Olivia was a star in my research team. Degree in epidemiology, totally competent in biostatistics, good writing skills, and wonderful at presenting seminars. All of that wrapped in a joyful personality. And even bilingual in English and Spanish. She is Puerto Rican, like me!
In short, Olivia was the perfect. Our research was going well when one day she came to me and said: "I am leaving research to become public school teacher".
After my initial shock, I don't remember (or don't want to remember) what my overt reaction was at her news. But I am quite sure that I was not supportive.
I was "training" Olivia to become a mini-me. Go on to get her doctorate degree, become a faculty member, get her own lab... Now to see her jump off that track was disconcerting. Had I been a good mentor? Did I fail in steering in the "right" direction?
I have kept in touch with Olivia through Facebook and the occasional email or phone call. I see pictures of her summer adventures, her face beaming after a school year of a job well done. I also saw her heartbreak when her science classroom burned down. And recently, her feature in the New York Daily News about the success of her school, which serves a population of mostly low-income, African-American, Latino, and immigrant students. Olivia is a success in every life measure that is important.
I am so proud and happy for her.
We, research professors, need to stop measuring ourselves by the number of PhDs we produce and the faculty positions that our postdocs get, essentially, the number of times we clone ourselves. Our success should be measured by how well we support our trainees to succeed in using their best talents to improve society.
Congratulations, Olivia. Well done.
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Dr. Luz Claudio is an environmental health scientist, mother and consultant, originally from Puerto Rico. She is a tenured professor of environmental medicine and public health. Luz recently published her first book: How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide. Dr. Claudio has internship programs and resources for young scientists. Opinions expressed in this blog are solely her own and may not reflect her employer's views.