Carlise Bethel, Ph.D.

Carlise BethelTell us about your current career position.
I am currently a science instructor at Dr. Henry A. Wise, Jr. High School in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. I teach biology, and two courses in the Academy of Health Professions. The courses are titled Medical Science and Foundations of Medicine and Health Sciences. I have been teaching for three years.

What are the key experiences and decisions that have enabled you to reach your current position?

One of my favorite experiences as a graduate student was mentoring high school and undergraduate students in the lab. The opportunities to connect with young people were always my richest experiences and, in many cases, challenged me to look at my work differently or become more focused on the objectives of the research. The students I worked with left a wonderful impression on me. They were a joy to train, even when it was hard work.

I initially wanted to be a principle investigator, but after two postdocs, I made the bravest decision I’ve ever made by deciding to teach. Because I was not prepared to teach and had no formal training, I applied to the Prince George’s County Resident Teacher Program. This intensive program is run by mentor teachers who have a real world view of the profession and the necessary skills all teachers must possess to not only be successful, but to excel in the profession. I would not be the teacher I am without their training, and I know I have much more work to do. This program provides the connections and support needed to survive and thrive in education. 

What skills did you learn during your scientific training that prepared you for your current role?
I learned to multitask and prioritize as a trainee and I feel like that translated well into the classroom. I also learned to pay close attention to detail. As a teacher, the more detail-oriented you are, the smoother a lesson plan can go. Of course, the best laid plans…but planning is more than half the battle most of the time. My training also taught me to be flexible and as an educator; flexibility is a gift. If something is not working, you have to be ready at a moment’s notice to switch gears or backtrack. Young lives are in the balance and you have to be willing to stretch yourself. I could go on, but those are the skills that I use the most.

What is the biggest challenge that you have faced in pursuing your career? What have you done to overcome it?
The challenge is not reaching every student all the time. It takes months to develop relationships with some students and you don’t get as close as you want to all of them. If you want instant gratification or positive feedback, this isn’t for you. Some students won’t come see to you for a year or two, and you don’t always find out how you have affected them. All you have to believe in is that you have done your best. Each day you have given it your all. Each day you are enough. And if you aren’t satisfied with one day’s results, I have learned to go back at it. Keep trying. Persistence pays and as a teacher, you grow every day just by committing to getting better.

What advice would you give to young people who want to pursue a career similar to yours?
Learn your field. Know the content and be passionate. My students always say, “You’re so excited about this stuff! Do you like science?” I respond that I love science and that is why I teach. There is so much to learn. Also, you have to be comfortable with ups and downs. There are tough days and you have to step back and reflect regularly on how you can improve. There are also times when you have to say, it is beyond me. I’ve done my best. It is also important to have a support system of colleagues who you admire and love to work with. That makes the difference in a school; a culture of learning should be shared. Finally, get to know your students. You are busy and there is always something to do. I challenge myself to get to know my students and find out what is important to them. That’s how they know you care about them and they will try their hardest to perform better.

What can young scientists do to learn more about careers in your field?

Go to a local school. Find out about the administrative positions available as well as the instructional positions. Schools have so many moving parts and they really rely on expertise in other fields to make advances. You would be amazed at how far the science degree can take you in education.

What are your hobbies?
Roller skating, ice skating, dancing, playing the piano, and cooking are among my favorite activities. I can’t forget reading books. I can’t say I read as many books in grad school as I have since I became a teacher.

What was the last book you read?
“Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. What a thriller!

Do you have any heroes, heroines, mentors, or role models? If so, describe how they have influenced you.
I have several. First would be my mother. She is an amazing woman who has supported me all the way from 5th grade when I wanted to be a veterinarian through completing my Ph.D. with a husband and two preschoolers to cheer me on. She is a champion of education and she is my favorite teacher. I also look up to all of the science teachers I had in high school. I am very good friends with two of them, Mr. Creveling and Mr. Belanger. They were excellent biology teachers at Oxon Hill High School and I refer back to my experiences with them as a student quite a bit. They are phenomenal scientists, with vibrant personalities and lots of humor to go around. I have to mention Mrs. Bazemore, my English teacher. She is who I look up to as we infuse more literacy into our curriculum. Great scientists are great readers and writers too! 

My Ph.D. advisor, Charles. J. Bieberich, Ph.D. was a great influence as my developmental biology teacher and research mentor. His enthusiasm and love for science was contagious and his support as I started my family was tremendous. Angelo De Marzo, M.D., Ph.D. let me spend countless hours in his lab as a grad student and later as a postdoc. His support was tremendous as well. Last but not least, I have to applaud the Meyerhoff Scholarship Program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Without this program, I would not have dreamed big and pursued my Ph.D. Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, Earnestine Baker, LaMont Toliver, and other staff members were committed to our success as thinkers and accomplished scientists. They showed me the value of character and their encouragement and support was central to my career path and the decisions I made.

What is it that keeps you motivated?
Every day is a new day to teach. Every day is a new day to learn. I have an optimistic heart and I really believe that every student matters and every moment counts. My students motivate me to be the best that I can be. They deserve it. We need more teachers to believe the best about them. That’s my job, even when it’s hard. Perhaps, just by stepping into my classroom, they too will become passionate about science. I don’t want to miss that opportunity. That’s why I show up every day.