Thursday, June 23, 2011

Another Foreign Service Blog Is Born.

After spending the past six months reading foreign service blogs (blogs of hopefuls, blogs of current officers, blogs of family members, etc.), I decided to contribute  to the massive corpus of online foreign service enthusiants my own experiences with the foreign service.  If some of you read these entries and get something out of them, that will make me very happy.  However, my main goal is to keep a record of my experiences as I attempt this life-changing transition.  Perhaps my children will read them someday and learn something about their daddy.

Let me begin by introducing myself.  I'm in my mid-30s, married, and working in my third or fourth career, depending on how you define the term.  I have been a scientist,  a reporter, a testifying expert and, most recently, a lawyer.  I married the perfect woman a few years ago, and we are expecting our first child in the fall, a girl.  I sprang from the mountains of the rural northeast with a desire to live somewhere more exciting than my small town.  I attended Penn State as a premedicine major and spent eight years chasing the dream of becoming a physician.  This lead me to professions for which I am arguably better suited, the aforementioned three or four careers, which I now describe as follows:

Career #1
If your undergraduate major has the prefix "pre" in it, and you are not going on to the thing following that "pre," you are bound to run into some job interviewers asking you why this is the case.  I was a premedicine graduate, but my GPA precluded me from immediately pursuing the "medicine" portion of my major.  So to keep my "pre" status alive, I returned to my rural home state and took a research job at a medical school clinical biochemistry laboratory.  Over the next two years I learned the ins and outs of laboratory research, took classes and prepared for the MCAT, which I proceeded to pass with mediocre results.  After two years in biochemistry, I noticed DNA was a research area that was really heating up.  I also wanted to move to a larger city.  So I applied for, and subsequently took, a reasearch job in New York City.  I had always dreamed of living in a major city outside of my home state, and New York seemed to be the perfect place for rounding out my research resume and applying to medical schools.  The thing is, laboratory research assistants don't do that well financially, even if they do earn more than post-doctoral fellows. So it didn't take long for me to realize that New York City wasn't going to work out for me until I found a way to make more money. So after about a year of doing DNA research I began looking for a biotech job that would cover the rent on my apartment.  

Career #2
During my undergraduate days, I enjoyed writing for the school paper.  The kids in the newsroom weren't the dorky competitive types I dealt with in the science department, and the work forced me to visit other parts of our massive campus.  This experience also landed me a part-time towns reporter job with the local paper in my home state.  Freelance reporting became Career #2, although Career #2 happened almost exclusively during my time in my home state and only on nights and weekends around Career #1.  Some of that work followed me to New York City.  Although Career #4 has essentially snuffed out the possibility of any side career (see below), I fondly remember running all over my rural home state getting the scoop on local politics, tree farms and barn restorations.

Career #3
My New York City hunt for more lucrative biotech employment led me to the city's forensic biology laboratory, conveniently located next door to my research job.  The laboratory director was also a Penn State grad.  He hired me on the spot after a glance at my resume and a tour of the facility.  Here I learned the ins and outs of body fluid identification, DNA extraction, DNA profiling and expert testimony.  I was also given the opportunity to earn a masters degree at night, of which I took full advantage.  It was so wonderful and exciting, I delayed my pending medical school applications to stay on for additional training.  This was my first experience with crime fighting, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It is also where my complicated relationship with the law began. 

I remember the child abuse case that led me to attend law school.  When the case evidence first arrived in the lab, the analyst doing the testing failed to test for saliva because he or she failed to read the police report properly.  At the district attorney's urging, the case was re-assigned to me.  I retested the evidence for amylase and found enough saliva for a DNA test.  A second forensic report written by me showed a partial match with the suspect.  The problem with that second report was that it arguably contradicted the first report for which no saliva tests were done.  This is a long-story way of saying the case was a defense attorney's dream.  I spent four hours on the stand exploring every facet of the laboratory's oversight and underscoring the reliability of my results in the second report.  The defense attorney, a former neuroscience undergraduate, was skilled in his cross-examination, but our laboratory procedures were sound.  I held up well under cross, and the defendant was convicted. 

Weeks later, the prosecuting attorney invited me out to lunch and told me that if I were to attend law school with my science background, I would do great.  Although I didn't jump at the idea at the time, the seed had been planted.

Career #4
After taking a post-9/11 recuperation job in a major city in the South, I applied to law school with an eye towards intellectual property litigation.  For the most part, I was a successful law student.  To the extent I have been employed as a lawyer since graduation, one could also say I am a successful lawyer.  During law school, I was involved in many law school extracurriculars, got a job offer out of on campus interviews and become a patent litigator (think Microsoft v. AT&T).  But there's a problem.  The hours are gruelling, the contentiousness of opposing counsel is annoying, and the work required to get into the courtroom, let alone win, is immense.  Several years in, thanks to a supportive wife, I've decided that lawyering, at least as a primary source of income, is not for me.  When the bottom fell out of the economy in 2008, the legal profession was hit especially hard.  I used that downturn as a sufficient excuse to begin looking around for what I might do next.  During an online career search one afternoon in January 2010, I discovered the U.S. Foreign Service.  And so began my pursuit of Career #5...

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