My First Week at School

I’m not one to get sentimental about moving.  Since finishing undergrad at Davis I have been in Missouri (5 years), Copenhagen (2.5 years), and back in the Bay Area (Oakland and Marin, 3.5 years).  Such is the life of a scientist in search of training and funding to progress in ones career.  My mindset in each case was “well if I don’t like it I can always leave”.  Inevitably, while adjustment can take time each place I have settled in, found a wonderful group of friends, and really enjoyed my new normal.  Sure, the lifestyle is certainly different in Copenhagen versus mid-Missouri as our the people, but if to pick one that I preferred is difficult, if not impossible.  Its apples and oranges.  Very different, each with their own plusses and minuses.  Or maybe I’m just easy to please.  Regardless moving is mostly a pain and saying goodbye is always difficult.  Still I know that the next adventure will bring new experiences, new people, and enrich my life and perspective in entirely new ways.  Thats always exciting and whether you stay in the same place for your entire life or not, its a worthy goal.

That is the setting upon which I found myself in Caldwell, ID at the front of a classroom of mostly freshman, mostly athletes, explaining why I was going to be giving them quizzes (its because it enhances retrieval learning).  The College of Idaho was not on my radar.  In fact I don’t think I even knew that it existed.  But last December I somehow found myself hoping on a plane to go interview for a tenure track position.   The interview went well and soon there after it was a drive back to Boise for a snowy weekend and frequently uttering “Can we live here?”.  We (Bridget and I) choose yes.  Bridget has secured an awesome Graduate Assistant position working in the new department of Innovation and Design at Boise State.  Her MBA will be completely paid for.  I on the otherhand landed in the newly formed Health and Human Performance Department at the small liberal arts school College of Idaho.  Yes, its mostly teaching, and yes the research is limited by resources, but I am inspired.  Instead of chasing big NIH money I work on projects that are driven by intelligent, motivated undergraduates.  Best of all I get to that in a human performance lab instead of flipping vials and counting dead flies.  I may still be in the honeymoon period, but my initial impressions of the school are overwhelming positive and I feel extremely lucky to have landed the position that I did.  The faculty seem truly invested in educating and transforming the students here into intelligent thinking professionals.  Not only that, but they all seem to enjoy it and are legitimately excited to be here as well as evidenced by an extremely low turnover!  Sure I recognize that its a self selecting crowd, but from the top down the College of Idaho sets high standards for their faculty and higher standards for the students that choose to come here.  And while past success of the students at College of Idaho it certainly doesn’t guarantee future success, but the culture is here and thats incredibly important, encouraging, and exciting.

In a way my position at College of Idaho is the completion of me coming full cycle.  When I entered my PhD I thought, teach at a small school, maybe even do some coaching.  During my PhD at Missouri I was inspired by the research my colleagues and I completed.  It was successful, it was fun, and it was what I trained for.  I was all aboard the R1 train.  My experience in Copenhagen did little to damper that enthusiasm.  Some great colleagues and the opportunity to mentor a fantastic PhD student seemed to have me on track for that tenure track lifestyle at an R1.  While not really finished with my time in Copenhagen the opportunity to move back to the Bay Area came up and we jumped at it.  The Buck Institute seemed like a place I could thrive and reach that goal of a “high-impact” paper that would pave the way for me to an R1.  However something happened along the way.  Instead of more inspired by moving to more basic and supposedly high impact I became less inspired.  I saw the papers in the top journals more a product of politics, reductionist approaches to biology.  The science could be exciting, but was at times seemed far away from the translational science I was doing before.  I missed the work I was doing in Copenhagen and Missouri, but also realized that those projects, while important to me, probably would not land me at an R1 school in a location that I wanted to be.  In a way my research interests had become too broad to fit into the R1 world of academia and I felt stuck.  Still I don’t regret my prior research choices.  Those choices led to a breadth experiences which will certainly make me a better teacher, a better mentor, a better member of the College of Idaho faculty.

In Boise we have 100’s of miles of trails from our door and beautiful mountains a few hours away.  At the College of Idaho I have student-athletes interested in science of sport that I get to interact with personally on a weekly basis and watch grow during their 4 years at school.  It seems like a perfect personal and professional match.  As such I am truly grateful and excited to now start that life I had envisioned 11 years ago when I finished my degree in Exercise Biology at Davis.  Plus I get 3 months off in the summer and thats pretty cool.