When I was little, I wanted to be a professional bowler. After a while, however, I moved on from that because, honestly, I wasn’t any good at it and little kids aren’t all that persistent. From that point on, though, I wanted to be a biologist. I grew up spending a lot of time outdoors and watching plenty of Animal Planet on TV. I was fascinated by plants and animals and wanted to know all about how they worked. That was my plan up until the middle of high school.
My sophomore year I took chemistry and my way of looking at the world changed. I started seeing everything as collections of atoms and ingredients lists started to make a little sense. Then I took AP chemistry and all of a sudden events were being driven by enthalpy and entropy. While I really enjoyed chemistry, it put me in a predicament. My plan was to be a biologist, but now I was wondering if I should study chemistry instead. I struggled with the decision for a while before one of my classes went to the school library to have us complete a computerized interest inventory that suggested possible careers at the end. To my surprise, when I finished, it said I should be a biochemist. I still remember sitting at that computer and saying to myself, “That’s a thing? That makes everything so much easier!”
The rest flowed naturally as I got a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, learning about the molecules that make up life, and then a doctorate in medical sciences with a concentration in physiology and pharmacology where I learned how those molecules work as systems in our bodies and how we can manipulate them with therapeutic drugs. Of particular interest to me was drug design based on computer modeling since it involves all of my interests: the biology behind the therapy, the hard chemistry involved in synthesis, and also computers, which I also enjoy working with.
While that is the story of how my research interests developed, at the same time I was developing my passion for teaching. I always did well in school, so I was often asked for help by my classmates, and supporting them was something I enjoyed. I did some high school tutoring while I was an undergrad, and then I taught in any way possible while I was in grad school. Since I was in the College of Medicine, there weren’t any teaching assistant positions available, so I gained my experience piecemeal in various courses.
Knowing that I enjoyed teaching, I signed up to teach a summer Cancer Biology and Therapeutics course for high achieving high school students with some of my grad school peers. We enjoyed it so much that the course has now completed five years with the same core group of instructors. That pushed me to seek more formal, college level teaching experience. I got that when I began teaching at a community college.
Since I work full time as a postdoc, my courses are taught in the evenings or online, which makes for some very long days. Even though I’ve now taught for a number of years, I still look forward to it when five o’clock comes around and it’s time to leave lab. When I made that realization is when I knew that I wanted teaching to be a part of my career.