Why Contagion?–Or the Life Decision I Made after Being Carded on an Airplane

Why Contagion?

In late October, I boarded a plane from JFK to Dayton, OH. My brother and I noticed that nobody was sitting in the emergency exit rows because now you have to pay extra to sit there! A few people moved into the emergency exit row, but there were still three open seats, so I took one emergency exit row seat and my brother had the entire row we were sitting in to himself.

The flight attendant noticed that I had moved and gave me the spiel required for all sitting in the emergency exit row. I said yes, I am willing and able to help in the event of an emergency.

The flight attendant took two steps forward, then halted. “How old are you?”

The passengers around me looked over their shoulders. Now that I had everyone’s attention, I was embarrassed and silent. Isn’t it rude to ask a lady’s age? Does that apply if the requester is a lady?

And don’t you only have to be 15 to sit in the emergency exit row?

“I’m 25” I muttered.

The flight attendant shrugged. “That’s a good age.” What was I embarrassed about?

The passenger in front of me laughed. “You sounded like you were lying just now.”

“I’m not some kid” I protested. “I’m less than a year away from receiving a Doctoral degree!”

And just as I said that, I panicked–I’m less than a year away from receiving a Doctoral degree. I have a Bachelors of Arts in Chemical Physics from Columbia University, a Masters of Science in Chemical Engineering from Cornell University, and a soon-to-be PhD in Chemical Engineering from the same institution. And yet, at 25, I still don’t know what’s next.

Actually, I know what, just not how. I have a technical background, but I like to write. I am equally interested in writing about science as I am doing science. I am particularly interested in writing about disease-related topics. I’m hoping to find a job at the interface of science and science communication, like technical writing, science journalism, and similar fields. So Contagion will serve as my portfolio of sorts.

Contagion also serves to condense peer-reviewed scientific literature into something comprehensible to a lay audience. Talking about science to non-scientists is VERY important, because non-scientists influence social attitudes, policies, and to what extent science and technology is part of humanity’s future.

So the title of this entry is a deception–I wasn’t carded on the plane, but it’s in the same spirit. I just wanted you to read something you’d otherwise probably gloss over.


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