A mentorship relationship has changed my life

I know I haven’t blogged in a while, but there has been a lot happening in my life and things have been pretty great. I want to update you all about something that has given me a lot of inspiration and hope about my future (and write this for myself to chronicle my college journey).

I signed up for a course I was very interested in at the beginning of the semester and was very nervous going into it. I was particularly nervous because the professor of the class is very prominent in the field I want to go into. I was nervous about how she would react to my tics and I was worried that my tics would influence what she thought I was capable of achieving (something my parents told me would happen when I was first diagnosed).

I KNOW that my tics don’t effect my ability to be a student, to write, do research or succeed and move forward with my goal of getting a PhD in a very research-oriented area in ANY way. But that thought of “what if she doesn’t understand” was in the back of my head. This class and my relationship with this professor has officially proved my parents so WRONG!

Every relationship I have had since my diagnosis, with a professor, a teacher, a mentor, a friend or a boyfriend has shown me that my tics will not effect what other people think of me or what they think I am capable of achieving. This relationship/mentorship however, has blown me away.

Putting things in perspective for my readers a little: My professor (who I will call Dr. Brown) is a full professor at a university that is ranked #14 in the country, is the principle investigator of a prominent research lab, has published coutless instrumental papers and is as I have said a prominent and well-known researcher in her field. In other words, she’s awesome and anyone who is anyone in this field knows how she is.

In the beginning of the semester I went to meet with her to tell her about my Tourette’s/ tics and how it would effect me in the classroom. I do this with all of my professors (especially for smaller classes) in which my tics might be more noticeable to those around me and to the professor. She reacted very well, like all of my other professors have. She was very relaxed about it and didn’t seem concerned at all.

Even though I was nervous about her seeing my tics in class, I was able to be relaxed and just be myself. I loved how she taught the class and was so fascinated by the material. Every class period I had with her, I felt more and more confident that this is exactly the field I wanted to go into. Every lecture held my attention for the entire 2 1/2 to 3 hours in a way that sparked my interest beyond that of any other class I have taken.

I started speaking up more in class and asking questions about the material. I wanted to know more and loved the discussions her material sparked in class. I also particularly enjoyed the writing assignments! Since this was a writing intensive class we had a paper abstract due almost every week and a midterm and final paper.

I stopped focusing on my tics in class, and more and more they weren’t even a thought in my mind during class because I was so interested and focused on what I was learning and how it applied to my independent research I do at the medical school.

When it was time to write my midterm paper, I was excited. I picked one of my favorite topics, a topic related to sensory processing disorder, Proprioception! Although I actually knew very little about Proprioception going into the paper, I did a lot of research and learned so much out of the experience of writing the paper. I turned it in and then went on spring break.

When I came back from spring break, I was excited to get my paper back and to hear what Professor Brown thought of it. I value her option and insight so much and was very curious what she thought of my paper. Sure, enough when I got it back, I got an A! She had written on the paper, “excellent paper! great transitions as well as content!”

Then she said to the class “I’m going to ask a few of you to stay after class because I would like to get some of the papers you referenced in your paper to use in some of my other classes”. I figured she was not talking about me since my paper topic was very specific and probably would’t directly relate to the content she was teaching in any of her other classes. However, at the end of class she asked another student in the class and me to stay after.

She asked the other student first if she could use one of her references, and then when the other student left the room, Professor Brown asked me if I would send her my whole paper. She told me that she would like to use my paper as an example of an excellent paper to show to students when she taught this class in the future. I of course was not expecting his! I saw that my paper got an A and had really enjoyed writing it, but I would have never imagined that it was so excellent that she would want to use it as an example. Of course I said yes, told her I was honored, and sent her the paper.

Later on I had scheduled an appointment to meet with her to get her advice about applying to PhD programs next year. During the meeting, time and time again I was blown away by how much she believed in me. She told me how impressed she was with my writing and that she thought my writing was at an even higher level than some of her graduate students (wow!!) and during the course of the meeting stressed that I should focus on research in graduate school instead of clinical work because she believes I have what it takes to succeed in the highly competitive research field and I have what it takes to publish and teach, allowing me to make a larger scale difference and one day take on a position like hers.

This is essentially my dream. This is what I have dreamed of for years. There is nothing that I would want more than to make this kind of difference in the lives of children, to have my own lab, and to do research at that level. Professor Brown, someone who I admire and look up to so much, was sitting in front of me not only saying that it was possible for me to do this, but that she believed in me and believed I could not only achieve my dream but excel in it.

When I asked her if she would write me a letter of recommendation for graduate school, she said she would be glad to. I think her letter could make a huge difference. She then asked me if I planned to tell the people whose labs I will be applying to/interviewing with about my TS. I told her I was unsure at this point.

She then proceed to tell me that if any of the professors whose lab’s I was applying to had questions about my TS, she would be happy to talk with them. I thought this was so incredibly sweet and amazing of her to offer. I felt taken care of, and so supported. I felt like I had someone rooting for me, someone in my court, someone witting to stand up for me if anyone questioned me or wondered how my TS might affect me in a lab /research setting. I told her because of how my tics have been on the more moderate/mild side lately that this probably would’t be necessary, but I can’t even put into words how supported it made me feel.

Someone who I was so nervous to tell about my TS is now willing to stand up for me and to help others understand what TS is and how it effects me. For me, I cannot even tell you how much of a huge deal this is. Because of how my parents handled my TS, I have had very few adults in my life who have been able to stand up for me and make me feel so safe and understood.

While this has made me my own best advocate, it’s an incredible feeling to know I do not have to carry this weight all by myself and to know that if I need help advocating or am in a situation where I need a little extra support, I have someone willing to be there for me! :)



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