This article is part of students’ stories, a series profiling students across campus.
Many Cornell students are familiar with that moment of self-doubt: “Am I in the right major? Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life?” For Charlie Weill grad, once an aspiring veterinarian who changed course, the answer to those questions turned out to be no.
Weill –– who graduated from Cornell this spring and returned in the fall to pursue a Cornell Masters of Engineering degree in computer science –– said he used to wonder if "maybe I’m wasting my time, spending all this money on college and I don’t even know if I’m here for the right reasons.”
Weill, who transferred to Cornell in Fall 2009 from Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minn., after his freshman year, initially hoped to become a veterinarian. In pursuit of this dream, he took a year off between his sophomore and junior years to work with wildlife, spending nine months living in a tipi in the middle of a wolf sanctuary in Colorado.
After Colorado, Weill moved to South Africa, where he shadowed veterinarians on a safari game reserve.
Weill said his time abroad gave him “the opportunity to be introspective” and figure out who he was and what he wanted to do with his life. His experience traveling also led him to develop doubts about becoming a veterinarian.
“In order to be a good vet, you really need that ability to both empathize with your patient and distance yourself, which for me was too intense,” Weill said.
He recounted an experience he had at a “kill shelter,” a center at which unadopted animals, regardless of their health conditions, are euthanized after a certain period of time has elapsed.
The veterinarian killed nearly 100 animals in a single afternoon.
“Kittens and puppies and adult animals; it was one of the most traumatic things I’ve ever seen,” Weill said. “I wouldn’t be able to do it. It’s too harsh.”
Weill said the veterinarians themselves also encouraged him to branch out academically.
“I asked [one veterinarian]: ‘What classes do you think I should take? Anatomy, physiology?’ And he said, ‘Take business courses,’” Weill said. “They don’t teach you that anywhere and it’s so important to know. Eighty percent of your job is running the business and 20 percent is actually being a vet.”
With that idea in mind, Weill realized he had been “too focused on coursework” related to veterinary medicine, he said. He decided that, upon returning to Cornell for his junior year, he would explore other areas of study offered at the University.
“I’d never done that before, took classes on a whim … I took my first programming class last summer, loved it and went on to do a [master’s in engineering] in computer science,” Weill said.
Weill said he now hopes to become involved in technology startups. He cited Facebook and Google as technological marvels that have a “direct impact on a lot of people in the world.”
“For better or worse, technology is changing us,” Weill said. “Everyone is looking for programmers right now. So whether you think computer science is the dumbest thing in the world or not, take a programming class. It will make you a thousand-fold more useful to future employers.”
Reflecting on his academic journey, Weill said his advice to other Cornell students is simple: “Stay flexible.”
“Even though you may know what you want, you can’t be too rigid in your mindset. You need to explore other fields,” he said.
But most importantly, Weill added, students should not take school too seriously.
“Have fun in college, because you only get to do it once,” he said. “And if you don’t get that chance, come back for a master’s degree."