Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Road Not Taken

2 of my students scout for tent sites in the Wind River Mountains, Wyoming. June, 2007

Being relatively new to blogging, I am taking my first stab and writing for a Blog Carnival. Here goes...

The Road Not Taken

While I am fairly, ok very, early on in my “career” (having just started graduate school) the idea of alternate paths is one that I have mulled over quite a lot in the last year. I often feel torn between science and wilderness. While these are obviously not mutually exclusive, and often (wonderfully) go hand in hand, for me science had meant less wilderness. Specifically, it has meant no more teaching in the wilderness... at least not for a while. I used to lead backpacking trips for students of various ages, and the idea of being a hands on experiential educator is one that I toyed around with for a long time. When I was a classroom teacher I was very involved with our school’s wilderness program, and had I continued down that path I might have had the opportunity to craft new ways for young men of Dallas to connect with the natural world. I think this is incredibly important given our increasing disconnect with Nature (PLEASE read "Last Child in the Woods" by Richard Louv) and as the climate and conservation issues become more and more profound.

I remember as a NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) leading my group of 10 16-18 year olds down a steep rocky slope in the Wind River Mountains after an arduous 12 day of day of traversing a 3 mile (yes, 3 miles in 12 hours = immense frustration) scree slope full of house-sized boulders. We were rushing to beat a building storm. Our group got into camp and set up tents just in time for us to tell our students to get out of their tents and assume lightning position in the rain and hail (to avoid proximity to metal poles). Then, as hypothermia became a greater risk than the lightening (roughly 30 minutes later) telling our students to get back in the tents. It was a very difficult day physically, and emotionally. Clearly, my memories of wilderness education are not all wonderful, but after spending a month taking care of themselves and each other in the wilderness those students were more confident, more capable, better leaders, and were certainly Wilderness advocates for life. I learned more about myself, and my leadership style working for that organization group than i will in any other job... I’m certain. The flip side is that I was not doing science, and I missed it.

I decided to leave both classroom teaching (middle school life and earth/space science and high school marine science) and wilderness education behind when I applied to graduate school. I loved teaching about science, and especially talking about what scientists that I knew were up to, but I really missed actually doing science. The classroom teaching had allowed me the schedule to do wilderness based experiential education in the summers, but I am fairly certain graduate school will not.

There are things I already miss... now that I am a whopping 2 months in. Primarily I miss my my colleagues and students. I miss coaching, and watching skills and confidence grow outside of the classroom. I miss my former students running into my room to say hi (or possibly trying to disrupt my classes). I miss having a wonderful group of educators around to collaborate or commiserate with. I miss the fun and silliness that comes with middle school. I miss my after school climbing club.

However, I am somewhere that is almost overwhelming in its vibrancy. The almost tangible swirling energy and idea make it an incredibly exciting and energizing place to be. I had missed doing research while I was teaching, and now I am picking projects and taking classes, and learning a huge amount. Getting paid to learn is quite the luxury, and I consider myself very lucky for the opportunity! I don’t know where exactly the PhD route will take me, but I know that I will always be an educator of some sort. In some foggy crystal ball vision I can almost see the path not taken and the chosen route converging down the line a ways where I create a wilderness-based science school in some beautiful location, maybe overlooking the sea on the Maine coast.


  1. I also left a job in education (non-formal science & environmental education at a field station) to go back to doing science. I spent a couple of years at that job trying to decide if I actually wanted to get my Ph.D. in science or if I wanted to pursue higher education in... well... education. I chose science, mainly because I want(ed?) to teach at the college level and for that I pretty much need a Ph.D. My husband reminds me, though, that if at the end of it all I decide to be a 3rd grade teacher he'll still love me.

    Welcome to the women in science blogosphere!

  2. Thanks Karina... it is nice to have in the back of my head that I can always go back to teaching high school or middle school, and probably be very happy!