(Also see "About Me" here.)
This is a basic overview of my career development. I am currently teaching chemistry at a local public high school, Frederick Douglass.
I double-majored in biochem & chem at Virginia Tech in 2004 and thought I wanted to get a Ph.D. to become a research professor, so I went on to grad school in Gainesville, Florida for three years.
When I finished my M.S. in Chemistry at UF in the summer of 2007 I wasn't really sure what I wanted my long-term career goals to be. I was very tired of working in a lab every day but I loved (and still do) the science itself. I decided to teach for a few years, and decided -- in a rather arbitrary fashion -- to take a job teaching chemistry at Hammond School in Columbia, SC. Perhaps the fact that my sister lived here at the time influenced that choice, but it was literally the first and only job offer I sought. After we had Seth, financial pressures led me to look to a more lucrative position.
I wanted to work as a teacher for at least a few years, focusing on STEM and hopefully getting certified to teach to AP and/or IB students. I also had ideas for developing websites and multimedia content for science courses. Keep in mind that this was 2007, and Khan Academy was still a year away. After grad school at UF, I planned to work on those and market them to educational (materials distribution) companies, or sell them directly to educators. Unfortunately, time and chance happens to all of us, and I never put in the work or energy required. I did, however, develop a large amount of Moodle content for chemistry and physics courses for my personal use over the years.
For the next three years I taught chemistry and started to re-think my overall career goals. This was motivated in large part by having kids, since teaching didn't pay much. After reading about how lucrative scientist-attorney jobs are, I gave some thoughts to attending law school for intellectual property. With my background I knew I could do well as a patent attorney and substantially increase our net worth. I took an LSAT and got a 169 on my first try. But with my family depending on me and the prospect of law school looking murky, I put those plans into the category of "pipe dream". An alternative plan would've been to simply take the patent bar at some point in the future to qualify as a patent agent (more). I even thought of applying to the FBI or CIA as an analyst, as I have a little knowledge of G-type chemical warfare agent chemistry.
In the end, the mundane won over the grand, as I happened upon a very nice local opportunity to work at the University of South Carolina. I began to seek employment opportunities in R and D in the spring of 2010, and near the end of April, I applied for a job I found posted on the USC website that sounded to my liking and went on my first interview -- and second ever -- since June 2007. I got the offer and took it. Starting on 6/1/10, I began working in the Electrical Engineering Dept. at the University of South Carolina (USC). Specifically, I did process engineering for Dr. Asif Khan at USC's Photonics and Microelectronics Laboratory (PML). One of the things I loved about my new job is how much I learned and how much responsibility they gave me early on, placing considerable trust in me.
Most of my day was spent in a clean room environment, wearing a bunny suit and a hair net. My duties included organic and acid cleaning, photolithography, metal deposition, annealing, dry and wet etching, chemical vapor deposition, device dicing, packaging and testing. If you're familiar with microelectronics then these processes are pretty standard. At one time I was the lead processing engineer and knew how to run and maintain all of the equipment in the lab.
Dr. Khan's research group had breakthroughs that could produce world-leading products in the deep-UV LED market. As a result, he founded a startup company in early 2007, Nitek, Inc. I worked in the PML side-by-side with Nitek employees, as a sort of subcontractor. In December of 2010, following a positive performance review, they offered to move me from being a USC staff to being a full-time Nitek employee, which I accepted. I participated in enough research to merit two peer-reviewed publications (more on those publications here & here). In June 2012 I was given another positive review and a raise. The research that we did was exciting and the products, once developed, will truly change the way we generate UV light. But until then, at the time when sales revenues could begin to come in, Nitek's existence was dependent upon grand funding, and the volatility of federal government allocations always made a long-term future there precarious. (Remember the "sequester"? That killed off the grants that funded my position.)
But it's not all about me. After we had Seth and Portia, Amber stayed home with them for a few years. Because of the lack of long-term job security at Nitek, and because my wife followed me to UF from Virginia and to SC from Florida, it was only fair for me to have a turn and follow her to whatever opportunities she found. After finishing her M.Ed. in 2011, she began looking at employment options back in her home state of Kentucky. We both have extended family here and want to raise our children closer to their kin. She was offered a job teaching at a local Catholic school in Lexington, Kentucky to begin in August of 2012.
Our family relocated here at that time and I enrolled in the Chemistry Ph.D. program at UK. I should point out two things: 1) this wasn't my first preference, but instead a fallback position since I couldn't seem to find a well-paying job in the short time I had to search for one, and 2) I did well in classes, passed the written exams, and again found myself in the same place I was at UF: struggling to find the motivation to press through years of soul-grinding research to get the dissertation and complete the degree. At the end of the day, I just clearly didn't want to be a research scientist enough to get it done.
Contrariwise to research, I didn't need motivation to teach. Teaching was always something I really, really enjoyed. After joining the Ph.D. program in August 2012, I obtained a 3.8 GPA and passed all of the written qualifying exams necessary towards the Ph.D. However, through 11 experiences as a TA (seven semesters at UF, four at UK), tutor and teacher, I knew that I want to focus on secondary education rather than post-secondary education. And that is simply because teaching without a Ph.D. in post-secondary education -- at least in the sciences -- is virtually unheard of.
Although I could've stuck with the Ph.D. given three more years of lab work, my first choice, which many people have told me is also my primary talent – is teaching young people. Thus I applied to and was accepted into the full-time, two-semester M.Ed. with Initial Certification (MIC) program at UK to begin in the fall of 2014 and end in May 2015. I finished three classes towards the degree in the spring and summer of 2014. I mention this to demonstrate my commitment to a career in education. When I was offered the opportunity to teach science at a local private high school, I withdrew from the program, as such certification would not be required, nor was it possible to do both.
In my second year teaching at LCHS, I decided that it would be smart to get Kentucky certification, so that I could teach in public schools. The only way to do this was part-time while I worked, so I enrolled in the MAT program at the University of the Cumberlands. I graduated from that program in May of 2018, with my second graduate degree.
After three years teaching at LC, a move to public school meant about a 20% raise and a better retirement system. Since I'm an atheist, it also meant a lot less worry about cultural or religious issues affecting my job security. So I took the job teaching chemistry and physics at Tates Creek High School in August 2017. After two years at TC, I moved over and will be teaching chemistry at Frederick Douglass High School beginning August 2019.
I see my long-term career goals to be firmly established now. The course of your career sometimes weaves and bobs around, but mine has centered firmly on learning and teaching the physical sciences. At the moment I am quite happy teaching high school. We hope to stay in Lexington for a long time; we have finally settled on a place to live that meets all our needs and expectations and supplies both of us -- and our children -- with a lot of long-term opportunities. If you want to know more, see my documents and/or email me.