If you're reading this page, you want to know more about me than why I feel the need to have a pseudonym. The short of it is that I'm an academic. I teach and conduct research at a university in Iowa (yes, people actually live in Iowa!), and I have a passion for science, education, and healthy living.
My journey has been one of gaining confidence, and I won't pretend that I've reached all of my goals yet. Please join me as I struggle to find balance in my career, life, and relationships.
As is true of anyone, the key to understanding my point of view is linked to my past and dependent on my future goals. This is how I got to where I am:
20 years in the American education system
From the time I was 5 years old, I have been in school. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean I'm a total book-nerd. I was a cheerleader in high school, and was co-captain my senior year. I played in the band, sang in the choir, worked at the grocery store, served on the student council, and went to sporting events. I lived a normal life in northwestern Minnesota, where I grew up with my family.
After high school graduation, I went to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, NE. Why did I choose that school? I think it had to do with finances. They were offering a lot of financial aid and scholarships. I also wanted to get out and see what I could do on my own. I left for Nebraska, but I didn't have the confidence I needed to survive in that environment. I was painfully shy and terrified that I would fail out of college. I decided that if I failed, it wouldn't be because I didn't work hard enough. I kept my head down, did the work, and didn't do much else. I made very few good friends, and I found myself in a relationship that I allowed to define me. My constant regret is not having enough fun in undergraduate.
At the beginning of my third year of undergraduate, I determined that I'd be able to graduate at the end of the school year if I worked my butt off. Financially, it made the most sense. I would have time to finish my coursework, apply to graduate school, and continue working in my part-time laboratory job. I did finish, but during this time my relationship dissolved, my self-esteem plummeted, and I felt that I had lost everything I worked for. I received my Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry from Nebraska, and I moved to Iowa in 2006 to start graduate school, still lacking confidence.
In graduate school, I was more involved. I found more people who had similar goals. I liked the research I was doing, I had fun with friends. I gained more confidence, but I was still terrified of failure. Even as I neared the end of my Ph.D, I was afraid that my faculty committee would fail me and all of my hard work would be for nothing.
Two weeks before I defended my work, my boss said the most helpful thing he'd said during my 4 years of research. He said "You're going to pass, that's not the question. It's up to you whether you live up to the reputation that you've built for yourself." I passed my defense with flying colors, and I got my Ph.D in May of 2010 at the age of 25. I literally spent 20 years straight in the education system and now I am part of it.
Healthy but heavy
Growing up, my family always had a huge garden. We ate tons of fruits and vegetables. My brothers, who are now teenagers, never really complained about eating veggies. Sure, there are things each of us prefer not to eat, but overall healthy eating prevails in our household. I carried these habits with me to adulthood. Even in my last year of undergrad, my mom would sent me $20.00 a month for fruits and veggies because I was broke as a joke.
In high school, I was always curvy. I was also pretty active, which kept my weight from mushrooming. However, as I left that lifestyle for the lifestyle of books and late-night snacks. I did manage to develop a love for running, which probably kept me from reaching my maximum weight. I wasn't particularly dedicated, and I gave up running for beer and parties during my first year of graduate school. During this time, I was mostly vegetarian, which just proves that you can indeed be a 'bad veggie'. My weight reached its maximum in the summer of 2007. I was a bridesmaid in a friend's wedding, and I was shocked at how much weight I'd put on. I stepped on the scale and immediately vowed to change my ways.
I started losing weight with the Self magazine online trackers. I used that for a year, keeping my calories around 1500-1800/day. I did some sort of exercise for 20 minutes/3 times a week. Once that became easy, I built up to an hour 5x/week, which is what I do now. At first, I was consumed with calories. I maximized veggie intake, but I would eat the 100 calorie packs, processed dinners, etc. I wasn't eating enough real food, but I lost weight. Within 1 year, I lost 40 lbs. During this time, I started following some of the original healthy living blogs. I've been reading Kath and Tina's blogs for years now. Now my list of blogs is continually increasing. It really is like an online network of friends and a constant support group.
The past year has been a challenge. I finished my Ph.D, moved in with my fiance, and had to learn when to compromise, when to say no, and when to give in. My food choices have started leaning towards whole, sustainable food. The more I learn about how our bodies work and the macro and micronutrients foods provide, the more I shy away from processed foods. I hope to provide some understanding of how food works, but also to inspire other to eat healthy, delicious foods.
Armed with a Ph.D in biochemistry, I aim to stay in the educational sector in my career. Currently, I conduct research in a laboratory that is focused on plant chemicals (i.e. natural products for people familiar with the jargon of my field). I lead a subset of the lab focusing on similar chemicals secreted by bacteria, specifically Mycobacteria, that act to infect you and stop your immune system from functioning correctly. My work is challenging and interesting, but my passion is education.
I hope to make science more approachable for the public. I am tired of elitist attitudes about academia. The more we arm our public with knowledge, the better able to defend themselves they will be. It gives me hope that major funding and publication groups have started emphasizing these ideas in the past year. I hope to be at the forefront of this movement. As Mahatma Ghandi said:
'You must be the change you wish to see in the world'
I'm engaged to another scientist, and as we work to find our places in the field, in the world, we struggle to maintain balance, just like everyone else. Join me in my journey to define myself, to gain the confidence to stand up to ivory tower of academia, and to have the energy to make the changes that will educate and prepare the next generations of Americans to address the coming challenges.