Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Failure, New Beginnings, & the Unknown

*this post is more on the personal side, so if you just come here for the outfits, please come back tomorrow for another style post :)

I had someone say one of the most insulting things to me the other day: "Every time I see you, I regret for you that you dropped out of grad school". 

Woah - hold up stranger!
Full House How Rude photo tumblr_l5znxxrMfR1qasd8x.gif

It is true, my WHOLE life I saw myself growing up to become a "scientist". It was my dream to go to Vanderbilt & get my PhD in biomedical research & then one day use that degree to either teach college, or lead a pharmaceutical research team. I jumped at the chance to move to Nashville in 2009, & my life totally revolved around grad school for the next 3 years.

Somewhere along the way, I lost the passion. I had a lackluster mentor who didn't believe in me, & that doubt began to sneak under my skin as well. He regularly asked me how I expected to ever make it in the world of science as a woman. The last 6 months of grad school, despite working together in the same research lab, my mentor acted like I didn't exist. He would chose to talk to me through emails first sent to our lab manager, & then forwarded on to me. And in the end, instead of "toughing it out", "putting my nose to the grind stone", "proving him wrong", I decided to pivot (anyone else watching Silicon Valley - hilarious, but I digress!). I had always wanted to teach, & why not intersect with students earlier than college!? I started to research how to use the skills I had been practicing in grad school to teach Middle to High School students in Science. 

I decided to pull the shoot, & started to quietly work behind the scenes to withdraw from grad school with my Masters. My program doesn't usually award Masters degrees, with students going from a bachelor's to a doctorate directly. But with almost 4 years of research experience, the department eventually awarded me a M.S. - even though I had to keep it secret from my mentor while I was writing my thesis (he seriously excelled in being dramatic throughout the entire process). 

On one of my last days at Vanderbilt, I had already signed up for a talk about using a PhD to teach in secondary schools. I didn't want to go, I was basically in free fall, & I didn't want to be around people who were getting their PhDs & going on to great things. I'm pretty sure they were offering free snacks, or I would have never gone. 

At the talk, there was a vibrant, passionate woman speaking about the local charter school she had just founded. I was entranced. After the talk I went up to her & told her that I wanted to come & work in her school, to get more first hand knowledge of the amazing things she had been talking about: serving a newly immigrated population of students, growing students 2 years for every 1 instructional year, working hard, seeing big results. 

The next day I went in for an "interview" & began working for her the following week. I found a way to use my Masters to get a teaching certificate in 1 year, while teaching (will be getting that in the mail this May!) & everything quickly fell in to place.

I quickly ran away from the toxic environment at Vanderbilt, & head first into a new career.

To note: around this same time Tyler & I were getting married, & also moving. Holy stress.

I have never been more satisfied in a career path as I am now. 

Is it the most difficult thing I have ever done? YES
Are there days when I get up at 5 am, work until 6 pm, & then come home to only work until 12? YES
Do I regret giving up my dream of the PhD? YES

Truth is, I am still angry that I will never be a Dr. Jessica. I am still frustrated at the roadblocks that I have faced. I am jealous that my husband will eventually finish the program that we started together.

But on the other side of the coin, I am proud to be a teacher. I am proud of myself for taking action in the face of difficult situations. I am proud to support my husband with all of his amazing feats.

In the end, it is bittersweet. Do we ever know how it will all turn out? Looking back, isn't the journey more fun than we thought?

So to the rude stranger, please do not waste your pity & regrets on me. I am thriving in the here & the now.

36 comments:

  1. good for you to follow your heart!!!!! You can always get your PHD in Education if you want. Those kids are lucky to have you in their lives!!! Teacher's are underpaid, but have one of the most profound impacts of society!

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  2. While our situations are very different, I understand the emotions you've described a little too well. I think it's totally natural to feel a bit of regret or longing or grief towards a decision, even if it makes you happy! If you always pictured your life going in one direction and you suddenly veer off in a new path, it's okay to have a mixed reaction or to feel a bit of loss towards the piece of you that you leave behind. But as long as you're happy and living life to the fullest, you're in a good place. There's always wiggle room for new adventures later! Thanks for sharing your story.

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  3. I think it's amazing and awesome that you're doing what you want to do and taking the risks that you want to take. Good teachers are important, so it's really important that people like you, who are passionate about the work, are the ones teaching. And as someone who has had their fair share of grumpy, passionless teachers, I feel I have the right to say that.


    It's your life, so you should be happy with what you're doing and ignore the rude people. Seeing you change your path and to fit what you want is inspiring! Keep on going!

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  4. Oh Ms. Jessica! Since I know a lot of what you went through (having watched it first hand) and also experienced my own 'world turned upside moment' in that same lab, I understand entirely. I love that you took a leap and went with your gut. You are very talented, and driven, and I've no doubt that you could have made it as a scientist in the same way I could have made it as a fashion designer....but. That fork in the road appeared and like me you followed your heart and started on the unexpected path. You know I am a HUGE supporter of engaging middle schoolers in science and art - because that's the age group where the system drops the ball. Having been around scientists for so long, I can tell you that many work their entire lives and achieve nothing. You are so fortunate to be able to make an impact on your student's lives each day, and I am looking forward to the day that I see you heading up your own charter school (and dressed to the nines to boot!)

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  5. You go girl!! I have so much respect for your ability to make the best of yourself and your skills. Teachers rock and your impact is enormous!

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  6. Though this probably wasn't your intent I wanted to let you know how you affected me with this post. I am a faculty member at UT Chattanooga and despite working my tail off of my own teaching and research I've been very aware that my graduate students haven't been getting from me what they deserve - my attention and care. Thanks for reminding me how important a mentor is - not just to academic success but personal content in grad school as well.

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  7. Jessica, I believe the accomplishments that were made, without the proper guidance of your advisor, should be commended. In 2012 I did receive my PhD in Educational Psychology, but that was only after a short sabbatical and a change in advisors. I thank my advisor every opportunity that I get because I know that without her tutelage and support that I would not have gotten that far. I hold teachers in high regard, & know they deserve more respect (and pay) than they presently receive! Thank you for teaching the next generation of youth in our country!

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  8. Great job Jessica! I'm so happy for you... I had thought I would be Mrs. Anna the teacher with Master's degree and a classroom full of smart kids. Instead, I'm a stay-at-home blogging mom, sewing pillows and making tutorials and I love it more than anything! Do I want to go back to professional field one day? YES. But right now, I'm happy where I am - seeing my child grow up everyday and making dinners for my family - it's a great stage of life and I'm embracing every part of it. Thank you for sharing!

    Happy Medley

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  9. while it's wonderful where you are, mentally, career wise, etc, how horrible that if not for your advisor/mentor and their actions, you would be dr. jessica. i think that gave you a great motivation for knowing how important a teacher can be-and in middle/highschool it's important to have that great motivating teacher that can ultimately help the students pick a college major. so on the plus side, you are making that difference now rather than when the student is in college and has for the most part chosen their path. i remember more of my middle school and high school teachers that made a difference to me than any college teacher.

    ps-i love your work outfits that are so appropriate. what's up with teachers not removing themselves from their students, outfit wise. so many teachers are so young, i would strive to be seen professionally and not as a student, but i go into schools for my job here and there, and sometimes i can't believe what i'm seeing from young teachers.

    b

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  10. Kudos to you for standing up for yourself/what you believe in. Posts like this make me so happy to be part of the blogging community. It's filled with amazing, multi faceted folks like yourself.

    Like you said - the journey is part of the fun. Keep on figuring it out as you go! I've learned that it's better to do it that way than worry/stress/plan out the details of your life. You'll end up never enjoying it.

    Josh - The Kentucky Gent
    http://thekentuckygent.com

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  11. You may not be a Dr. Jessica now, but who is to say you can't be at some point in the future? I'm so glad that you were able to escape that toxic research environment; I don't think I could stay with my program if my advisor made me feel like I couldn't go anywhere because of my gender. And now look at you--making a difference in young people, getting them interested in science. I think that age is one of the more difficult ages to teach and for you to embrace that with open arms is inspiring. Keep doing you, lady!


    xo Kimi
    twentysomethingsimple.wordpress.com

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  12. RUDE. But I love that it made you think of all of this.

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  13. I can totally relate to having a mentor who didn't believe in you and therefore resulting in changing of career paths. But luckily in my case, later on in my career I came across several amazing mentors, many of who are still mentoring me to this day and have encouraged me to continue to pursue my passion. I think teachers and mentors are some of the most important people in a young person's life. I think being a teacher is great no matter at what level. You should definitely be proud of where your life has led you... I recently wrote a post about Settling into my happy spot and at the end I came to realize that just because you've settle into that spot now doesn't mean you are stuck there forever! You never know where your life might lead you! :)

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  14. good for you following you heart.

    http://www.amysfashionblog.com/blog-home

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  15. awe thanks for sharing a personal side of yourself! my husband did his phd in biomedical engineering 3 years ago, and is now a professor and always says he has his dream job because teaching was always his passion. Sounds like you found your dream too- lucky you! Always good to follow your heart ~ the kids are lucky to have you as their teacher! xO!
    www.thehautecookie.com


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  16. this was really awesome to read. i personally love the personal side of blogging and am happy to hear that you're happy! it's not for anyone else to judge you and your path!

    ladies in navy

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  17. The people who read your blog are here for your here and now, even more so than your outfits. You're a remarkable human and I feel fortunate that you share your journey with us here!


    xo nicole
    writeslikeagirlblog.com

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  18. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post, I greatly appreciate your support!
    xx

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  19. Excellently put, I think having "no regrets" is kind of overrated. I am too passionate for that!
    xx

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  20. Thank you so much for your kind words - I do hope that I can be a positive woman in the life of my students!
    xx

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  21. Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to my post - It is so refreshing to know that I'm not along in the journey :)
    xx

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  22. KIM! Thank you so much for your comment. I feel like I have been in hiding for the past year, still telling people I was in grad school since that was my identity for so long. Here's to following the heart!
    xx

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  23. Thank you for your sweet words! I am still a baby teacher, but I do hope to one day see the results of this major life change :)
    xx

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  24. If there is one thing that I learned through the whole grad school ordeal is how important mentors can be. The second thing I learned is how much a scorned woman can accomplish :)
    xx

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  25. Isn't it funny… we spend our lives making "plans" - lining things up perfectly, but they never end up working out that way! Most of the time, thank goodness!
    xx

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  26. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.


    I do hope that I can be a professional role model to my kids, showing them how to balance being yourself and being appropriate when the situation demands it.
    xx

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  27. Can I just say ditto ;)
    Thank you for letting me bare a little of my personal side!
    xx

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  28. I am proud of you and for you... and for the lives that will forever be changed because you were strong enough to make a major change. The easy path would actually have NOT been the one you chose, but you have never let hard work detour you in the least. It is amazing work that this charter school is doing and I am glad you stepped through that open door. I am sure the school is happy, too! And, thanks for choosing the honorable profession of teaching and leading young minds.

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  29. Hi Jessica, I have never commented before, but I have read your blog for quite awhile and have always enjoyed your posts. :) I just wanted to say good for you for choosing a path that is right for your right now!! Your learning/working environment at Vanderbilt did sound toxic. I don't think anyone should ever see "teaching" as giving up or taking the easy way out. Teaching is very hard work, takes a lot of energy and is really time consuming, but it can also be very rewarding. I'm a graduate student going to school to be a music teacher myself right now.

    Keep concentrating on doing what YOU want to do and what makes you happy and keep tuning out those rude strangers who make unnecessary comments about your life....especially when they've never walked a day in your shoes! :)

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  30. Arg, I'm so frustrated for you and that LOUSY (I'm thinking of another work actually) "mentor" of yours!!! I'm a strong believer that everything does happen for a reason and toxicity is a REAL thing that can break a person after some time, so I'm SO glad you've found your passion and am making a REAL difference in the world! Sorry for all the ALL CAPS and exclamation points - we as your readers just feel like we know you and I'm just sad you had to go through it. Thank you for being so real and honest! <3

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  31. I read this and my jaw dropped. For one, yeah...HOW RUDE. (love the GIF). I think you are doing amazing things and it is fantastic that you decided to make this move to teach 7th graders. Middle School is rough...ha...and teachers (in my opinion) are some of the most important people our children come in contact with. We don't always start one journey to end up where we THOUGHT we would be and that is O-K. A lot of times we end up where we were MEANT to be. Go on with yo bad self girl!

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  32. what a great post! i was recently in a grad program that i thought would love but after one semester, i decided it wasn't for me. struggling with the feeling of what i "should" be doing versus what i actually wanted to be doing was the most difficult decision. but in the end-- being happy should ALWAYS come before just checking off the next box in life. thanks for sharing this, jessica!! i needed it right now.

    xx nikki
    www.dream-in-neon.com

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  33. You did the right thing - grad school sounded like a toxic environment and you found your passion in teaching! I ended up getting my masters in a field I wasn't really passionate about but I didn't think I had any options. Now i'm at a job that I'm not really passionate about. Yes, I'm proud that I got my masters but I would much rather have a job that I really like and have skipped those years of school (and debt). And the great news is you can always go back and get your doctorate! Maybe for a different thing than you originally thought but it will be better in the long run.

    ~Jessica

    Jeans and a Teacup

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xx