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.