Melanie Cooke’s letter to her 19-year-old self

Melanie is a chemist who has found a career that saves the world, pays back her student loans and leaves time for friends and family.


Dear Melanie (younger self age 19),

I know it seems really difficult right now like choosing a major is defining every moment for the rest of your life. All the questions swirling around in your head make the decision seem so immense.

“Will a major in chemistry help me get a job where I can pay back all these student loans? Will I be able to say that the work I end up doing really benefits society? Will I have fun being a science major or will my social life end in a pile of books a mile high?”

The answer to all these questions will be yes. I know this is a hard time for you but you need to take some time to revel in the present. The friends that are surrounding you now and listening to your every concern will be your friends for life, you will attend their weddings, they will attend yours, you will have your kids around the same time. Your life will be amazing thanks to your wonderful husband and your amazing children.

You shouldn’t be afraid to make this decision. This decision will bring you to graduate school where you will meet that wonderful husband. You’ll meet the advisor who will help you encourage you to do research that will open up a world of possibilities. By the way, you’ll still be friends with your advisor from undergraduate, you’ll get together with him at least once a year. So, you can rest assured that going to a small women’s college for undergrad was a good one.

That first job at a large pharmaceutical company will be intimidating not knowing what a polymorph is or anything about the drug development process but you’ll learn. You’ll be amazed at how rewarding it is to sift through a pile of data and make sense of what it’s telling you about a compound that may be dosed in humans one day and bring some family somewhere a sense of hope. It will also be a big leap to leave that seemingly secure job at a large company and start anew at a smaller company. The rewards will be great with the opportunity to publish and present your data at meetings to people that are actually interested in what you do every day.

Your work will take you places that you have never dreamed of ever being, like living nine miles away from one of the largest cities in the United States. For a small town girl from West Virginia you‘ve done good. Now take a deep breath, relax and enjoy the best years of your life.

Your older self (Melanie age 34)


Melanie is a senior associate scientist at Amgen in Cambridge, MA where she has worked in the small molecule preformulation group for 5 years. During her time at Amgen she has helped move numerous projects through preclinical development. She grew up in West Virginia, got her B.A. in Chemistry from Hollins University and a M.S. in Chemistry from Marshall University. After finishing her degree she moved to New England to work for Pfizer in Groton, CT as a scientist in their salt selection and crystallization laboratory for five years before moving to the Boston area. She is married and has two children.

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