Assistant Professor of Physiology/Biological Sciences at the William Carrey College of Osteopathic Medicine (MS, USA)
Doctor of Biomedical Science (University of Missouri, 2008), Jessica has demonstrated a clear passion for science and human physiology, and in particular, the cardiovascular system. Having lost her husband to cancer only eight months after having her first child, Jessica took time to prioritize her family and surround her daughter and herself with a loving support network, while only later returning to her passion for science. A mother first and academic second, Jessica is an inspiring example of positivity, passion, and intelligence, and the importance of remaining true to your unique values and needs.
1. What was your first job?
My first job was a technician job in a medicinal school in Wisconsin.
2. When and how did you decided to become a medical school professor?
For a long time, I thought I wanted to be a physician. It was my goal all through elementary, high school, and into college. During my junior in undergrad, I realized I enjoyed the research aspect of medicine and learning how the body works more than working with patients. I suddenly went from being a hardcore bio major to a physiology major, and I realized that it was what I wanted to do. I continued to meet with professors, and I met with one in particular who offered to hire me in a physiology lab, where I realized I liked working, not with patients, but with animals. During this time, one professor in the lab asked me to do something that sounds a little crazy: to through all the scientific abstracts that I might like and circle what I liked within them. Through the process, I eventually discovered a theme, and realized that I like the cardiovascular system. So my professor said, “these are places that I could go; these are the people I know, etc.” With that, I left my job and went to Missouri and started a new career.
Also, my grandmother would want me to add this, when I was four I played with the heart of turkey at Thanksgiving. That was one of the earliest signs that I was meant [for this field].
3. How difficult was it to pursue your professional goals? What were your greatest obstacles?
I have been extremely lucky in the people that have helped me. I have had a great support network, and it wasn’t until recently that I realized that it’s not always like that.
[In science], my biggest obstacle has been experimental issues such as animals dying, making sure that there is money available for testing- in pharmacological interventions drugs are really expensive and many are made outside of the U.S. But that’s all normal for experimental research.
[Personally], being far away from my family was a big obstacle. But, again, I always had a lot of support.
4. What do you consider to be your greatest success post-collegiately?
Success is my daughter. She is four and a half, and raising her has been a rewarding challenge every single day. Being a working mom is difficult, and finding the right environment where you can be good at your job and be good at parenting is key.
I am a parent before everything else. It is one thing for your child to be well-behaved, healthy, get into good schools…but, having other people tell you that they think you’re a good mom, that is a really big deal to me.
I [also] really like teaching; I find it very rewarding, and, for me, going into teaching was a really good decision. To give a lecture and to see even just one student get it and see the light bulb go off – that is what it is all about. I also have a unique program when I keep my student for all four years, which allows me to build relationships with them. I tell my students that my room is a safe place, and if they just need somewhere to let it all out and cry, they will not be judged, and it will not leave this room. I am giving back some of the mentoring that I have had.
5. What is the biggest risk you have ever taken?
I took a small risk to turn down a post-doc to get married and move to where my husband had a job, and when my daughter was born I quit my job in order to raise her. I thought I had slaughtered my career. I had given up everything to take of my family, and all these horrible things came through my head: had I given in career? [After the death of my husband], I packed up my daughter and we moved to my hometown [in Mississippi], and I was able to go back into work locally. I realized I hadn’t given it in, I had just moved onto a different path.
6. What are your passions? How do you find a way to incorporate them into your daily life?
I spend a lot of time with my daughter, and I try don’t work in the evenings when she is awake. I can’t say I don’t bring my work home, but I’d rather give up sleep, so that I can spend time with her. I know that tomorrow she will be a different person, and I want to be her mom. I make sure I do my work well, and then I can be allowed to do other things I want to do, and that allows me to be a good mom.
Second, one of the reasons I chose my career is because I love traveling, and I want my little girl to see those things. A reason I gave up research and focused more heavily on teaching was to have the summer to travel. I believe that enjoying things outside of work that you like will help you in work. Me and my little girl enjoy things together. Just because you’re an adult and a parent, you can’t lose yourself, your passions, and you still need to be you. It took me entire adult life to figure that out. You are still whoever you were before. You can’t guilt yourself do things. You can get your work done, and then weekends and time to travel.
7. What is the most fun experience you have had since graduating from college?
Every year since I’ve graduated from college I’ve gone to a science conference. It’s pretty much nerd central with 12,000 nerds in one place. All the people I have met come together to talk about science. You get to catch up with people, and learn about their current work and research. A lot of my friends have moved all over the country and world. I may not read their papers anymore, so it’s great to come together. Plus, you go to diner and nobody cares that you’re talking about science- its just normal. You get to be yourself. It’s renewing and reinvigorating. It reminds me of why I am doing what I do.
8. Do you have any other words of wisdom that you think could be of value to recent and up-coming college graduates?
Don’t rush. I really pushed my way out of school, and I finished a PhD by 27 years old- and that’s pretty quick!
Just because you graduated from college doesn’t mean you need to be on a hard-core career path right now. Don’t put yourself on a schedule because you’re going to turn X, or need to do Y. Your work and future will be more valuable if you have experienced something unique.