I recently started as an Assistant Professor at CSULA. This post deals with how my journey turned out differently than I had expected, and I’m all the better for it
Four years ago, I finished my doctorate, with no intentions to ever pursue a career in academia. You know what they say, right? Never say never…
My early teaching experiences were an escape from the stress of my doctoral program
While working on my doctorate, I gave an annual guest lecture on childhood obesity for an undergraduate course on Maternal, Child, and Family health. I always enjoyed interacting with the students, and it was an experience that truly fed me, lifting my focus from the next step in my research process. I looked forward to the opportunity every year, and even gained undergraduate mentees from this experience… mentees who now have Masters degrees of their own. This was an opportunity to connect and have impact that was difficult to find when I was often stuck behind my computer or in the library, trying to get one step closer to finishing my dissertation.
Having my own classroom for the first time transformed me
Two years ago, I had the opportunity to teach a Health Disparities course in the Department of Psychology, for a mentor and colleague. It was in this classroom that I was transformed. I watched the faces of my students as they started to see health disparities, and the underlying factors that drive them, differently. Students came without hesitation to office hours to discuss how what they were learning in the classroom was changing their perspectives, and increasing the resolve with which they faced their future careers. I realized that my presence was making a difference.
I got hooked on becoming a better teacher
Last year, I had the opportunity to teach on two college campuses. I now had the problem of turning students away. Whether teaching at a more humane hour of the day (12:30 instead of 8:30), or my reputation from previous students had taken wind, I faced nearly one hundred students in my Health Disparities course on the first day. More than seventy would stay on for the entire term. In another course, I found myself becoming more and more interested in pedagogy and new ways in which I could engage my students, especially in a large class. I experimented with in-class workshops to help students immediately apply what they were learning in the classroom. My students craved discussion of principles, and so, I was eager to find new ways to help make any material I covered relevant and practical.
I took a leap of faith
Which brings me to now, the end of my second week as an Assistant Professor. Last year, I took a risk and went for an opportunity to do this full-time. I knew it I had a lot to contribute in my chosen field (public health), but more importantly, I could also continue to grow in over time in this position. I knew how incredibly difficult it is to get a tenure-track position. This made it that much harder to believe that I could be chosen… but I applied anyway.
I let go of my ‘life script’
When I was five years old, I wanted to become a medical doctor so I could come back and serve my community. I held on to that dream until I was 21, and had no idea of what to replace it with. So, I pursued public health, because I was passionate about it, and saw how cultural and social factors shaped health outcomes in my community. I also loved coaching, and really saw myself as a coach and speaker. I’ve been giving motivational talks since I was 18, and I just knew that was the path God had in store for me. So, I went for both. The product of these seemingly divergent journeys is that I now hold a Doctorate of Public Health degree, and a diverse professional background that has opened so many doors… including the pathway to help develop future professionals in my field.
The funny thing is, I now see coaching and speaking as part of what I do everyday. However, I’m now in the position to do even more. I have the freedom to cultivate a research agenda that explores the issues that drove me into public health as a senior at Stanford, studying the experiences of African-American women living with a rare chronic illness. I now have the skills and resources to approach the study of self-care in women of color. My background in public health, consulting, and coaching is of value to my students, who seek to know how what they are learning in the classroom is applicable to the outside world.
Let your eyes see your ‘life script’ differently
In closing, I never would have been here if I forced myself to stick to my original ‘life script’. I had no idea of how many different paths could lead achieving my goals. But, letting go of control led me to standing at Faculty Convocation last month, with tears in my eyes, as myself and 51 other colleagues were embraced by the university community as faculty for the first time. I challenge you to think creatively about where you are in life. Look at who you can impact, even if it means starting with just believing in yourself. What are your talents and your skills? Think openly of all of the different ways in which you can express them. I’m so grateful that I did.
The format and regularity of this blog will shift along with my current availability to post. However, as I am able, I look forward to continuing to share my perspective here. In order to practice what I preach regarding balance, I am not taking individual clients until December 2016. Those who are interested in organizational workshops and keynote lectures are welcome to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org regarding my availability. Thank you for reading!