees in forensic chemistry were located in the north, where I had come from. He added:

Northern graduate schools are prejudiced against southern undergraduate schools in general, and in this university’s chemistry program in particular.”

What does that mean?

It means you will never get into graduate school in forensic chemistry with a BS from here. You need to transfer.”

Transfer? I just got here. I haven’t even started classes yet.”

It’s not so bad, you can complete one year here without losing much credit. You should have gone to Pitt, they have a graduate program in forensic chemistry.

I felt so inept. I knew that I hadn’t paid as much much attention to the college selection/application process as I should have. I knew that I had been a little more concerned about the campus I’d be living on instead of things like, oh, my future. I had been accepted at the University of Pittsburgh, but they wanted me to start at the Titusville campus and then transfer to the downtown Pittsburgh campus in my junior year. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to go somewhere for four years. I wanted to go to a big school, not a regional campus of a big school. Besides, the nickname of the Titusville campus was “U Pitt Tit” and who wanted to be part of that?

My advisor stepped up and saved the day. He helped me rearrange my schedule so that I would be taking mainly science and math courses, courses that would transfer. He helped me find a school to transfer to – West Virginia University. He explained that while technically in the “south” i.e. below the Mason-Dixon Line by a mile or two, the school’s chemistry program was highly regarded.

This was the first of three wonderful pieces of advice that I received along the path to employment. This series isn’t about my education, it’s about taking advice, trusting people and gratitude.

53 thoughts on “Good Advice–Part One

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  1. You must have lucked onto the only advisor worth his weight in test tubes! Great story – reminds me of several male high school buddies whose academic potential took awhile to blossom. I was fine in academics but erroneous in every other major decision till my mid-30s!!

    Great photo of you, too 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Sammy. I lucked out three times (I am going to tell all three stories) and these three guys really changed my life. They get better as I moved further along the path toward employment. The lessons have been useful throughout my career as well. The worst person in the process was the high school guidance counselor but I doubt that needed to be said.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great story!
    I hear kids talking all the time about what schools to go to, mostly Indiana University vs Purdue, and they’re always tripped out when I say they gotta go to the school that has their field. Then of course their are legitimate reasons to choose engineering at Purdue over Rose-Hulman, like $30k difference…lol!
    I wanted to be a teacher. When you live in Indiana and you want to be a teacher, you go to Ball State University. I applied without even looking at the campus. I never even gave it a second thought! I bet 20 teachers told me to go there, and with good reason. (Originally, it was a college for ONLY teachers.)
    It’s hard to imagine you weren’t a star student…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, no, not a star student. I was constantly being told that I could be so much better. I was capable, but frequently not engaged in the classroom. The people who helped me in school (not just the three I’m going to talk about) were people who worked with me as a person and not a student.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. High school guidance counselors from the good old days – now there’s a topic. I was an honors student but poor. With no options for tuition financing, they didn’t even give advice. I went to a one-year top rated secretarial school, got a job, got a better job, took some night courses, got a job with tuition reimbursement and earned a BA with honors as an adult. Lots of lessons learned along the way, and that’s okay. Looking forward to the next chapters. :-)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow. That was quite a journey but a good outcome. The GC were overwhelmed. Three of them for 10th, 11th and 12 grade classes with over 700 kids in each grade. Plus, I didn’t know how to help myself.

      I’m hoping to make a few points in this series about advice. Taking the time to give it and knowing when to listen. Thanks for coming along. They’ll be about a week apart.

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    1. Thanks Lois. There are people out there who will help. We have to learn when to reach out and when to accept a helping hand. I imagine that you deal with this often.

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  4. The part about feeling inept catches my attention. I can totally relate. I not only felt inept,I was so completely mortified by the prospect of university, I went straight to full time work. I had my parents blessing since I had a great paying job with the phone company and they could relax somewhat in the childcare department. My teachers expressed dismay, though and graduation ceremonies. C’est la vie.
    You were fortunate to have some one come to your aid. I look forward to the other stories in the series.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Maggie. My father didn’t go to college, but he could read the writing on the wall in Pittsburgh in 1971 and he knew that college was my best shot. He did what he could, but I wasn’t ready to fend for myself. Fortunately, a few people stepped in to help. It’s not the only answer, even today. I serve on a committee at our high school that tries to help non-college-bound kids figure out what to do.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment Elaine, but I think we can leave the math grades behind. Actually, there is a story there, maybe for another day. If I was interested, for any reason, I could do well. If I wasn’t interested, I could do OK. I often chose the OK route.

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  5. I don’t know where this is going… but I retired from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension last September. I worked for the Minneapolis Police before that. Nope, I wasn’t a cop, nor the good looking guy who keeps taking off and putting on his sunglasses at crime scenes. At the BCA, all the forensic scientists who look like fashion models worked upstairs.. :)

    If someone told me at eighteen that I would be working for the police most of my life, I would have expected to see Rod Sterling step out from behind a wall and go into his monologue.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I read this while I was commuting to work early morning, but my network was fluctuating so thought it would be best to comment once I reach office. So here I am. First of all, what a dashing picture upfront. I won’t be surprised if you say girls were falling for you in your college days. Secondly, I liked your story and glad that you got the right advice. I was completely confused by the time I was out of school. I wanted to go for Navy, but I was extremely poor at math and that affected my scores. Option out. I then wanted to go for fashion designing or interior decoration, but the course fees were too high. Option out. I did Java development course, but nobody wanted a fresher. Option out. I finally ran out of my time and joined call center to save my financially crashing life. Phew! just in time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for coming back to comment Sharukh. No girls falling all over me in college. Sometimes we bounce around until we find what works. I was lucky to have a few people help me bounce in the right direction.

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      1. Really? No girls? Yeah, for me choosing the right career was confusing. However, I think it is also because I’m not too open and communicative. I rarely talked to anyone in the college. You must have seen characters like me, bit weird looking, shy and out of the limelight types. I never attended any event, gatherings, celebrations, at all. Most of my classmates only approached me for notes and answers.

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    1. Thanks Jill. I need to get some different photos out here. I like that one so I thought I’d try it out – don’t want to scare people away, you know. As I work these days as a mentor, I try to remember the ability these men had to convey the message I DID NOT want to hear but needed to hear.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It was a good choice! Reckon there’s not much chance of scaring anyone away. And, isn’t that the challenge – to provide the information, advice in a way that people can hear it. Not easy at all!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. OK Jill. I’m going to retroactively make you the selection committee for the new image of Dan. I’m going to see if I can crop that in a way that works. Maybe I’ll focus on the plaque :)

          Liked by 1 person

  7. good idea for a series Dan – and how cool that your advisor stepped up – and funny – but so many undergrad decisions are all over the place – and did you know there is a Titusville down in FL? It is a small = washed up town – that used to be a major part of Nasa. anyhow, still laughing at the U Pitt Tit

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s funny. Titusville, PA might be having a comeback with fracking. It was near Oil City (there was a regional campus there too). Of course, if I had gone there, maybe I could have gotten a tee shirt :)

      We make so many decisions for the wrong reasons, or for no reason at all. Sometimes, people can step in and alter the course. These guys did.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I was not a fan of the south Sandi. My family used to vacation in Virginia. I probably spent 18 summers there and I loved it. Georgia was different. Georgia, especially in the early 70s was too south for me. It was also too hot. I am not a fan of the heat. I’ve been to NC a few times for work and to visit friends but I haven’t been there in many years.

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      1. Most cold weather people hate hot, humid climates. I agree, Georgia is a whole different kind of South. So is Alabama. And during the mardi gras, New Orleans is a nightmare! I don’t care for Florida at all! Way too hot and humid for me. North Carolina is perfect: close to the beach and the mountains, both of which I enjoy. July and August are our hottest months. Sometimes June is, but we’ve had a beautiful Spring so far. ~ Sandi

        Liked by 1 person

  8. You were much more mature than I was in college, where I literally thought my major was find a husband so I can get away from my dad. Now, I did find one who happens to be my husband, but I honestly fell in love with him, and he has tempered my more controlling tendencies.

    I did well in college, but for the sake of doing well, not because I was passionate about what I was studying (I don’t recall much.)

    Anyway, I was just going to say I think you were amazingly mature in your choices, but got off on a tangent about me (sigh.)

    Fondly,
    E

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, Elizabeth, thank you but I was not very mature. I went to school on a mission, but I hadn’t considered the larger picture. I will bring that out a bit more in part-2. I also fell in love and got married, but that wasn’t a good decision either and it didn’t last.

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    1. That’s true. I’m all for cutting my younger self some slack. It took me a long time to even realize how much these guys helped me. The interesting thing (to me) is the fact that I immediately followed the advice these people gave me. After I tell the three stories, I want to try and explore the reason it worked.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Very interesting. Chemistry , for me , was a totally different story . My 10th grade teacher took me aside and told me : ” I’m going to do you a favor . I’m going to give you a D .” I sincerely thanked him profusely . And , so it goes .

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Do you think the colleges in the north are still prejudice, if they were back then? I would have been asking that adviser if he was prejudice against northern colleges. The University of George has a very high ranking and has had it for decades. Sorry but what you’re saying here just doesn’t ring true to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know Glynis. His point was that their undergrad chemistry program wasn’t that strong. Considering that not many schools offered the graduate program I needed, and most were in the north, he thought it was a big risk. I think he knew what he was talking about. He named the school’s where I would be able to get the graduate degree I wanted but I don’t know for sure. That’s part of what I am trying to explore here. Why did I trust him?

      I think that today, schools are very much aware of the strengths of other schools. I would be surprised if it matters anymore. Thanks for this comment.

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  11. That’s a great story! It’s really hard to make the right decisions at that age too — they’re big decisions that will shape so much of your life, and let’s face it, at that age we were all still kids, and things like having friends going to one school or another will have far more of an impact that it should.

    I also had a kerfuffle with the subject I’d chosen but I wasn’t as lucky as you with my advisors — yours was worth his weight in test tubes as Sammy says! Glad it all worked out in the end :)

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Sounds like you knew where you were headed. Lots didn’t even know that much. I’m not sure guidance counselors know enough to really help people find the right school. Maybe college fairs are the answer. Or maybe visits with department professors should be part of the tour.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. We are so young and inexperienced when we are asked to make decisions that we will live with for a long time. Fortunately, you ran into a good advisor and had the sense to listen; in my experience both are few and far between.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s so true. As you will see in the rest of this (short) series, I was fortunate a few more times. My father always taught us to rely on the advice of people we trusted, but I’m not sure what made me trust this guy. For a variety of reasons, he gave me great advice and I was lucky to have the support of my parents when I informed them of my changing plans.

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  14. That blank look, especially before a senior and an intellectual . . . I have had it. You had someone to give you a good advice and that is excellent. You listened–that is priceless. Thanks for sharing the story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Learning to listen to good advice is something my father stressed. Discerning good advice from bad is another story. I was so lucky to meet the men that I am writing about in this short series. They changed my life.

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