Strong mentors can CHANGE your life: My science mentors

The field of science is a great profession to pursue. Science is a field that enables people to answer how the natural world operates and functions. Unfortunately science is a field that is considered a “sink or swim” occupation. If you are a student that struggles understanding scientific topics or scientific theories, you are considered “not fit” to be in the science field. I’ve experienced professors tell me that I should reconsider changing majors because I was having a hard time understanding the biological information taught in class. Even though I would study frequently for long periods at a time. I’ve always been a student that requires a good amount of time to understand difficult science information. I can recall my introductory biology professor tell me that I seem to not have “strong chemistry and biology backgrounds” because I was not answering the homework questions correctly. Even though I was showing up to class everyday, and spending a great amount of time review/studying the material taught in class. I remember feeling embarrassed because some professors made me feel that I was not capable of being a good biologist.

I have spoken to a lot of my peers about their struggles, and most of them have gone through a similar situation like myself. Why do science teachers seem to what to put down students that are giving it their all, but still struggle with understanding the material? I personally never understood why some teachers/professors operate in that manner. Multiple colleagues have told me that they switched science majors because they did not like feeling “dumb” and that they did not like having professors tell them that they should reconsider switching majors. This is not fair, especially when people tell me that they enjoyed studying science but did not like how teachers treated them when they were struggling learning scientific information.

I am here writing to you all to talk about the impact a strong science mentor can have on someone’s live, especially my life. Jeff Flowers, a chemistry professor at College of San Mateo would meet with me literally everyday to help me learn second semester general chemistry. I remember asking him if I was “cut-out” to be successful learning science at the university level. He then told me that my tenacity and hard work would help me do well in my upper division science courses. Professor Flowers would always mention to me that I should consider getting into research because of the questions I would ask when I would meet with him. He made me want to find out what research entailed. Dr. Yin Mei Lawrence is an organic chemistry professor at the College of San Mateo and she taught me the phrase “confidence and competence.” She would say that to be successful learning [science] you needed to be confident about your understanding of the material, and you also needed to be competent about the scientific information. I remember the first time I met professor Lawrence I told her “I struggled in general chemistry obtaining C’s for both semesters.” I then said to her that I was worried about organic chemistry. Her response was that I needed to feel confident in my ability, and to continue working hard, along with not being timid about asking questions. He advice led me to earning B’s for both semesters of organic chemistry.

Transferring to UC Santa Cruz in 2013 was an experience for me. During my first year at UCSC I dropped cell biology because the amount of information being taught was difficult to understand in a timely manner. That following fall quarter I re-took cell biology with Dr. Michael Rexach. He was the professor that told me that research is about applying biological knowledge to answer how the natural world operates. After each lecture I would ask him questions regarding class material, and he then mentioned to me that I should really consider biological research because of the questions I would pose in class or after class. Not only did I earn an A in cell biology, but Dr. Rexach is the reason why I pursued getting into a research lab as an undergraduate.

Dr. Blake Riggs is a cell biology professor at San Francisco State University. I recall my first meeting with Dr. Riggs. I was transferring from UCSC to SFSU during my junior year because of personal reasons. He asked me why I wanted to be in his research lab. I told him that I wanted to experience what biological research is all about. I would have never contacted Dr. Riggs if it was not for both professor Flowers and Dr. Rexach telling me to pursue biological research to find out if a research career is for me. I am grateful for Dr. Riggs giving me the opportunity to join his lab as a volunteer. More importantly, I am thankful that Dr. Riggs would always tell me that I think about biology as a scholar and not as a traditional student. He always tells me that I think critically about science which is how the field of science progresses. Due to his encouragement, I decided to pursue my Masters degree with the hopes of becoming a Ph.D professional. I would have never considered myself to be a scientist, but due to these science mentors I am on a path to become a biological professional. Which is a path that has changed my life.

TO EVERYONE THAT HAS HELPED ME ON MY PERSONAL AND ACADEMIC JOURNEY…I THANK YOU! I remember everything that you have done for me. And for that, I am forever grateful. Lastly, THANK YOU to all the great mentors around the world! You all are greatly appreciated!

Much love