Meet Jessica Ricci, High School Science Teacher at Sierra Canyon School 

Jessica Ricci Picture

Jessica Ricci, High School Science Teacher

Describe your job and what you do on a day-to-day basis.

I’m a high school science teacher. I teach five classes: this year its four sections of chemistry and one of physics. Classes are about fourteen students each, so I really get to know them. I have a lot of independence about what I teach, which allows me to be creative about my curriculum and find what works best for my students and me. We just celebrated Mole Day with guacamole, whack-a-mole, and a conversion scavenger hunt. The other chemistry teacher, who also has a Ph.D., and I have big plans for Mole Day next year! Part of my job also involves duties outside the classroom like club advisor and chaperone for school events.

How did you get your first job out of academia?

I decided that I wanted to go into teaching following graduate school. The job market for a full time lecturer position at a college is small, and I didn’t want to cobble together multiple adjunct positions. So I decided to look for jobs as a science teacher at a private high school because they do not require a teaching credential. There are placement services, free of charge to you, that can help you find a position. I used one specific to science teachers called ATOMS.

Tell us about your academic background 

I got my B.S. in Biochemistry from Rutgers University. There I did research on bacteria living in deep-sea hydrothermal vents. I received my Ph.D. in Biology from the California Institute of Technology. My graduate research focused on a particular class of lipids that bacteria make called hopanoids. These lipids have been preserved in rocks for billions of years and are bacterial fossils, just like dinosaur bones. They have the potential to tell us about ancient life on Earth. The only problem is, no one agrees on what they were telling us! That’s where my work tried to shed some light.

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone looking for a job now?

Go for it! Don’t worry if everyone else you know is continuing on in academia. Do what is right for you. I felt a lot of stigma about leaving academia, but it was completely the right decision. If you’re thinking about teaching high school, get some experience tutoring or visiting a class to make sure interacting with adolescents day-to-day is right for you.

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