Self-Reflection: At the Intersection of Science and Teaching

Sitting around being weak and nauseous gives one ample time to think.

Because it’s summer break and money is tight, I recently took on a gig as a writer with a wonderful company called The Research Masters, and their daughter company, Lifelong Media. Together, the two companies work to provide high-quality educational materials to clients, which can range from textbook publishers to school systems looking to help their students do career research. They are a fantastic group and I’m so glad I found them!

I’m on summer break from classes as well. I’m not working religiously on papers, meeting with my advisor, or working a lot on planning my research (hard to do when your awesome new job requires 40-hour workweeks! Gotta get dat money). So while I’ve been working, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.

What have I been thinking about? Mostly the direction of my life, and the direction of the life my boyfriend, John, and I are building together.

We’ve lived together for nearly two years, and been together for almost as long. (Yeah, we fell in love pretty quick. What can I say? I’m irresistible). We’ve moved twice, once to a new state. We’ve started grad school together. We’ve endured months of stress and crazy schedules, and we’re about to do it all again in just a few weeks. I can honestly say that last semester was friggin’ awesome. It was hard work, but I was back in the classroom, pursuing higher knowledge. Pursuing dreams.

Dreams. What a great word.

I love the idea of a dream. It sounds fluffy and ethereal, effervescent and fleeting. It’s nebulous and just out of reach. And I’ve always been encouraged to go after mine. Everyone should be, regardless of what you read in Forbes.

(side note: I really freaking hate those articles that tell you not to pursue your dreams. Have a backup plan, sure, but for Pete’s sake, you’re gonna die someday. GO. AFTER. YOUR. DREAMS. PEOPLE!!!!)

Dreams are a strange concept for me. My dreams are non-specific. This can be either a blessing or a curse — usually, a frustrating mixture of both. This was especially evident last semester during my many discussions with my primary advisor (bless him). I knew I was interested in all aspects of biology; I loved genetics and ecology and microbiology and physiology and cell biology and biochemistry. I told him I was having trouble narrowing it down. He reassured me that I would figure it out, and he was right.

I have figured out that while I do love all of those things, I love teaching especially.

I noticed something about myself during the semester. My cell signaling professor, who I’ll call Dr. H (a brilliant, kindhearted man), often engaged the class in discussions about science education and teaching. As the only graduate student in the class who had actually been a teacher, I often had a lot of insight. I loved talking about being in the classroom, about students, about the joys and pains of teaching.

I love cell signaling, I love endocrinology, and I am stoked for this semester’s classes, which include immunology and animal morphogenesis (eek!). I’m also due to begin my thesis research this semester, which is so terrifying. The world of research is so incredibly vast and I don’t feel well equipped to enter it, even with my amazingly supportive and patient advisor helping me along.

Part of me, as excited as I am to begin actually working in the lab, is wondering if this is even right for me. Am I meant to be here? Should I never have left Florida? Should I still be in the classroom back at Poinciana High School?

My short answer is that I will never know. I don’t think we’re “meant” to do anything; I don’t know that there is such a thing as destiny or kismet. I think we create our own paths and forge our own way. This is what makes human existence so remarkable.

What I do know is that I love fo both science and teaching. I also love kids, especially teenagers. I think they’re fun, and I believe that connecting them with cool science is essential in getting them to be curious about the world around them.

But part of me (I have a lot of parts, hehe) also feels a personal responsibility to delve into research, to actually learn the skills and practices that make it possible for me to teach the biological sciences. I want to learn how to do ELISA tests, how to perform PCR, how to analyze complex data… if for no other reason than to take it back to the classroom.

It’s difficult, sometimes. I’m a feminist, a rather staunch one at that, and I firmly believe that women should enter any field they so choose, be it science or construction or caregiving or nursing. Feminism isn’t about women only choosing fields traditionally restricted to men; it’s about women having the freedom to choose those fields if they so desire.

So why do I, as a woman and feminist, feel like I’m failing the scientific community somehow if I return to the classroom? If I’m pursuing something I love, isn’t that honorable? Isn’t that feminist?

The short answer is yes. Yes, it is. And no matter which direction I choose to take this life of mine during and after graduate school, I will do it within a feminist framework. I will do it because I am empowered to make these choices, as so many women are not. This is what graduate school is allowing me to do. It is not pigeon-holing me into a singular career path with no possibility for divergence; it is actually opening up more doors.

This is what education does for us. On an off-topic note, this is why I absolutely love Malala Yousafzai and have painted her face on my soul.

So I have a passion for science and for education. I am learning this about myself. They are equal passions in my mind; one does not override the other. I read as much about social justice in the classroom, teaching methods, and developments in educational strategies as I do about new discoveries in diabetes research.

I have to learn to balance both of these interests in my graduate work and in my future career. This will be another journey, a process which will take years and whose product will remain eternally unfinished.

There are few certainties in this world. Death and taxes, to be sure; not even love and hate are so reliable as these. I do know, however, that to me, lifting up students to be their very best is just as important to me as learning laboratory methods.

Thanks for reading the very stream of my consciousness. 🙂

 

Talk soon!

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. My goodness! What a lot of thinking. Unfortunately, I do my thinking when L go to bed. Don’t have time during the day.

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