Finding What Excites Me

GradLife McGill is proud to present a 3-part, guest blog series by McGill alumni Dr. Christopher von Roretz as part of #AfterGradLife. In his second post, Dr. von Roretz describes how teaching excites him and how this led him to a career as a CEGEP instructor.

… If I wanted to fulfill that goal, of having my own lab and becoming a university professor, I knew what I was supposed to do…

But I wasn’t excited by it. I was interested in being a Professor, in managing a lab, advancing human knowledge, developing young scientists, teaching… but I felt like something was missing although I always enjoyed research. Yes, there were failed experiments, months (or years) of trouble-shooting, and unhealthy competition for dwindling public funding, but the positives of research outweighed this. I liked research… but I didn’t like the idea of doing it for the rest of my life. That future didn’t excite me, and that lack of enthusiasm concerned me.

So, I started to wonder what WOULD excite me. I participated in McGill CaPS (Career Planning Service) sessions and assessments (which I found very valuable). I questioned what I enjoyed and, perhaps most importantly, considered what I could lose track of time doing. And it became fairly clear that one answer was teaching. Between being a teaching assistant, filling in for my supervisor on occasion to give lectures, and some leadership training I had done through volunteer work, I have had an affinity for teaching and speaking to others for years. And it was absolutely something I lost track of time doing – preparing a new lecture or educational activity is the easiest way for me to neglect a reasonable bed time.

Image 3 - Like everything (even cells apparently), Grad school has its happy moments and its disappointing ones
Like everything (even cells apparently), Grad school has its happy moments and its disappointing ones (photo credit: Cris von Roretz)

Breaking away from research wasn’t easy, and came with pressure to reconsider, but it was important for me to end on a high note. Years ago, I was taught that the best time to end a game or activity for kids is when they are having the most fun, because this leaves them with a positive memory, rather than growing bored by letting the activity run on for too long (DISCLAIMER: be sensible about this though! Don’t close up a game of Catan halfway through. Then again, if Catan does what Catan does best (destroy relationships), maybe this isn’t a bad idea). Anyway, this is actually a practice I believe carries over to multiple aspects of life – end something while you enjoy it! Since I didn’t stay in research until I became sick of it, I can still speak positively about it, and encourage others to try grad school and pursue it if it’s their passion. I have met people who stay with something they enjoyed for too long, ultimately transforming their passion into resentment, and that’s not something I want to live through.

…the best time to end a game or activity for kids is when they are having the most fun, because this leaves them with a positive memory…

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to just slip into teaching. Without a degree in education, you are mostly limited to CEGEP or University teaching, and getting your foot in the door can be very competitive. After finishing grad school, I spent a couple years doing some administrative work as an undergrad/graduate training program coordinator, during which time I was also applying to teaching positions and trying to gain more teaching experience. I got lucky and was hired into a tenure-track position at John Abbott College within their Biology Department, where I have been for the last four-and-a-half years.

And as clichéd as it sounds, I seldom feel like I’m actually working, because I enjoy my profession so much. I’ve also had a chance to casually stay in touch with research, through special provincial research grants designed for CEGEP instructors, to help introduce CEGEP students to real research before they even start university. This offers the best of both worlds for me: I’m able to dedicate my energy to my biggest passion of teaching, while not completely turning my back on my grad work.


C von Roretz picture

Chris von Roretz is a guest blogger for GradLife McGill. He completed his Ph.D. in 2012 in the department of Biochemistry. His graduate research focused on the molecular regulation of cellular suicide, and he now teaches full time at John Abbott College. He is also an Affiliate Member of the McGill Biochemistry department, and a municipal Councillor for the City of Dorval. In his spare time, Chris enjoys volunteering, outdoor activities, and has recently tried his hand at amateur theatre. Instagram: @cvonroretz LinkedIn: Chris von Roretz


Banner photo credit: @akansha_gupta2012 // @gradlifemcgill

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