NuSense: COMMUNITY Issue 4
Lindsay Smith, “A Most Fortunate Identity Crisis: An English Major under the Guise of a Biologist
Imagine my excitement to land a position with Parks Canada as a Resource Conservation Assistant. Sure, I am an English major – but that hasn’t seemed to stop me before. We English majors are adaptable. We are the epitome of transfiguration! Put us in any situation and we will blend in with the others as if we were meant to be one of them. While creating a new identity as an established Biologist, I am thrown into a moral warfare–face to face with Mortal Combat–I am an English major, how can I ever fit in with the science crowd? Thankfully, I have had the opportunity before throwing myself into this position to have taken several Biology classes. Vertebrate Zoology, Anatomy and Physiology, Microbiology… please don’t fail me now.
The phone interview had gone swimmingly well: “Describe the procedure for documenting wildlife.” Or... “If you encounter someone who is terrified of snakes while you are in the middle of a live show, how would you handle it?”... or what about “Name one of Ontario’s endangered species and describe it.” As I listen to the incoming questions, I smile slyly into the phone. I am born for this… I AM an English major. I have been trained for this: defending my opinion, crafting intelligent responses instantaneously, confidence is steaming naturally – I own this. Biology questions? I can wing it! The more questions I answer, the better I feel –painted turtles, stinkpots, blandings, black rat snakes, ribbon snakes, and all their other reptilian cousins?… no problem.
The first day on the job I am greeting with bird call memorizations, flora identification charts, trees, and more. While speaking with my colleagues, our degrees became the central topic: “What type of science are you studying?” and “What was the focus of your thesis?” While I listened quietly to the various scientific discoveries my colleagues had contributed to uncovering in the lab, all I could think of was my thesis regarding the conflict between the Hobbits, Orcs, and Elves in Middle-Earth, or my fascination with a race within my readings of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick–I was definitely overwhelmed with their scientific knowledge. I knew that my time was coming. They would ask me what I was studying. “So Lindsay, what’s your story?” I think to myself: “How do I construct this, what’s my thesis, do I have a supportive argument, should I throw in a quotation by Walt Whitman: "I chose English to 'spread my seeds of knowledge!’?”
I look up and blurt out before thinking: “I, well, I am an English major actually.” The silence is so loud that you could just hear the quiet hum of the computer. My supervisor is the only one whose face doesn’t seem contorted in shock or fear – or both. There does seem to be an overwhelming level of panic that arises in a room when someone admits to being an English major. It’s an interesting phenomenon you see, just watch what happens with the dynamic in a room when an English major walks in. Almost immediately, the conversation level deepens, word choice changes, and all eyes turn towards you while they worry whether or not they have said something grammatically incorrect.
After overcoming their initial shock that there was an English major in their presence, I am quickly reminded to mention my credentials in Biology and my being bilingual. “Don’t forget, Lindsay,” said my supervisor, “we hired you for your French skills and your obvious knowledge of wildlife and your experience with GPS, right?” It was clear from that moment, that I would have to put away my ‘Englishness,’ at least try as well as an English major can hide his or her natural tendency to analyze and look into things much deeper than the average Joe might, if I ever wanted to fit in with Parks Canada’s Resource Conservation sector.
So as the summer months progressed and I had endured rigorous canoeing certification, memorized most of the bird calls in Eastern Ontario, and could finally recognize swamp flora as well as every type of tree imaginable, it was clear that I had infiltrated the system. I was now a member of the Biology team. I was fully masquerading as a Biologist according to those around me. Lindsay, the English major, had pulled a Sherlock Holmes. But instead, I was a regular Cooper’s Hawkeye. My daily routine had transformed dramatically. I never thought that as an English major I would be balancing in a canoe while trapping and tagging 38 pound snapping turtles in the middle of the swamp while ensuring no one’s toes were haphazardly removed as a result of a turtle bite, or having to paddle out into the deepest part of a swamp to listen for the threatened Least Bittern’s cooing. I have even had the pleasure of being puked on by an African python among many other things.
Yet, through all of my adventures as a Biologist, my concept of identity has not changed. What and who I am is not necessarily reflective of where I am, or in what situation I find myself in, but rather it is something that has developed during my years here at Nipissing. If this experience has taught me anything about identity, it has confirmed that I am an English major and will remain an English major at heart no matter what life throws at me – whether it be snakes, turtles, or birds, or whether it just be the regular shenanigans of life, I will be prepared.
© NuSense 2011