In high school, all I ever wanted to do was to leave my hometown and attend a four-year university. With this goal in mind, I attended one of the first universities that had accepted me: California State University, Fresno.
My main objective while attending the university was to graduate as quickly as possible and earn my own salary. And I did. I graduated high school at the age of 17 and graduated with my bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at 21.
I immediately started working at Stantec, a land development firm in Santa Barbara, California, and stayed there for about three and a half years.
I decided I needed a change. Not knowing what that change could be, I moved to Memphis, to live with my brother and sister-in-law. After relocating, I landed a job at Kimley-Horn and Associates, where I worked for a year and half.
While I was working at Kimley-Horn, I decided to start my master’s degree program in civil engineering at the University of Memphis. I was taking classes in the evening while working full-time during the day. After completing two semesters of graduate school while working full-time, I decided I needed another change.
This time, though, I knew what that change could be. I talked to my adviser at the University of Memphis, and she offered me a position as a graduate research assistant and work under her, with my tuition being waived. This is the change that I was looking for, as I realized I am passionate about academia.
It is OK to not know what you ultimately want to do with your life and your career. It took me two different jobs and a relocation to figure out that consulting for a private company is not my passion. I am now working on my Ph.D. at the University of Memphis and maintain my position as a graduate research assistant.
My goal now is to mirror my adviser’s path and one day be a professor at a four-year university. Working under someone you admire, and respect is extremely important in today’s society, and I believe I have found this. I wish I would have taken more time in between changes to understand that I wasn’t happy and desired a more widespread change with my career. But I’m glad I finally found the right fit.
Katie Bowman, P.E., M.ASCE, is a doctoral candidate and graduate research assistant at the University of Memphis. She also serves as vice president of ASCE’s West Tennessee Branch.