The Maze of Dr. Cherie E. Bond’s Life

With my time here at UF past its halfway point, I’ve started to stress about the future. There seems to be this impending doom surrounding graduation and trying to choose a path. Even though I’ve been cemented in my career choice since I was 6, there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding who I will be in the next five years, much less the rest of my life. For some reason, society has ingrained in us that the choice we make as 19-year-olds is what we will do for the next 50 years before we can retire with mimosas on a beach. However, life does not always work that way.

In fact, life is more often than not a maze. You may be on one path for years until you hit a dead end and must backtrack to find the right path. It can get confusing and messy as to where the end will be. But no one has eased my anxiety about conquering my life’s maze like my genetics professor, Dr. Cherie Bond, has.

On the first day of my genetics class this semester, my professor told an interesting story. She started out the first lecture with an introductory slideshow about herself and how she came into academia. Needless to say, her life story was the most mind-blowing concept to me. She was the exact opposite of what has been ingrained in our heads. She dropped out of college, worked several different jobs, got her bachelor’s degree as a 37-year-old mother, became a successful geneticist and now a professor here at UF. No one foresaw this path for her, not even herself, and yet she ultimately ended up happy and successful.

As a child, Bond grew up in a low-income area in Appalachian Pennsylvania and became a ward of the state due to unfortunate personal circumstances. She had a hard childhood and did not think college was in the cards for her, especially as a first-generation student. After facing many financial and personal barriers, she took community college courses to see if college was for her. Even once she was accepted into a university and was close to graduating, life got in the way again and made her stop attending classes.

She then spent many years doing many odd jobs, such as working at a French bakery and being a writer/photographer. She even managed to run her own photography studio and create a vegetarian food business, which helped support herself and her family. Her life went in all sorts of unexpected directions: having kids, touring with a band in a van, being homeless, working construction and basically taking any opportunity there was to support her family.

However, she always was drawn toward science. Once she had a stable enough financial condition, she decided to go back to school at the University of Southern Maine. She excelled in her science classes and worked in research labs. Many times, she worked long hours in the lab so she could stay until it closed to have a place to sleep.

Nothing was going to stop her from earning her bachelor’s degree, which she ultimately did in 1992 at the age of 37 and with children in tow. She majored in biology and chemistry and was the only student to graduate Summa Cum Laude. A senior genetics course inspired her to enter the field of genetics, combining her love for art and critical thinking.

However, the obstacles didn’t end there. Bond was a first-gen student, so she did not know the first thing about applying to graduate programs. She applied to countless PhD programs in the country, such as the University of Washington, and took a “shot gun” approach to her applications. She recalls a time when her advisor said she’d never get in and “should consider applying to a state school.” However, her luck took a turn for the better. Out of the 12 graduate programs she applied to, six of them accepted her, a few offering prestigious scholarships.

She ultimately chose to attend the Indiana College of Medicine graduate program in genetics because it offered services for single mothers and a lower living cost.

However, the battle was only beginning. She soon encountered unaccommodating facilities for single women with children and stigma in the workplace. Despite these barriers, she championed for more policies that helped female students with children and for equal treatment in her program. By the time she graduated from the program, she had several first authorships on opioid use, medical genetics and Huntington’s Disease. She even wrote her thesis while she was caring for her children and newborn baby. She went on to complete her postdoc at Oxford University in England and taught at universities before winding up at UF.

I’m in awe of her story. Despite all her failures and dead ends, Bond reached the end of her maze. UF’s academic culture is oftentimes unforgiving and shuns failure, which is a crucial part of a person’s growth. I know it can be easy to get caught up in the uncertainty and stress about your future, but you don’t need to.

I have learned from Bond’s story that it’s okay to mess up when the odds are stacked against you. If it is meant to be, you will find a way for it to happen. If you encounter a dead end and have to take a different path that makes you happier, then that means it was yours all along. Be open to where life takes you on your maze. It might just know better than you about where to go.

As Bond nears retirement, she compares herself to the “unsinkable Molly Brown.” No matter what life threw at her, she was able to find her path. When she retires, she is excited to dabble in art again and open a café with her daughter. She has no regrets about her life. Although she wishes she would’ve known more about the uptight atmosphere in academia, she would’ve still chosen this same path.

As you near graduation, I hope you remember Bond’s story. Don’t be afraid to step off the path you were previously following in pursuit of a better one. One day, I hope you all conquer your maze.