AN UNEXPECTED LIFE (cont’d from Part II): But guess what? I had two kids to raise. And to say that they saved my life is an understatement. They breathed life back into me. They alone are what drove me to seek out a brighter path. Our little family eventually healed. Therapy helped. By 1994, I took personal inventory and basically broke up with my former self. I took a bookkeeping course sponsored by the provincial government’s social assistance program. I also took night classes in graphic arts.
A kind uncle hired me to help out with his market garden. This was probably my first formal foray into agriculture. We would spend hours in his huge garden, preparing produce for the market in Saskatoon. That uncle also decided to diversify. He wanted to establish a u-pick orchard on some uncultivated spaces on his farm.
A small plant biotechnology company in Saskatoon was using tissue culture technology to clone fruit trees. This represented something new to Saskatchewan and the prairies. I guarantee you that most, if not all, Saskatoon berry orchards in western Canada were established with this kind of technology.
I eventually got a job with this company – where I wore many hats: bookkeeping, payroll, developing marketing materials. I even got to gather and record data from our experimental growth chambers 1000 ft below the surface of the earth at a mine in Flin Flon. We also worked on cloning indigenous plant material in northern SK to reclaim areas disturbed by mining.
This job opened the door to another opportunity. I was hired by a large multinational ag company to work in the greenhouse and labs. My job was to make coffee, autoclave agar, order lab supplies, and develop informational materials for the lab and greenhouse for tours. Innovation place was a booming canola research centre. Scientists across the public and private sectors worked collaboratively in collective spaces. It truly was a remarkable time in Canada’s agricultural history.
I loved the job. Mostly, I loved the people I worked with. The opportunities and the intellectual stimulation made me want more for me and my family.
So, every year – from 1993 to 1996 – I had applied for and was accepted to the University of Saskatchewan.
And every damn time I chickened out.
While I had grown so much; gained so much confidence. I was still paralyzed by self-doubt.
“Self-doubt is a powerful thing.
And when you are scared to do something, you can find every reason in the world not to do it.”
Family and friends did not really encourage me to “go rogue and be a single-parent-student” thing either. They probably held some of the same beliefs that I did. And, for a long time, I allowed their doubts to reinforce my own fears.
But it turns out all I needed was a nudge. And that nudge was a rather unpleasant one.
EDUCATING CAMI: One day, I was standing with a group of colleagues in the greenhouse, watering plants, and talking about opportunities. A world-renowned plant geneticist was there and he said…
“Cami, you will never amount to anything because you are a single parent.”
His words still haunt me. Those words also lit lit a fire under me.
Enter the College of Commerce, University of Saskatchewan. I was a 32-year keen-to-learn single mom amidst a bunch of business-driven 18-year olds. Yet I found brains that I never knew I had. I got scholarships and bursaries. I graduated with distinction and as one of the first graduates from the College’s Biotechnology Management major.
One of my favorite classes during my undergrad was Organizational Behavior taught by my favorite prof, Maureen Sommers. In my fourth year, Dr. Somers approached me:
Maureen: Have you thought about doing a master’s degree, Cami?
Me: Masters? Me?! [imposter syndrome] What? No way. If I do advanced studies, I won’t be finished until I’m 40 years old!
Maureen: Well, Cami, I hate to tell you this but you’re going to turn 40 anyway. Wouldn’t it be great to turn 40 with a master’s degree?
It was hard to argue with that logic. The long story short is that the master’s degree turned into a PhD.
Between 2001 and 2007, I worked with some of the most amazing political scientists and ag economists from all over the globe. I traveled all over the world presenting at conferences. I published chapters, academic articles on intellectual property rights and plant breeding, and how networks of scientists work together to create new innovations in ag and food production.
By the time I defended my PhD in 2007, I nailed down a joint post doc fellowship with the Universities of Calgary and Saskatchewan and I was working on another book with my colleagues. The good works continued.
And my grey matter expanded…