Lake Bluff, IL
Postdoctoral Research Associate
Rosalind Franklin University
Briefly describe your daily job duties.
As a postdoctoral researcher in a neuroscience lab, I lead several experimental and computational projects aimed at better understanding how brain networks organize and tune themselves at the level of individual brain cells during the course of behavior. This sees me spending a good amount of time optically recording from live brains (those of sea slugs in my case!), while taking time to analyze data and write scientific code on my computer. The most rewarding part of my job involves mentoring graduate students, medical students, and undergraduates, however. Before starting my current position, I was honored to have taught and directed a clinical neuroscience course at a large medical school in Illinois for several years.
As a person who stutters, share the most challenging part of your job.
Since being a scientist depends on presenting your work and sharing your knowledge others, I do a fair amount of public speaking in my position; that was the case at a whole other level when I was lecturing to an auditorium full of medical students in my previous position! Sometimes–and particularly if I’m having a dysfluent day–maintaining fluency while speaking can be exhausting, and that fatigue sometimes amplifies the existing dysfluency. No matter what, however, I commit to making sure that I’m always able to say what I need to.
What are your long-term career aspirations?
Although I’m currently in a research-intensive position, I hope to land a faculty position at a liberal arts college in the next several years, in which I expect to have a small research laboratory of my own but otherwise hope to be able to pour myself into teaching and mentoring, which, as you may have figured out by now, are my foremost passions. If I have the opportunity to author a few books in the process, all the better!
Did you self-disclose your stuttering during the job hiring process?
After many years of being terrified about self-disclosing, I have become accustomed to speaking openly about my stutter, including with my current employer and colleagues, though I’d be lying if I said I’m ever entirely comfortable doing it. Nonetheless, I find that the less dramatically you self-disclose (e.g., “Oh, by the way, I should mention that I have a stutter, and you might sometimes hear me pause on or prolong certain words.”), the less importance the people to whom you disclose assign to it. Sometimes, people will tell me that they had no idea I stuttered, while others had apparently already realized; some people will follow up with a series of questions or show support, while others barely acknowledge that I’ve mentioned it. Regardless of the response it elicits, self-disclosure is first and foremost for your benefit: that’s a lesson I continue to learn!
What is your proudest moment at your current company?
Several years ago, I had a medical student in my clinical neuroscience course who consistently performed towards the bottom of my class. Although very bright and industrious, he had a difficult time wrapping his head around the course material, much to his frustration and disappointment. At one point during the semester, I held a learning session on infections of the central nervous system; since this student had a Master’s degree in infectious diseases, I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity for him to shine and hopefully bolster his confidence. After consulting with the student before our learning session, I asked him to share his expertise on a specific topic of relevance during the course of a whole-class discussion: it was so incredibly rewarding to watch him light up as he spoke passionately and authoritatively about this topic. When he was finished, the entire class of 140 students gave him a round of applause. Those are truly the moments you live for as a teacher.
Describe how stuttering makes you a better, more valued contributor at work.
I’d like to think that I’m a better listener and more compassionate person in general as a PWS; it literally gives me pause in my life! At the same time, my stutter and the journey I’ve taken in becoming more comfortable coexisting with it have impressed upon me how liberating it is to be able to speak your mind without hesitation, no matter what your level of fluency in the moment happens to be. While these influences inform my approach to interacting with people in my research, I think my experiences as a PWS has more profoundly shaped my philosophy as a teacher: I strive to go the extra mile in listening to my students and taking the time to understand their learning and personal needs on a one-by-one basis. I try to serve not only as a content expert, but also a source of mentorship, empathy, and general support. I’d also like to think that the degree to which I’m transparent about my stuttering humanizes me, inviting my students to confide in me in return.
What’s your best advice for people who stutter just entering the workplace and for those in a career striving to achieve greater success?
Never doubt for a moment that you’re fully qualified to be where you are and doing what you’re doing! You have succeeded in spite of your stutter, and you’re a lot more–and have a lot more to say–than whatever words you may repeat, prolong, or block on. Never be ashamed that you stutter, or about anything else over which you lack control. Don’t hesitate to show some vulnerability by self-disclosing: not only can it be personally empowering, but it also stands to strengthen the relationships between you and those with whom you interact in your workplace. Above all, seek our help and mentorship when you need it: as a PWS, you are never alone!