One of the perks of being a graduate student in UW-Madison is the opportunity to hear the crème de la crème speakers. Last week, I had the opportunity to listen to a reflection by Dr. J. Drew Lanham from Clemson University. He had background slides with pictures which were in tune with his calm but assertive voice. He was talking about PASSION and PERSEVERANCE, and what it means for him to be a naturalist while being a Black person.
During his monologue, a specific picture caught my eye. In one of the background pictures, I recognized someone I met back when I went to Chiapas, México in 2007: Dr. Joseph Fail Jr. (RIP) from Johnson C. Smith University. I will always remember him as the one who taught me the K.I.S.S. principle - Keep It Simple Stupid!, the privilege of being bilingual in the sciences, and above all the one who emphasized the importance of keeping a journal in the field (a la Darwin and Leopold). As Dr. Drew was speaking, I reminisced on the reason why I left my "medical career" behind- as an undergrad , and decided to study the beautiful science of Ecology.
When I got home that afternoon, I got the urge to check my email and search: "Chiapas". So many memories that I had put in a black box inside my head started to emerge. Until something popped up. It was something I had written 3 years ago, just before finishing my master's degree:
"It could be a cliché to say that travelling to México with SEEDS changed my life, but it truly did. Today, instead of pulling all-nighters in med-school, I find myself trying to figure out how to set up ecological models or what can I do to disseminate science, or writing. I feel that this love for learning and for what I do was transferred to me from my mentors and other SEEDS members. Now that I have a year left to complete my Master’s degree I truly understand the importance of mentoring and encouraging individuals to pursue their goals. As an undergraduate I was able to perform two roles, that of the mentee and the mentor (for school children). Today, I follow the same path by joining a program where I serve as a tutor for high school students. Being a mentor should not be forced; it actually comes naturally when one truly has the interest to share experiences and good advice. Being a mentor should not begin with fixed expectations, but building a trustworthy professional relationship and inspiring each other to be better scientists and citizens. There is no perfect mentor, but with a constructive attitude and encouraging words, a mentor can have a positive impact in a person’s life, such as it did for me. It would be a blessing to keep working with what SEEDS stands for: Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability. "
Who knows where this journey will take me, sometimes is hard to immediately see the benefits of completing a PhD. It is not easy. I'm surrounded by brilliant people, and that is a good thing - it reminds me that I need to step up my game, to walk the talk. But, it can also be intimidating. Thus, I can never forget why I started this journey in the first place... and this month, I got a reminder.
Ecóloga, Mujer y Puertorriqueña. Sarcástica, pero seria