Megan Kowalski (1st Quarter, 2006)

1st Quarter, 2006
Medical Professions Scholarship Winner
Megan Kowalski

“While at college, I had the opportunity to participate in research and completed my Senior Honors Research Project on The Role of Carbohydrate Metabolism in the Regulation of Feeding Behavior in Larvae of the Corn Earworm Moth (Heliothis zea). After graduating college in 2000, I was hired as a biologist in the Pathology Laboratories in Safety Assessment at Merck & Co., Inc. I spent six years working at Merck where I gained excellent experience in the pre-clinical area of pharmaceutical research. While at Merck, I was able to go to school part-time at the University of Pennsylvania where I obtained my Master of Biotechnology degree. I have always enjoyed research, and genetics research in particular, however, I am the type of person who thrives on interaction with others.”

A Portion of Megan’s Winning Essay:

Megan Kowalski

I firmly believe that I have been on a journey for the past 27 years and that each day brings me closer to my true destination. If there is one thing that I can be absolutely sure about, it is that right now I am exactly where I am meant to be. In this notion I place my complete trust. The encountered obstacles, the valuable experiences, and the driving need for continual learning and a sense of fulfillment are only some of the many factors that have contributed to my arrival at this very point where I hope to begin the next chapter of my life.

I attended a small liberal arts university in Maryland where I learned the value of a small student to teacher ratio. I was extremely fortunate to have met and experienced truly wonderful people who also served as professors. As a biology major, most of my coursework was taught by a core group of individuals. In a period of four years, I can honestly say that I felt as if my potential was limitless. Infinite possibilities awaited me. It was ingrained in our very being that we, the biology students, would have much to offer in this ever-changing field.

In my sophomore year, I opted to take a genetics course as an elective. From this point on I looked at life, in the biological sense, quite differently. The class was taught by a brilliant woman who creatively demonstrated the intricacies of our very existence. Her passion for teaching and her love of research was a stepping stone for me in determining my own place in this world. She exemplified everything I admired – an intelligent, humble, and kindhearted woman who made the field of genetics more fascinating than I ever could have imagined.

Without knowing, she encouraged all of her students, especially the female ones, to strive for academic excellence. Even now, with her PhD and decades of experience, she is working on completing a Masters degree. In her own words, “It’s good for teachers to be students themselves again.” How refreshing to hear these words from someone whom I have always admired in academia.

My senior year of college was quite bittersweet. I reaped the rewards of four years of hard work and commitment, but I was so unsure of where my accomplishments would take me. Medical school was always in the back of my mind, but I also had reservations about this field. I knew that I could handle this endeavor, but I was not completely convinced that this was my “perfect” fit. It was as if my entire life pathway had to be decided upon during this year, and this was a decision I would not be quick to rush into.

I also thought about graduate school at this time, but in what area would I concentrate? I was confused, as many college seniors are, and instead chose to pursue a profession in which I could utilize my biology degree.

I applied for two positions at Merck & Co., Inc. after graduation and was offered both jobs. I began my career at Merck in the Pathology Laboratories in Safety Assessment in August of 2000, three months after graduation. It was quite exciting to be entering the work force and also reassuring that I had some direction in my life.

My time at Merck has enabled me to grow both as a professional and as an individual in so many different aspects. Despite being one of the younger employees, I quickly took to my new tasks and training within the lab. With each year, I gained more responsibilities, more experience and more respect from my colleagues. My accomplishments and my dedication to my department and to the company have always been recognized, and I am deeply appreciative for all of my promotions thus far.

In the spring of 2002 though, I began to feel somewhat restless, almost as if something was missing. I came to find that what I needed was to be back in the classroom. However, I was often plagued by the words that a senior director once said to me. When I approached him about continual education he replied, “Don’t bother going back to school. A Masters degree isn’t going to get you any further in this department.” These words stung, but I didn’t want to go back to school for the department; I wanted to go back for me. I also knew that he had been working at Merck for 30+ years and had an “old school” attitude towards further education. I would not be dissuaded.

I was accepted to the University of Pennsylvania’s Biotechnology Masters program in June 2002. Even after my acceptance, I found that I was still trying to convince myself that this was the next step along my journey. You see, I had found Arcadia’s Genetic Counseling program while searching for a part-time program and was fascinated by what this formerly unheard of discipline offered. It encompassed everything that I wanted in a career- the science of genetics and the people who needed the support and guidance.

I have always been an empathetic person and have known that whatever the future would hold for me, it would have to involve interacting with others. The only problem with the GC program was that it was offered full-time, and I was not financially ready for this commitment. Since Merck was paying my full tuition at Penn while I continued to work full-time, I allowed practicality to get the best of me. If anything, I was looking forward to the challenges of graduate studies, but still I thought of genetic counseling repeatedly.

My studies in the field of biotechnology have proven to be consuming, captivating, revolutionary, and quite rewarding. I will graduate in May of 2006 with a Masters in Biotechnology. I have tried to find the perfect balance between work, school, and my personal life and believe that I have been successful in accomplishing this goal. Unknowingly, I set a precedent in my department at Merck, as many other young people began applying to part-time programs after they witnessed my success with this balance.

Working full-time and attending school part-time has probably been one of the most difficult things I have attempted, but I am extremely pleased with the outcome. I believe that the knowledge I have gained over the past three and a half years in the biotechnology program will directly benefit my studies and my future profession if accepted into Arcadia’s GC program. I have participated in a stimulating curriculum of research, presentations, and lectures, all of which have contributed to my further understanding of the molecular biology and genetics which are currently found in all aspects of the healthcare field. My additional experience in the pharmaceutical area has also helped to bridge many of the lessons learned in graduate school.

In the fall of 2003, the subject of genetic counseling was once again heavy on my mind. I had gone to dinner with a dear friend, who was actually my husband’s mentor leading up to and during medical school. I happened to mention that although on paper it seemed as if I had everything together, I was still feeling lost and did not have that sense of fulfillment that I so desired. I told him about Arcadia’s GC program and how appealing it was to me. He knew the program well, as he was and still is a respected member of the medical bioethical board for hospitals in our area. He encouraged me to find out if I could somehow work with the school to plan out a part-time program.

His words of encouragement alleviated some of the anguish I was feeling. My personal life was all-encompassing at the time as I was in the initial stages of planning my wedding and though it should not have, my need for fulfillment took a back seat to the dress and the flowers. I would think about genetic counseling constantly over the next two years.

Then it happened. September 2005, what was it I was waiting for? The signs were all there echoing in my ears with every turn and inner thought. I was at work and I went to the Arcadia website and printed the online application. I sat at my desk and became very emotional because for once, something felt right. I went home that night and told my husband of my news and he smiled and sighed with great relief. He said that the look on my face was telling of everything I had been feeling for so many years. It was as if I had discovered something so valuable that nothing else could compare. My journey would continue.

The next few weeks were a whirlwind as I prepared for applying to the GC program. I told my family and a few close friends of my intentions. No matter the outcome of this chapter, I would never be without the complete support of these people. My parents have instilled within me wonderful values and qualities which I have attempted to improve upon with every person I meet or event I encounter. They have always known I could do anything, even when I was not so sure myself. For this, I am forever indebted. My husband chose a career in the medical field and he is inspirational in that I have seen with my own eyes the making of a compassionate and gifted doctor. These are only some of the people who have held my hand along this journey.

Now I am both excited and nervous about my future possibilities; nervous because change can be difficult for anyone, but excited because I firmly believe that the field of genetic counseling will provide me with what I need to feel truly successful in my life. I am drawn to the emphasis of continual learning for all members of this prestigious and growing discipline and from my interactions with other genetic counselors whom I have spoken with and met. There is nothing more rewarding than sharing knowledge with others who so fearfully yet thankfully desire it. Now I am convinced that the possibilities are limitless.

I have never answered a question as easily as I have this one. The words flow effortlessly because my personal journey has been a constant reminder that it will never end. I regret nothing up to this point, and I do not feel that any time has been wasted. I am only thankful that I have rediscovered what I believe will complete me. I look forward to the challenges of my next pathway and can only hope that I will continue to learn about myself along the way. For me the journey will always lead to a destination, but I hope it never ends.

Copyright 2009, All rights reserved.

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