PhDs Can Do Pretty Much Anything with Dr. Jasmine Escalera
Jasmine Escalera, Ph.D. is a confidence coach and career strategist for women of color. She has proven coaching programs that help her clients beat self-doubt so they can own their worth and boss-up in their careers or business.
Dr. Escalera was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, and fell in love with chemistry in high school and went on to receive her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Pace University and PhD in Pharmacology from Yale. Since earning her PhD, she has held high-level management positions within hospitals and non-profits, designing programs that increase the quality of life and healthcare options for underserved populations.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- A little geeking out on physics and chemistry
- Feeling lost and connecting to your big why
- Life decisions and the tyranny of the Or
- A different air in the room
- The rewards of serving and giving back
- Feeling uncomfortable is good
In this episode…
It’s easy to see the world as black-or-white, this-or-that. But, when you have your Ph.D., it certainly doesn’t have to be!
In this episode of An Unconventional Life, Dr. Jasmine Escalera speaks with Dr. Russell Strickland about the identity crisis she experienced while pursuing her Ph.D. in pharmacology from Yale University. Knowing that there were two typical paths for students in her program, and not wanting to follow either of them, led her to the brink quitting her Ph.D. Fortunately, Dr. Escalera’s a-ha moment came when an advisor told her that she could do anything after she earned her Ph.D.
Overcoming the tyranny of the Or empowered Dr. Escalera to experience the amazing array of opportunities her Ph.D. provides. You’re just one dissertation away from being able to to do the same!
Resources Mentioned in this episode
- Dr. Jasmine Escalera on LinkedIn
- Dr. Russell Strickland on LinkedIn
- TEDx: Conquering workplace conformity as a woman of color
- Dr. Jasmine Escalera on Instagram
- Dissertation Done
- Unconventional Lives: Books on Amazon
Sponsor for this episode…
This episode is brought to you by Dissertation Done, America’s #1 authority in dissertation completion for working professionals.
Founded by Dr. Russell Strickland, Dissertation Done serves people in two ways:
- If you’re struggling with your dissertation, getting ready to start your dissertation, or just plain wanting to get your dissertation done as soon as possible, go to www.dissertationdone.com/done and Let’s Get Your Dissertation Done
- If you’re busy living your Unconventional Life and have a message that you want to share, maybe you should join our Expand Your Authority Program to become a published author. Go to www.dissertationdone.com/book and let me know that you’d like to talk about Expanding Your Authority.
Disclaimer: This transcript is here for your reading convenience. It was created by machines and may (a-hem) contain some errors. If you email us about these errors, the machines will undoubtedly find out. I hope they won’t get angry.
Intro [00:00:03] Welcome to An Unconventional Life, a podcast where we share stories about the crazy one percent out there who earned their doctoral degrees and then went on to use them in crazy, cool, unique, and unconventional ways. Here’s your host, astrophysicist and teacher, author, dissertation coach, and more, Dr. Russell Strickland.
Dr. Russell Strtickland [00:00:28] Hello and welcome. This is Dr. Russell Strickland, and I’m your host for An Unconventional LiFe Podcast. Today with me, Dr. Jasmine Escalera, and she is a confidence coach. She came up through the so-called hard sciences studying chemistry and biochemistry that her Ph.D. in pharmacology from Yale. And since receiving her PhD, she’s gone on to two high level management positions within hospitals and nonprofits, helping to design programs for increasing quality of life and providing health care options to underserved populations. So I want to welcome you, Dr. Escalera, to the show today.
Dr. Jasmine Escalera [00:01:04] Thank you so much for having me. This is awesome. I cannot wait to talk about my Ph.D. story.
Dr. Russell Strtickland [00:01:11] Well, I want to let everybody know that today’s episode brought to you by Dissertation Done. At Dissertation Done we adult doctoral students through the dissertation process. So whether you are see that dissertation in the horizon and want to go ahead and proactively begin to start your planning process now, or if you’re in the midst of the tulmult right now and you’d like a little bit of help to to right the ship, reach out to at DissertationDone.com/done. That’s DissertationDone.com/done. We’ll talk to you, see if you might be a good fit for our Fast-Track Your Dissertation coaching program. And if you’re already on the other side of the dissertation and you maybe want to be functioning in that expert space as a coach or counselor, consultant, something like that, the best way to get your message out there is by becoming a published author. And so when you have a doctoral degree, your first name is Doctor and you literally write the book on your area of expertise you become the go-to expert for anyone. So if you’d like to find out about becoming a published author, reach out to at DissertationDone.com/book and we can talk to you about or Expand Your Authority book program again. Dr. Escalera, thank you so much for joining us and welcome.
Dr. Jasmine Escalera [00:02:21] Thank you so much for having me. Really excited.
Dr. Russell Strtickland [00:02:23] So I actually started off my academic career, my academic training in sort of the hard sciences as well. I was in physics.
Dr. Jasmine Escalera [00:02:33] Oh, physics gets me excited.
Dr. Russell Strtickland [00:02:39] I forgot who it was. There was a guy who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry and a quote that the only real science is physics and everything else is stamp collecting. I wouldn’t say it was Linus Pauling. I believe that we like to think.
Dr. Jasmine Escalera [00:02:55] Those are fighting words.
Dr. Russell Strtickland [00:02:56] Yeah, they like what he was talking about. His physics is really built on fundamentals and chemistry is abstraction, where you you you take, you know, ten to the twenty third physics problems and handling them at one time and that’s chemistry. And then you start handling a bunch of chemistry problems at the same time you get biology and you go up from there. Yeah. You know, things like medicine and pharmacology and then we can continue abstracting on up to psychology and sociology. And so just a little bit of my kind of nerd creds going back to when when that was my day to day life. But let me ask you, coming coming up through those ranks, what made you decide to pursue your PhD? You know, it’s not a decision that most people make by far. And those who do make have to often struggle with it. So what what brought you to that point? You decided to pursue a PhD in pharmacology?
Dr. Jasmine Escalera [00:03:53] Yeah. So I had a love for science and for chemistry ever since high school. I can remember being in high school and my chemistry teacher on our first day of general chemistry class started mixing some some stuff together and creating colors and smoke. And I don’t know, like something about that was so cool. Like, I wanted to know how you can mix things together to create something completely different. And that’s where my love for science really started. And so I got my my bachelor’s in biochemistry. And once I was on my way to being done with that, I had had such a great experience doing research. I had had such a great experience in the in the sciences. And then at that point, you know, not dating myself. But this was quite a while ago. It was either you become a doctor, meaning you do an M.D. or you become a doctor, meaning you go you get a Ph.D. there where there really weren’t many other options. So I actually decided I was going to try to do both. So I took my MCAT, I applied to some medical schools, but that just didn’t really feel authentic to me because I again, I loved kind of like getting into the science, really being hands on in a different way. And I love designing research projects. Like that was my thing. I just I really love that that first point of like, what question is it that we’re trying to answer and how do we actually answer that question? So I decided to do pharmacology because I was really, really interested in drug design. I was very interested in how you can actually create something that is ingested by the body that then creates change. So I decided to go to the pharmacology route thinking that I was actually going to go into the pharmaceutical industry, so my my main objective when finishing was I want to get my pharmacology degree, I want to work for Johnson and Johnson, and I’m going to be the boss of Johnson and Johnson Pharmaceuticals one day like that was like my dream. That was my path. Huh.
Dr. Russell Strtickland [00:05:48] Not going for small big pharma.
Dr. Jasmine Escalera [00:05:49] No, no, I was not going. First of all, I don’t ever go for small. That’s yeah.
Dr. Russell Strtickland [00:05:58] I mean, when you when you mentioned that that initial love of science, I’ll have to say, I did mention that I my degrees were in physics, but my first real touch point with science is probably my chemistry teacher in high school as well. Yeah. He was he was one of the smartest folks in the school. And and we did a lot. We did organic chemistry in high school, which was kind of insane.
Dr. Jasmine Escalera [00:06:21] But wow, that is insane. I didn’t do organic chemistry until college. And I have to say, I really enjoyed organic chemistry, but that was it. That was a tough one for my class.
Dr. Russell Strtickland [00:06:32] Yeah. Yeah. But I mean, we got to do things in that class where we were actually breaking down foods and things like that. So amazing. Yeah. In chemistry class that we did do the colors and the heat and all that kind of stuff. But then we got to organic chemistry, some really cool stuff. I mean, we were doing the cholesterol tests, you know, from first grade and really it was really cool. I really do remember that fondly. So, OK, so you decided that the path was sort of obvious for you, as you mentioned, because it was kind of what was laid out, and that’s kind of true for a lot of folks who take what I call a traditional path through the process. Tell us about your your dissertation process. What was that like after you finished all of your courses and then it was time to go out and do this big research project?
Dr. Jasmine Escalera [00:07:22] Yes. And my dissertation process I mean, I loved doing the research for my dissertation. My dissertation is actually looking at sensory neural pain channels and really thinking about different pharmacological agents that could block those sensory neural pain channels and the effects that it had. So it was really interesting because I got to do research that I was greatly interested in. I got to work with even with pharmaceutical companies to test some of their initial products, both in animals and also just at the bench. And so I had a great time doing my dissertation. But what I really realized was that hard science actually takes you very far away from the person and the people. So I grew up and just a little background on me. I grew up in the projects in Brooklyn, New York, and I grew up around individuals where I got to see that there’s just a dearth of resources. There’s no resources out there for this community. And it was the community that I, of course, felt so incredibly connected to because my community was my champion. Like everyone in my community, every time I got in an A, like I would come home and I would see the fellows on the stoop and I’d be like, I got my A in chemistry and they would be so excited. So I felt like while I was doing my dissertation, I was almost kind of moving away from my general initial purpose was like I wanted to be able to see change in people. I want to be able to be a little bit more boots on the ground. So during the process of my dissertation, I actually felt like I started to get a little bit lost in a way. And I was, again, not dating myself. But when I was in graduate school, it was like, if you are doing your PhD again, you only have two options. You’re going to go into academia or you’re going to go into the pharmaceutical industry. And at that point, like, those two options just didn’t feel genuine to me. They didn’t connect to me at all. So I actually felt really lost during my dissertation. Although I was doing work I loved, I had no idea what I wanted that next step to be, because that initial idea of go into the pharmaceutical industry to be the director of drug development like that, that just didn’t seem right to me anymore. So I actually had to do a lot of deep reflection, a lot of deep soul searching. I connected to a lot of alumni. I went to Yale, so a lot of alumni to see what are other people doing with these degrees, because I want to do something different. And that’s really how I stumbled upon working for nonprofit organizations, which has been a love of mine for the last 10 years, but really using research, using science to help these nonprofit organizations, design programs and think about clinical studies that could actually help populations in need around health care. Specifically, I got into the mental health space, children’s mental health, so I wouldn’t want to talk more about that soon.
Dr. Russell Strtickland [00:10:10] But tell me, how did this sort of. Unanchored feeling, this sort of loss feeling that you mentioned during your dissertation, how did that affect that work? Do you feel like that cost you any time, or do you feel like you were able to stay focused on the dissertation work while still doing the other thing of researching and trying to do to to project your future?
Dr. Jasmine Escalera [00:10:31] So there was a moment where I definitely I mean, to be completely transparent. There was a moment where I actually wanted to leave my Ph.D. I remember going to Yale Career Services and I felt so lost and I knew that, like, this wasn’t what I wanted to do long term. This is bench science. It wasn’t what I wanted. So I went on to career services. And I remember having this conversation with someone who worked there saying, like, I feel completely lost. This isn’t for me. I really think I’m going to leave. And her response back to me was one that I that I remember to this day, which is like it doesn’t have to be this or that, you know, and your job and your career and your job and your life is to find your path so it doesn’t have to be A or B.. So this was the second point in my life where I thought I only had two paths to walk, but I had to find the third option. So it did affect me in that my mind wasn’t 100 percent in it when I was really wavering. But once I started to figure out what I wanted to do, then I got really excited to leave. And then I was like, OK, let’s get it done and let’s get out of here.
Dr. Russell Strtickland [00:11:42] That’s exactly right. So when you were talking a little earlier, I was I was definitely going to head towards that idea of so many options are available to degree, just opens up so many options, not only because it’s a very highly desired commodity in the marketplace and there are so many ways that you can leverage it. You really do get to write your ticket. You just have to be open minded enough to listen for the knocks on the door. Expect them sometimes coming from the window.
Dr. Jasmine Escalera [00:12:12] Yeah, the window, the chimney like weird places is an opportunity necessarily.
Dr. Russell Strtickland [00:12:18] But it’s there. It’s there. Yeah. Yeah. I’m so glad that this person in the career counseling was able to help you with that, because for a lot of folks or a lot of career counseling, you see people thinking, OK, I got to walk her off the ledge. She came in here to be a pharmacologist. That’s what we’re going to get her to do. But we we just have to get her back on the path. And that’s not really going to be the right answer for everyone. It’s OK to have someone tell you that you had these options. I’m sure it was really helpful to you because like you said, at some point there was a light bulb and then all of a sudden you were really motivated to go ahead and finish up and graduate.
Dr. Jasmine Escalera [00:12:54] Yeah, that’s exactly what happened. And and I do have to say that she she explained that to me, which was an eye opener. And the second thing she said to me was, was truth, which is a PhD, is never going to close the door for you. Right. And I think that that’s that was amazing for me to also hear, which was like, stick this out. And I do have to say that so many opportunities have come to me because of that, because of that degree. And also a lot of opportunities have come to me because people see that I have a degree in something and I’m doing something different. So they’re just kind of naturally interested in like, oh, you didn’t go the traditional like, how did you do that?
Dr. Russell Strtickland [00:13:32] Well, that’s certainly the first thing I wanted to mention for folks there. Listening is here is yet another person that at some point struggled with a little bit of a crisis of identity. And I don’t know exactly what I want to be doing. And it caused a little bit of friction and some doubt in the doctoral degree program to the point of thinking, maybe I want to leave, maybe I don’t want to finish this. This is so normal. We see this more. And if you are struggling because so many of the folks that they’re listening don’t have the benefit of the campus community that that you were part of, so many people are doing this, you know, at nights and weekends and stuff like that while they’re working full time, while they’re raising their family and paying the bills and all the other things that you have to do as an adult. And so if you’re if you’re in that situation, understand that you’re not alone in struggling through this process and having some difficulties. It’s it’s it’s almost like it’s a step that the university forgot to put into the template that and here is where you struggle. Here’s where you have your options and here’s where you decide you’re going to quit. And then here’s where you decide you’re not going to quit. And it’s so, so typical, so normal for folks who get into these degree programs to have these kind of struggles. And here’s just another example of that with success on the other side. And that’s where I want to go to next, because, like you said, there are lots of opportunities came knocking from the door, the window and the chimney and.
Dr. Jasmine Escalera [00:14:58] Everywhere.
Dr. Russell Strtickland [00:15:00] That’s a little bit about that. Some of the things that that presented themselves to you after you got out there and you have finished your doctoral degree and got up there in the marketplace.
Dr. Jasmine Escalera [00:15:09] Yeah. So once I actually finished my PhD, I felt like. I was actually moving into a path that I really didn’t know too much about, I wanted to do research operations, design research programs, research, project management, but like I didn’t have a project management degree. I didn’t really know the sort of kinks of all of that. So in terms of presenting itself, having that PhD, I remember the first job I got as a research project manager at the Department of Veteran Affairs in Boston. I remember during the interview specifically, I was very green and I said, I don’t I’m not a project manager. I don’t know how I know that there are certifications for this. But like, I don’t have that. And I remember the gentleman that was interviewing me said, you got a PhD. That means you can do pretty much anything. And that was so true. So since having my Ph.D., really, the opportunities that have arisen have been massive and me being able to sort of have that background that I can actually do anything I can figure anything out. If you can figure out how to make a product, how to make your study work when it’s not working, like you can do pretty much anything. And so the possibilities have really been massive. It’s been me being able to acquire positions without specific certifications, because I really can say to them, I can do this. It’s been me having the opportunity to do presentations to go around the country and talk to be on podcasts, to be able to really explore different opportunities that I just don’t think would have been there had I not gone through that experience. That experience taught me a lot about science. It taught me a lot about a lot of different things. But what it also taught me about was resilience. Like there were so many times when I was just like, to hell with this, I’m done. And and I stuck with it. And I think I think, in essence, your Ph.D. will teach you resilience more than anything else.
Dr. Russell Strtickland [00:17:10] Well, one of the things that we talk about a lot in the podcast is that probably the number one skill for the Ph.D. or doctoral degrees in general in gender is learning how to learn where you’re really good at learning. By the time you get into your doctoral degree, you will get to that point before you really finish, because it’s so much that you have to take in, so much that you have to understand. You have to be able to to be critical and separate the wheat from the chaff. It’s it’s it’s a huge benefit to women that you said that you’re able to go in and get a position without a certification, like the guy said, you know, says that you are certified.
Dr. Jasmine Escalera [00:17:53] Yeah, exactly. And I think that we have to really realize that and own that. Like at that time, I hadn’t thought about that. And he was he was actually in the process of getting a PhD while working full time. And I think he understood completely how much getting a PhD really does shape you as a person, shape you as an intellectual. And so he was just like, I’m more than sure you’re going to be able to do this.
Dr. Russell Strtickland [00:18:18] Do you have any stories about I mean, that was one in a sense, but you have many stories about how people treated you differently, like did you were you ever surprised at the way someone treated you when they knew your first name was Dr..
Dr. Jasmine Escalera [00:18:32] Yeah, so it’s kind of it’s really interesting, so I actually have been afflicted by imposter syndrome, my entire academic and career, so I,.
Dr. Russell Strtickland [00:18:44] I never have to say that word, and it comes up almost every time.
Dr. Jasmine Escalera [00:18:47] I’m sure it does, because it it it runs rampant in the academic setting. And I personally believe that in the academic setting, we just don’t talk about it enough. It needs to be talked about more. But so I had imposter syndrome for a very long time and it’s only until a few years ago that I feel like I started to take charge of it and I started to really own it in a way where I was trying to overcome it. And so for a very long time, I did not actually want to use that title. But that was because of myself. That was because of my internal feelings. So when people would introduce me as doctor, being a Latina, being a brown woman, I think that people did take pause with that. But because they also took pause with that, I took pause with it. So there is a lot of there were a lot of those kinds of feelings of do I really want to use this title? Because I didn’t necessarily want to own every single one of my accomplishments. I will say that when people introduced me with that title or when I did use that title, there is a different air in the room, like it changes the way people look at you because you have gone through the trenches. They know, like even people who haven’t experienced getting a PhD recognize that doing it is very difficult and that there’s only a select group of individuals who can really put their all into something like that. So it does change the shape of the dynamic of a room. I can also remember yeah.