When I first entered college, I thought I had my whole life planned out. I was at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania and majoring in neuroscience and global health studies. After my undergraduate studies, I wanted to go back to Pittsburgh, where I am from, and get my PhD in clinical neuropsychology. With this degree, I was planning on working with concussion patients, diagnosing them and treating them. I stuck to this plan until midway through my sophomore year. My interest for the study of the brain decreased, and I started to look for other career options. I had always been interested in law, but was dissuaded from it my final years of high school. Although, when my neuroscience interest decreased, my interest in law grew. This was when I decided to pursue a career in law.
After my sophomore year, I decided to transfer to Chatham University. I preferred the city atmosphere and the opportunities it presented. The very first week of classes my junior year, I met with the pre-law advisor to see what activities and events I could get involved in. She presented the PLEN Women , Law and Legal Advocacy seminar to me, and I was immediately interested. I left that meeting, went straight back to my apartment, and looked up all of the information. That night, I was talking to my parents about it and made the decision to attend if I received the scholarship. As soon as I found out that I was lucky enough to receive funding, I registered for the seminar and was set to go to Washington D.C.
Before the seminar started, I was extremely nervous. I knew I would be surrounded by other strong, powerful, and smart women my age that wanted the same things that I did. I felt I would just blend in and feel inferior to everyone there. When I first arrived, I was pleasantly surprised. Everybody was very friendly and outgoing. I have never realized how much powerful women want to support each other and see each other succeed. I always thought it would be a competition of who is the most intelligent and who can be the most successful. I was wrong. We were all extremely interested in each other’s stories and where we wanted to end up. We all wished the best for each other and wanted to see goals reached. Not only was this a theme with the young women attending the seminar, but also with the women panelists and speakers. They all stressed how much they wanted us to succeed and were offering any help that they could. They seemed happy to have us contact them with any questions or conversation that we wanted to have with them. This was extremely comforting, and calmed my nerves tremendously.
Whenever I tell someone I want to pursue a career in law, they always ask what field of law I want to study. Just a month ago, I had some ideas, but was never entirely sure. I always had an interest in criminal law and being a prosecutor. Another interest arose with all of the civil rights issues surfacing in America. Lastly, with my science background, I had thought about looking into some kind of law in the medical field. I kept going back and forth between the three different areas, and never seemed to prefer one over the other. During the seminar, I had finally made up my mind. Listening to the panelists, they all seemed very passionate about their work and areas of study. Also, hearing them talk about their work with public policy, it made me want to make a difference with my work. Hearing these two things made me decide that I wanted to work with law in the medical field. Even though I do not want to follow a career in neuroscience anymore, I am still very passionate about science and medical research. I also felt like I could have a big voice and make a difference in this area of work, whether it be with the health insurance industry, medical ethics, or medical malpractice. PLEN helped me figure out my passion in life.
Another question I always get asked when I talk about my career in law is where I want to go to law school. I want to stay local and stay at school in the Pittsburgh area, where my family is. One big thing I did not know for sure, though, is whether I wanted to go directly to law school after my undergraduate studies or take some years off and work first. The speakers at the seminar also helped me to decide this. I heard from many of the women there that they recommended working in a law office before attending law school. It helps greatly with experience that prepares you for law school, and admissions offices at colleges think that it shows maturity, dedication to the field, and experience with the field. Not only would this help me understand careers in the law field more, but it will also help me financially. I never realized how expensive law school is until this seminar. I need to prepare for it in advance, along with paying for undergraduate tuition. Without hearing all of this information from these women, I would still be undecided and stressed about what to do after Chatham.
I still have many things I need to learn about law, but this seminar helped tremendously. Not only did I have a fantastic time in the wonderful city of D.C., but I also was helped with making tough decisions. I learned some very useful skills such as networking and how to negotiate a salary, which is something I was uncomfortable with before. Now I feel well equipped to perform these tasks when the time comes. I am no longer stressed or nervous about the future. Instead, I am far more excited than ever. I am ready to begin learning about law and how I can use it in the medical field. I believe it will be a job that I will love going to everyday, and can make a difference doing so. Without PLEN, I would still be worried about these decisions and wondering what path I will choose in life. Now, I cannot wait to see where my path goes and where I end up. I am more confident now than ever that I am prepared to take the next step after my undergraduate studies.
Olivia Barkley attends Chatham University. She is majoring in biology and minoring in pre-law, and is also a member of the women’s basketball team. She attended the Women, Law, and Legal Advocacy seminar during her junior year.