Almost three years ago, an opportunity came up, and I faced a difficult professional decision. Do I leave my career in scientific research and transition into science communication? This transition would mean I would have to leave my comfort zone. I would have to let go of years of training.
Being a scientist is the only professional identity I have ever had. I started doing biomedical research in high school. I published my first paper as a teenager. I was extremely fortunate to train among some highly talented scientists. I got my PhD from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and started a postdoctoral fellowship at Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL). I worked on exciting cutting-edge research – reprogramming of differentiated cells back to their stem cell stage, understanding how the maternal immune system could reject the fetus during preterm labor, and more recently how the immune system recognizes gut bacteria to cause Ulcerative Colitis. Could I really let go of this career?
It turns out I could and I did. Today I am a scientific writer in the Department of Biology at WUSTL doing something I love – writing about science and teaching scientific writing. This journey was full of self- doubt, fear, and anxiety. It was also full of courage and confidence. I am and have always been thankful for the education that De La Salle Academy (DLSA) provided me with; I would not have had a scientific journey if DLSA was not part of my life story. But I want to tell a different story. I want to tell the story about a skill I learned while a student at DLSA that is an important reason why I am a science writer today – confidence.
I was a very shy seventh grader. My father gifted me with an introverted personality. I carried around a very large shell that was difficult for “strangers” to access. But DLSA was successful at helping to chip away at that shell and to help me develop confidence in my personality and my person. DLSA teachers expressed confidence in me. It was because of their confidence in me, that I was able to apply that same confidence to myself.
I can still feel how scared I was that DLSA would figure out I was an imposter during my interview. At the time, Mr. Greene was a new teacher at DLSA and had not taught my older sister – a very bright student. He would not be able to bring with him to the interview any assumptions that I would excel because my sister did. Would he figure out that I was an imposter hiding behind my sister’s amazing academic record? To my amazement, Mr. Greene did not think I was an imposter. It was a puzzling experience at the time that ultimately became my reality. While at DLSA, I gained the confidence I needed to let go of my imposter identity.
Today I am not an imposter. I am a science communicator. I am a scientist who was trained in the scientific method where data, not opinions drive decision-making. My scientific training will always influence how I think and communicate. I am also an educator and a mother. I am teaching undergraduate students how to prepare a scientific manuscript this summer as part of a summer research program that aims to increase diversity in science. I am also teaching my one-year-old daughter where her head is and how to say the word “shoes” in English and Polish. I learned a lot from my DLSA teachers about having confidence in myself. I brought that lesson with me on my own personal journey when I decided to pursue a career in science communication. I now hope to pass along that same lesson to my undergraduate students and daughter.
Some may point to my research achievements and express how proud I should be of where I have been professionally. And I am. But what is not obvious to most people is how proud I am of the confidence I had to make my career change – to me, that is one of my greatest professional achievements. And I have the DLSA community to thank for that.