Why A Biology Student And Future Scientist Didn't Realize She Was 6 Months Pregnant

Science is glorified by a lot of people, and that's OK because it's responsible for a lot of great things. Like, um, toothpaste. But we can't forget that science is also messy. Real messy. Like toothpaste.

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Female: So, when I first started graduate school, I was sitting in a seminar and a professor throws up a slide of some time series data. And he explains it, sort of, in his way. And I'm looking at it, and I'm thinking, this looks like something that I've seen before, in a different class, or something I've been doing. And so I go up to him after the seminar is over, and I say, "Hey. Have you ever thought that this graph you showed looks like this principle in ecology?" And he looks at it, and he's like, "You know? I think you're right. I've never thought about looking at this that way." And this was really heartening, as a first year grad student.

Here's, like, a real scientist taking me seriously and then it also was cool, because it just shows that you can have, you know, he was so used to analyzing this data one way, that he was, maybe, unable to see a different interpretation of it and this is something that all of us do all the time. We all miss things that are right in front of us. And I have, perhaps, missed the biggest thing right in front of me. When I was 19, and a junior in college, it took me six months to realize that I was pregnant.

So, this is, like, the ultimate science fail, right? [Laughter] Like, here I am, biology major, [laughter] basic understanding of human anatomy and observation and evidence collection and I couldn't see what was right in front of me because it was not the outcome that I was expecting. And so, in my defense, I didn't have the romantic comedy symptoms of being pregnant. I wasn't nauseous, I didn't have morning sickness. I had what I think of as the dumb baby signs of being pregnant, which are like, I was sleeping a lot. I was peeing a lot more. My hair was growing, like, really great. [laughter] My gums were bleeding when I was brushing my teeth, but I was like, "Oh, I'm flossing more, this is fine." And then multiple people over, this happened over a Summer, would come up to me and say, like, "Rachel, you're just glowing." [laughter]

So, I'd like to think that I would have figured it out on my own but it actually took someone else pointing it out to me. I was in college, so I went home to visit my parents one weekend, and I brought them bagels on a Saturday morning. And I walk in, like I'm doing such a good deed, bringing my parents breakfast and I walk in and I set the bag of bagels down on the kitchen table, and my mom lifts up my shirt, pokes my stomach, says, "Rachel, it's not supposed to be hard. Go take a pregnancy test." So, I got back in my car and drove to CVS, like, sat and wondered what pregnancy test I should buy for 20 minutes, and went and took a pregnancy test, and lo and behold, I was pregnant.

So, after picking myself up off the bathroom floor and sort of figuring out what I was going to do, I went to the complete opposite end of the spectrum that you might expect. I was sitting outside the wall outside Davis Library with my best friend, and I was like, "You know what? I'm pregnant, but it's going to be great! I'm going to be an awesome single parent, it's going to be just like Gilmore Girls, [laughter] like, it's all going to be fine." And my best friend says to me, she says "Rachel, are you sure you can do this?" And I actually don't remember what happened next, because I'm pretty sure I just got up and walked away because that was not what I wanted to hear. I heard her say, "Rachel, you can't do this," which of course is what she was saying and it was forcing me to look just one step deeper.

Because, of course, I have no idea... I mean, no one knows what they're doing but I had no idea what I was getting into. I had no idea how hard this was going to be and it was very, very hard to hear that from someone that I thought was supposed to be my greatest supporter. And what happened was, I actually didn't talk to my best friend for the next two and a half months and it turns out that that is a very, very lonely time to not have a best friend but when I gave birth to my daughter, she was one of the first people to visit me in the hospital. And I think, in that time, leading up to that, and then when she came to visit me, I realized that she wasn't letting me down by forcing me to take a deeper look. She was really helping me, and she wasn't going to let me do this alone.

Like I said, three months ago, I'm in grad school and I have to write a fellowship proposal. And I'm reminded about this guy whose seminar I went to, who really liked my idea. So I'm like, "This is going to be great! I'm going to write the best fellowship proposal ever." So, I pour my little heart out. I write all my little ideas down on paper. I have a ton of ideas. I'm going to move the field forward, I have great ideas for experiments and I send it off to him, and I'm psyched, sitting there waiting for some feedback. And I get an email back, and he's made comments on it. So, I open the Word document, and each paragraph I've written is either crossed out completely, or there's a citation written next to it. So, each idea that I thought I had was either too stupid to even attempt or had already been done.

So, at this point, I wanted to crawl under a rock and hide, and I was thinking, I'm going to have to avoid this person for the next five years, like, that's going to be really tough because I'm so ashamed, right, that he just saw that I didn't read the literature. He just saw that I came up with a bunch of stupid ideas. This is going to be horrible but I realized that I actually didn't want to hide from him for the next six years. I didn't want to have a lonely graduate school career. So, I turned it around, and I read every single citation he suggested and more, which I should have done in the first place and I sent it back to him.

And I think what I really learned was that in life, you need people around you that are going to be able to give you a different perspective than you already have and this is also very, very important in science. To surround yourself by people that just have a different perspective from you and most importantly, you need to be able to hear that. And I think that now, I've finally learned to listen. So, thank you.

[Applause]

There may be small errors in this transcript.

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