In 2014 Tiffany Taylor was charged with furthering the prominence of student applied research experiences. Smith Institute’s Research Communications and Special Projects Manager sat down with her for a half-hour to discuss her aspirations for supporting student’s love of research on JCSU’s campus.
SI: What do you do at JCSU?
Taylor: Currently I’m the research associate and student research manager and I’m also the MACMAS Lab facilitator.
SI:How do you define research?
Taylor: It’s answering questions, it’s solving problems, it’s learning new information, it’s improvement, it’s failure, it’s everything that requires thought and energy…
Whether you’re a college student or a manager, a construction worker or librarian, you have experiences that involve questions and answers to those questions; the ways in which you go about answering those questions is research.
Research operates on a spectrum and we all have minor things that we deal with day to day, but then there are comprehensive, big ideas that require more time and effort, but anything in between the two is research.
SI:We’ve talked about your own journey to becoming a successful college student. Can you tell us about that?
Taylor: So, my journey was a challenging one in retrospect, but it was also necessary. I’m from a small town in a rural, country area with not a lot of opportunity or access to higher education like metropolitan cities have. So when I went to college, I didn’t necessarily have a passion for anything. I didn’t have any gumption to do something larger than life. Growing up in a small town, you almost felt like you were just supposed to pick something, school, work, or whatever, and be good at it . . . that’s the song, “Get out of here”. At that time, a bachelor’s degree was the golden ticket to success in life.
I didn’t take advantage of a lot of opportunities in undergrad so I didn’t really have any great skills and I didn’t realize how much of that was going to have a negative impact on my life 3-4 years post-undergrad.
So I graduated with below average grades that were really just a reflection of my laziness and lack of desire, but was by no means a reflection of my academic or intellectual capacity. I sort of just picked something and I did it because I was bored. So after college, I worked at all these random jobs that had nothing to do with my degree in Psychology and a minor in Biology, and so I struggled for maybe 2-3 years. I just bounced around from job to job, until I was just tired of that and actually started listening to the inner desire I had for something better.
One day an old mentor of mine walked into the bank and he looked like he had seen a ghost, probably because he was offended that I was still working in the bank, like “what are you doing in this bank” I said, “What do you mean? I’m working and I have a job, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do? Graduate and get a job?” and he was just like “No, you don’t- why are you here? Why?” and I didn’t have an answer. So that inspired me to pray about it, and decide whether or not I wanted to go back to school, and I was terrified…
Along the way, things started happening and, now that I think about it, it was not accidental. People started to vouch for me to go back to school- I didn’t have the grades, it was strictly because people knew me to be better than what I looked like on paper. So I just took a leap of faith- I quit my full-time job, gave up steady income, and I went back to school. I didn’t have anything to loose at that point, so it had to be worth the try. I had already gone through all those financial hardships, been rejected for jobs and turned down for opportunities because I didn’t have a successful undergraduate career. So the hunger that I should have had in undergrad, I found and seized it 4 years later in graduate school.
So I went back to graduate school and I was on academic probation because of my grades in undergrad. They said I had to make at least a 3.0 – all B’s, to stay in the program. I was like “All B’s?? Are you kidding me??” That was something unseen and unheard of for me. So I made all B’s first semester. My second semester I made straight A’s for the first time in my life, and I cried like a baby because I had never seen 4 A’s next to each other at the same time! After that, it was like letting the horse out of the gate. So many people had seen how bright I was, and that I had so much potential, but I didn’t realize it myself until then. After that it was like, “I might just be able to do this here masters thing! So they gave me the baton and I ran with it and I’ve been running ever since.
SI:You said people saw things in you and you didn’t see in yourself. How does your journey to success inform your philosophy for undergraduate and graduate research at JCSU?
Taylor: I think one’s journey to success is dependent upon not only your awareness of your own strengths and weaknesses and owning that and being comfortable with the things you’re great at, but also owning and being comfortable in what you aren’t so strong in because only with that awareness is there growth. You can’t get better if you don’t know where you are weak.
Also, in the research process, it takes having a strong support system. It takes having a good mentor, having a cohort of friends and people that are down in the trenches with you and are able to see the struggle as you see it. They see the hurdles, they see all the potholes, and landmines, and they’re right down in there with you trying to help you get through it. It’s not a one-man-show.
You can’t have one with out the other: you can’t have a good mentor without good students, and a good student is not a good student without a good mentor. So in academia, it’s easy to get a Ph.D. and status and credentials and have written books and traveled the world, but behind every great teacher or researcher, there are a number of great students.
I have been able to see my own mentor, Dr. Livingston (I’m turning into Doc.) in myself. Students just pop in the office sometimes to hang out. I always have music playing and we’re eating snacks, laughing, catching up, you know. I like to know what’ s going on with my students and see how they’re doing – school, life, whatever, and he was that way with us. That’s what made getting through the day easier because we had a place to go and somebody as a mentor that says it’s okay to breathe, to take a break, it’s okay that you’re not perfect and we’ll get you there, but it’s all okay. The route to that is partnership, mentoring and friendship, and support to surviving the journey.
It’s a journey on both ends. As a mentor you’re learning your students and different learning styles and different personalities – you have to adapt as you work with different types of students. As a student, you have to have support and different people to hold you up- and to call you out when you need it because that’s what will propel you to the next level. So it’s becomes sort of a pay-it-forward situation. And that turns you into a good mentor- that student can then pass that along. Great students grow to become great mentors when they have had one. You become what you experienced. So if you experienced academic hazing, you then become that type of crack-the whip instructor.When you’ve seen the model of a mentor and a friend, you turn into that.
SI:Let’s switch gears a bit, here. What is your favorite thing to do?
Taylor: My favorite thing to do… Hmm, besides eat? Cause y’all know I like to eat! I like to cook! I like trying new recipes and I like experimenting with different things. I’m on a healthier lifestyle journey so I’m trying to find out how to make things I typically indulge in, healthy. I probably watch food network and cooking channel more than I watch anything else. That and listening to music. I was a band geek. I love production I’m not just listening to lyrics, but I’m listening to chords and the beat and all that, but cooking would definitely be at the top of the list.
SI:What’s one quirky thing about you that people don’t know?
Taylor: Everything about me is quirky! Naw, I’m kidding… Okay, so like I said, I love to cook, so sometimes when I’m at home and I’m cooking, usually if I’m cooking something that I’ve made a million times, I act like I’m on a cooking show and I’m talking to an imaginary audience myself, as if I’m giving directions. It’s so weird! I’m giving directions like “so you take the knife and you make a nice little minced chop.” If anybody were to walk into the room, If I had a roommate or something, they’d probably think I was crazy- “Like, what is she . . . Are you talking to someone?!?”. So yeah, I talk to an imaginary crowd of people as if I was on the food network, which is like a secret dream of mine to be on food network one day.
SI: Do you have any pets?
Taylor: I do have a pet! I have a fur baby named Moses and he’s 7 years old. He’s a domestic orange tabby so he looks just like Garfield! People always ask me where I got the name “Moses” because apparently, that’s not a common pet name. My grandmother named him. I got him when he was about two months old. Kittens, because they’re so tiny and fluffy and covered in fur, you can’t really tell what gender they are, so I thought he was a girl, so her name was going to be Zoe. Don’t ask me where Zoe came from, though. Moses was the only orange kitten of like, 6 others, and all the others were brown, black and white, or grey, and he just stood out. He was the only one climbing on stuff and rolling in the grass and bouncing around and I said “I want THAT one!” Then I found out he wasn’t a girl, then I didn’t know what I was going to name him. Then my grandmother came out and said “You got ol’ Moses boxed up, huh?” I asked her where did you get that name from, and she goes “I don’t know, it just came to me”. So the name just stuck. He’s been with me all these years, through all the ups and downs…even kept me company when I was studying and pulling all-nighters in grad school. So yeah, Moses is my cat-child until I have real human babies.
SI:If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
Taylor: Oh man! If I had a superpower, sheesh, that’s a hard question. It would probably be that I could fly or – I would like to be really really strong but nobody knows I was really strong, so someone would say “Oh, could you help me move this bed?” and I’d just be able to just fling it but I didn’t look like a big ol’ buff body builder. So it would probably be a tie between that and lightening speed because cleaning takes FOREVER and I’d love to just fly through that in like, 5 seconds!
SI: If you could give a student one piece of advice, what would it be?
Taylor: First off, I’m going to take this opportunity to put in a shameless plug: get involved- join a campus organization, volunteer, or hey, you could become one of our Student Ambassadors. (Go straight to the application here) *Wink*
So, getting back to your question, it’s two things. One piece of advice would be to breathe. Let things be the way they are, because they are, because they’re meant to be. From experience and from my interactions with students, the story changes but the stress and the freaking out stays the same. I often find myself saying Would you calm down!?” Because if I could tell my 18-year old self anything, it would be you need you to calm down, Ma’am. I’m gonna need you to breathe because it’s going to be fine. Because it always is fine. There’s never been a situation that was completely traumatic and I didn’t get through it.
The other part would be take the time to know who you are. Take the time. Just figure that out. Because you are no good to the world if you don’t know enough about yourself to be good to yourself. Whatever your journey is, whatever you think you might want to do you, have to know enough about yourself and what you want to live out that journey. That’s not something that you wake up with. You have to welcome the trauma, heartbreak, fear, and anger. You have to welcome all of that stuff because that creates the beautiful mess that is you, and you have to learn to be okay with that.
It takes time, and it doesn’t happen at the same pace for everyone. There’s no timeline or checklist to getting to your destiny or becoming your true self, it just happens. One day you wake up and you’re like “Yeah, I don’t like this. No, I don’t want that. Yeah, that’s great, etc.” and it’s a combination of all things, great things, horrible things, wonderful things, confusing things, frustrating things, it’s all that. Underneath all that is the person that you’re meant to be.
SI:Any questions that I should have asked but didn’t?
Taylor: Another superpower!!! I would like to move things without having to get up! If I could open the refrigerator and get my apple, or piece of fruit or cheese without having to get up . . . that. So it’s a combination of super-strength, and lightning speed. I really just want to be an Incredible and just have a package of superpower-ness that I can just put it all in one without anybody knowing.
SI:And we have to put up another photo of Moses!