The running joke in my family is that I am incapable of doing anything the easy way.
My family didn’t have money for me to attend college, so like any idealistic 18-year-old, I paid for it with student loans and by working three to four jobs while attending classes full time. Money was tight during college, we joke about students living on ramen noodles, but there were several months when I divided my ramen into fourths so that I could stretch it out over two days. I’d skip breakfast and eat one fourth for lunch and one fourth for dinner. I weighed 95 pounds by the time I started receiving food stamps and Medicaid benefits. And even though I was exhausted, I didn’t give up. I did well in my classes and I continued working.
My senior year I took a class in neuroscience and found myself enthralled with all of the questions. It was the first class I’d ever taken where there were more questions than answers, and I loved it! I’ll be the first to admit, discovering your passion during your senior year of college is not the MOST convenient time, but I knew I had to learn more, and I’m stubborn.
After graduating, I immediately found a full-time job. Within six months, I was juggling rent and student loan repayments. Shortly after that, I enrolled in a post-baccalaureate pre-med program. I was ineligible for additional student loans, so I added two part-time jobs to cover tuition and loan payments, and attempted once again to balance work with school. I struggled, but over time I managed to complete the required coursework.
I dreamed of pursuing of an M.D./Ph.D., exploring the secrets of the brain while learning the art of healing, but my grades reflected my divided attention and frankly, I didn’t believe I was smart enough so I didn’t try. I applied to medical school and although I was waitlisted, in the end, I didn’t get in. But I’m stubborn, so I applied again. And again.
The first time you reapply, people are encouraging, supportive. They commend you for your perseverance. The second time you reapply, the tone changes. I found family and friends encouraging me to pursue other options, to redirect my energies to other fields, to stop trying.
Why am I sharing all of these details about the process of applying? Because I considered the advice of my friends and family. For months, I tried to imagine what I would do instead, what career or path would be as fulfilling as becoming a physician-scientist. And in the end, I knew with absolute certainty that this is my vocation, my calling; there is no plan B.
For the first time, 10 years after my college neuroscience class, I applied as an M.D./Ph.D. I was accepted to OHSU in 2015 and am currently in my first year of graduate studies in behavioral neuroscience after completing two years of medical school. 12 years of work, and my devotion to this path remains the same---I cannot fathom a plan B.
If the proposed tax plan passes, repealing graduate tuition waivers, I will be forced to leave OHSU. Every month I make payments on my undergraduate student loans, even working part-time during medical school to maintain my payments. I am willing to put in the work. I am willing to couch surf and skip meals, but if my taxes increase to more than $15,000, which they will under the act proposed by the House, then, it won’t matter. I won’t be able to afford to stay in school and neither will many of my peers.
There are several concrete things you can do to help:
- Call and email your representatives and senators explaining why science, research and education matter and how this proposal impacts you or your community
- Write to the members of the conference committee asking that they protect tuition-waivers
- Ask your friends and family to do the same.
Growing up I was told that education creates opportunities and opens doors, and I believe that. I also believe that we need to fight to ensure that those opportunities and doors are open for everyone.
Mollie Marr is an M.D./Ph.D. student in the OHSU School of Medicine.