Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Journey Thus Far

So by this time a year ago I had decided not only that I wanted to leave customer service work, but that I had something I actually DID want to do instead. Being sick and dissatisfied with one's job is one thing. It is another altogether to know what you actually want to be doing, and I wanted to be working in the sciences. Now I said in my last couple of posts that I was firmly settled on working in Veterinary medicine and I am, but at the time, I was trying to keep an open mind about other fields, namely research science in chemistry or physics. In hindsight I don't think I was ever as excited about the professional pursuit of these fields as I am to vet medicine, but I have some friends who work in these fields who I like very much, and I know that my present employer (a Major Minnesota Manufacturing company) would potentially offer tuition reimbursement for my pursuit of a degree in either of those fields, while vet medicine doesn't provide them any return on their investment. In any event keeping those options open for myself definitely influenced my initial plans.

The absolute very first thing I did when I began to take myself seriously was to research Veterinary Medicine professional programs. Initially I just investigated the program at the University of Minnesota, my original undergrad Alma Mater, because I have a positive opinion of the institution and I live here. Later on, as other things in my life changed and it became evident that relocation may be necessary for Kristin and her career plans at some point in the future I started researching other institutions as well. Besides, shouldn't I apply to as many schools as possible [when the time comes] to ensure admission? In any case what I found (and the requirements are pretty consistent across programs) is that I needed to take math courses at least up through pre-calculus, a year of college level biology, chemistry and physics with a lab, microbiology, genetics, organic chemistry, zoology, and biochemistry. For some schools I may need to take a public speaking course too, though I'm not super concerned with that. Any other requirements were met while I pursued my initial undergrad degree. Volunteer time working directly with animals is generally a requirement as well.

My initial exploration of taking courses through the University of Minnesota's College of continuing education, one or two at a time while working full time was disappointing as I discovered that as a part time student with a completed undergrad degree I would be eligible for relatively little financial aid, and that as somebody just trying to fulfill prerequisites and not seeking a degree I would be eligible for even less. It's not unattainable; there are loans for going about things that way, but they are available on a limited time table and it was a time table that wouldn't allow me to fulfill ALL of the prerequisites I needed. For this reason I decided I would have to pursue one or two courses per term through a period of five or six years in order to achieve what I needed to, paying out of pocket for the first few years worth of course work. The plan was to start with pre-calculus (assuming I could test in to it, having not had a math class in almost ten years), followed by my year of physics, year of chemistry and year of biology in that order or overlapping. The rationale behind the order was to take pre-calc as a foundation for everything else and then the science classes in that order to get a sense of whether I might enjoy a career in physics or chemistry research and diverge off from veterinary medicine to one of those paths. By the time I had done all of this I had very successfully managed to miss enrollment deadlines for any possibility of taking a class Fall semester of 2009.

I worked a bit on pursuing volunteer possibilities (they're tougher to come by for doing large animal work, than small animal, where it is really easy to get some opportunities from a small animal practice or with a shelter for strays) for a few months, probably not as heavily as I could have by half, and didn't have much luck. I thought I had a really good lead with Dodge Nature Center in the south east metro of the Twin Cities, but I basically got jerked around/ignored for three months before I gave up maintaining contact with them. They do still email me seeking volunteers to serve juice and sell raffle tickets at fundraising events. Not remotely what I'm interested in doing there. I had a lot of outside stressors during that period, but not actually being on my way gave me more time to consider my options further. Finally, in December 2009 I registered to take Pre-Calculus as a web-based course through Normandale Community College during the Spring 2010 semester. Paying out of pocket for College classes suck. Even loans would have been preferable. My father was nice enough to pay my existing student loan payments while the semester was in session at least so that helped a great deal.

Pre-Calculus helped me narrow things down more and become confident that I really do want to practice veterinary medicine and not be a research science in chemistry or physics or an engineer. The course work and increasingly talking to my friends in physics doctoral programs. I still find the subject matter interesting; I just don't wish to pursue it as a vocation. In any event pre-calculus was good for me, and it felt really good to be a student again, and even better to know I was on track to be a vet. The only tough thing was knowing that it would take me so long.

Everything started to feel more impossible, in terms off time frame and money, when, in February and March, the need for major and costly automotive repairs cleaned out my savings account. I haven't come close to rebuilding it yet. Not by half. I knew I couldn't rely on that rainy day fund to keep me going anymore. I had been working on my boss to try and get tuition reimbursement, and presented my case for it (for pre-calculus, chemistry and physics at least, which I could justify), but ultimately they really want me pursuing a degree program in order to issue it, and even if I were in one of the approved program types (it would have to be chemistry or physics for me which I don't really want to do) our department hasn't received budget approval to use money for that so it could get to be a bit of a drawn out fight. I also may end up with employment here for a certain term of time after achieving said educational goals and that would be something that could get me stuck and delayed if I held to it, or get me in trouble if I didn't. Anyway, tuition reimbursement was seeming less and less realistic.

And then my wife inspired me. Kristin decided that after being torn between art and healing as her career track, being a healer was the better way for her to go, and that being a doctor, going to medical school would be the best way to see that out effectively. She did her research and realized that the Associates of Science program offered by Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC), an institution that is is, at most, a mile walk from our current home, was the most efficient way to take care of the prerequisites she would need to apply to med schools. It didn't take very long for what that meant to sink in for me. It would be the fastest way for me to fulfill my vet school prerequisites. Being a degree program it makes me that much more eligible for student loans, especially if I can manage to be a full time student. If I can manage to be a full time student I could earn my associates and be applying to vet schools in 2-2 1/2 years.

This is not without obstacles. I did apply and was accepted to MCTC. I even managed to register for all the classes I wanted to for my first theoretical semester there this fall: Introductory Biology with Lab, College Physics I with Lab, and Principles of Chemistry I with lab. Very science heavy, I know, but I'm no kid anymore and I want to get this done and get on to the life and career I want. Those intro level courses have got to go (well I could put off Physics, but I'd prefer to take it as soon after having taken pre-calc as possible). I had to fight for Principles of Chemistry a bit. I wasn't initially allowed to enroll and had to apply for a prerequisite waiver for admission. Basically, I needed to either have taken a year of chemistry in high school or introductory chem at the college level. I hadn't done the latter, not directly, but I did take a year of chemistry my junior year of high school (it was only 11 or 12 years ago), and I actually received college credit for it thanks to a program between the high school I attended and St. Cloud State University. The tricky part was getting that high school transcript. It was like pulling teeth. It was literally impossible to receive it in any kind of timely fashion. I finally got it about a week and a half after registration opened up for me and within 24 hours MCTC had registered me for Principles of Chem. Thank you, MCTC. It's nice when a bureaucracy is user friendly.

Now I've only got two hurdles left and they're big ones. First arranging enough financial assistance in the form of loans, grants, scholarships (and there aren't a lot of the latter two available for the student that isn't fresh out of high school), and probably a part time job, which is unlikely to be a variation of my present job. The second, which sort of ties in to the whole job thing is making sure that Kristin and I have medical coverage. We really need medical coverage. I believe I mentioned in an earlier entry that I suffer chronic, genetically inherited clinical depression [and anxiety]. I'm currently on medication for this, and it is medication that works, but if I lose medical and perscription drug coverage (sometimes these are bundled sometimes they're seperate) I'm going to be screwed. I know myself well enough to know that I won't be able to endure part time work and full time school unmedicated. In fact I have a lot of personal relationships that probably couldn't survive me being unmedicated (at the least they would be severely strained). So I need to find an employer that is accomodating in this regard or another source of comprehensive medical insurance. If I can't do that, I don't think I can go back to school which would be terribly depressing for me at this point, even with me being aware so far in advance that it is a possibility.

I think that brings everything up to speed. Entries I write focused on the relaitve topic from here on out should be on more present tense events. I won't get my financial aid award notice from MCTC until early July, so I've got a good month here to start pursuing my alternate employment options. I pray I am where I wish to be on my path right now and that I will be able to make my return to school a reality.

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