Briefly describe your daily job duties.
Planning, running, and interpreting computer simulations of astrophysical theories. Communicating my discoveries with my peers through scientific articles and talks, teaching undergraduate and PhD level classes. Mentoring graduate students on their research. Writing proposals for research money. Meetings with faculty peers and communicating with the general public via public talks and popular science articles.
As a person who stutters, share the most challenging part of your job.
Initially it was about giving talks, but that became second nature around the transition from PhD student to postdoctoral researcher. Now I give talks with ease. What is still challenging sometimes is talking to higher-ups who hold power over me. And at times also doing the occasional round table of “everybody introduce yourself” impromptu thing. Wouldn’t call it challenging, but certainly unpleasant.
Did you self-disclose your stuttering during the job hiring process? If so, how did you do it and how do you currently disclose your stuttering to unsuspecting students?
I did, in the diversity statement: “This is perhaps the part I feel I am making myself the most vulnerable in this coming out essay [I had already addressed being Latino and non-straight], I disclose that I stutter. The disfluency is mild (as evaluated by speech and language pathologists) and not classified as a disability, or even a speech impediment.
Still, I am constantly in speech therapy to keep it in check. It does not affect my teaching, but I still open the first class of every course by saying ‘Before we continue, let’s get something out of the way. I have been speaking for 20 minutes now, you probably noticed it already: I stutter. It’s not that I’m nervous, it’s not that I’m looking for the word in English, it’s just the way I speak. I am comfortable with it, and I hope you are too.’ So far, it has been a complete non-issue.’”
Describe how stuttering makes you a better, more valued contributor at work.
I grew up with relatives telling me that there was stuff I couldn’t do because of it. If I had believed them, I would not have accomplished half of what I have done. If anything, my stutter makes me work harder because I knew it could be in the way of my goals. This experience helps me understand ableism. Perhaps because of it, I will be the first to tell a deaf student or a student in a wheelchair that their disabilities are not insurmountable obstacles to becoming a scientist.
What is your proudest moment at your current company?
Mentoring is my greatest source of pride. Helping students develop their true potential is priceless. I’m also proud to get federal research grants and publish influential results.
What’s your best advice for people who stutter just entering the workplace and for those in a career striving to achieve greater success?
Keep in mind that people are not as judgmental of our speech as we think they are. Insecurity, not stuttering, is your worst enemy. A moment of stuttering does not overrule a lifetime of successes, including those that got you the job. Nothing good comes out of trying to hide it. It’s not something you should feel shame about it. Don’t let it define you but wear it with pride, like we do in the LGBT community, and it can only positively affect your sense of worth.