I started my collegiate career as a business major at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.
That lasted almost a year before I switched to Environmental Science. Almost immediately, I found myself in a pair of always-leaky waders, seining various types of fish hoping that a moccasin was not near by. I turned over rocks looking for scorpions, tipped over logs hoping to find a black widow, rummaged through attics and basements trying to find brown recluses. I discovered firsthand what a rattlesnake sounds like and the fear that overcomes your body when you soon realize you can not see the snake, only hear it. Why would anybody want to do such foolish things? Simple, biology.
Upon completion of my degree, I accepted a position with MACTEC Engineering as a staff scientist. With MACTEC, I learned how to take water samples out of monitoring wells, I sat on the back of a drill rig as it drilled soil cores, I vacuumed tar out of sumps, I took paint and asbestos samples, excavated Civil War and Native American artifacts, performed industrial metal inspections inside of a paper mill, disposed of lead contaminated soils. The list could go on. I have been in southern Mississippi in July taking water samples, thinking that it was absolutely impossible for a human being to sweat this much. I was in northeast Alabama where it was so cold one day the water was freezing before we could put it into the appropriate bottles. I was in post-Katrina New Orleans installing “blue roofs” with the Corp of Engineers. I held pieces of pottery that were close to a thousand years old at an archeological site. You might be thinking that many of these exploits have nothing to do with biology, and you are right. But if it weren’t for my major, I would have never been considered for the job and therefore would never have experienced any of these things.
Some people thought I was a little crazy to leave a solid career after three years to pursue my Master’s degree, but it was once again my interest in biology and desire to learn more about it that lead me to leave. So I find myself 1,300 miles away from my friends, family, and lifestyle to pursue my master’s. I have had to sacrifice good BBQ and sweet tea to name a few things, but it is worth it. I have walked across the Mississippi River, will get to ice fish, ice skate, actually see ice; I have made new friends and seen different plant and animal species, learned that there are actually freshwater jellyfish. All of this has been possible because of biology.
— Matthew Phillips