I can remember the day very well. I was sitting in my fifth-grade science class, and reading ahead in the textbook because I read fast and I'd already finished the part we were supposed to be reading. I was already further into the section on the oceans than we'd be for two weeks, but I didn't want to stop because everything I was reading was so interesting. Suddenly, I turned a page to see a very detailed painting of a mini-sub exploring the sunken wreck of the Titanic. And that was when it hit me:
That's what I want to do when I grow up. Who is this Robert Ballard and how can I get a job like his?
I suppose I was very lucky to discover the job I wanted so early, given that a lot of my friends didn't know on the day we graduated high school. Ever since that day in fifth grade, I knew that I wanted to be an archeologist. So, in sophomore year when my mom first said we should start looking at colleges, I said we needed to pick one that had a good archeology program.
We looked up what colleges had good archeology programs, and I found out that Boston University (BU) was the only school in the United States with a separate Archeology department, instead of one that was part of an Anthropology department. My mom said we could apply, but she thought I should also apply to at least one Ivy League school.
As the college search got more serious, I also realized that I wanted a school with a good astronomy program that wasn't too far from my home on Long Island, New York. So, even though I applied to other schools, Boston University remained on my list. When I visited the BU Charles River Campus over Presidents' Week vacation, I was impressed by the organization -- everything was within walking distance, and the numerous public transportation stops meant the rest of Boston was in easy reach as well.
On that visit, and a later one, I was able to visit classrooms, laboratories, and even the university's rooftop observatory. (What a view of the riverfront!) I even got to handle (cautiously) a spoon discovered on a dig at a colonial plantation in the Caribbean and watch graduate students piecing together ancient pottery. Clearly, this was a school with the science programs I was looking for.
Boston University even had a department devoted to remote sensing, or using satellite imagery to study the Earth for various purposes, including discovering ruins. (And it didn't hurt that the head of that department was Farouk El-Baz, the famous astrogeologist!) Remote sensing archeology had fascinated me for a long time, because it would be a way to combine my interests in archeology and space travel. I found out that one BU professor, William Saturno, had even worked with NASA using satellite technology to look for Maya sites in Guatemala. After some e-mails and phone calls, Professor Saturno agreed to be my mentor if I was accepted.
So, when the letters finally started coming in, and I saw that I'd been accepted to Boston University, I jumped up and down in excitement. I couldn't wait.
How can I get a job like Robert Ballard? How can I be an archeologist?
Now I knew.