JANE BRODY: My name is Jane Brody. I graduated from Cornell in 1962 from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
SPEAKER: How did you happen to choose Cornell for your undergraduate work?
JANE BRODY: Well, I chose Cornell when I was four years old. I announced to my father, at the age of four, that I wanted to be a veterinarian. And this is 1945. There weren't very many women veterinarians-- if any-- in those days. But my father's response was not that women aren't veterinarians, my father's response was Cornell has a college of veterinary medicine. And so starting at age four, I determined that I was going to go to Cornell and become a vet.
Well, by the time I got to my senior year in high school, I realized that the underpinnings of all the biological sciences were biochemistry. And that if I really wanted to make a mark in my field, I had to first learn the fundamentals of biochemistry. And so I started out by majoring in biochemistry.
Well, I think the most important influence on my career direction was a negative one in a sense. And that is that my major professor in biochemistry, the advisor of all the biochemistry majors, told me that if I wanted to be a biochemist, I had to marry a scientist. And I wasn't dating a scientist. And so I thought, well, wait, this is sort of weird. And I thought about that for a while. And by the end of my sophomore year, I realized that biochemistry was not going to be the direction I was going to go in.
I also worked in labs. And I enjoyed working in labs. And in fact, I had a National Science Foundation Fellowship between my freshman and sophomore year at Cornell that had me working at the Experimental Station in Geneva. And I did my own experiment for 10 weeks. But at the end of 10 weeks, I said, well, that was fun for 10 weeks, but I couldn't see myself doing it for 10 years.
Well, that's the other interesting thing that happened to me at Cornell was that, at the end of my sophomore year, when I felt I was in crisis because I didn't know what to do and I didn't want to be a biochemist anymore, I visited the [INAUDIBLE] Clinic and spoke to a psychologist. And the psychologist said, well, the reason you're so unhappy is that you're just doing labs and you're doing schoolwork and you're doing extremely well in your schoolwork, but you've not been integrated into the Cornell community.
And she suggested that I join something. And so what I joined was the student publication at my college, which was called the Cornell Countrymen. It was a student-run magazine, a monthly magazine. And I figured a monthly I could handle, despite six labs a week.
But before I knew it, I was an associate editor of this magazine and then I became editor in chief of the magazine. And by the end of my junior year, I said, I know what I want to do. I really had a total a-ha experience. I love this. Why don't I do this? And I quickly changed my program for my senior year so that I could take some journalism courses to qualify me to become a science journalist. I never wanted to drop science. I loved science. But I didn't want to do it.
As a science writer, I looked for interesting things to write about. And nobody at the New York Times was writing about agriculture. Nobody was writing about the science of agriculture, only about agricultural economics as it affected consumers, but not directly about where our food comes from, what happens all along the route. And so I was fascinated with the research that was done at my college. And I looked for many excuses to go up there and interview people.
Well, the most important thing about Cornell to me-- and I took advantage of every opportunity I could at the time-- is the enormous number of opportunities. I mean, you can go in almost any direction, whether it's playing the piano to learning to be a champion figure skater. I mean, you were required to take four semesters of physical education in order to get your degree from Cornell.
I took eight. I took eight. My freshman year, I took a figure skating and senior lifesaving. And then I took tennis. And I continued on with the swimming. These became my life sports, and I got the lessons for free, because it was part of my education. And I loved it. I loved the fact that I could do all of those things, plus have a grade A education in my field.
PCCW has been extraordinarily important in making sure that the voice of women, from janitorial staff all the way through full professors, is heard on campus, and that the administration knows that there's a watchdog out there that's making sure that women are well taken care of and have equal opportunities to men, which was not the case certainly when I was a student. PCCW has made a critically important difference. It may have happened eventually at any point anyway, but we made it happen faster. And the fact that we're a continuing presence on campus makes sure that it doesn't go backwards ever.
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PCCW member Jane Brody '62 reflects on how she chose Cornell, her memories of the university, and how Cornell has shaped her life both personally and professionally.
The President's Council of Cornell Women is a group of highly accomplished alumnae working to enhance the involvement of women students, faculty, staff, and alumnae as leaders within Cornell University and its many communities.