Unpacking…thoughts more so than boxes

I’m about 3 weeks into my professional transition from more than two decades researching, teaching, and leading at research-intensive institutions to a new post at a small liberal arts college.

I must say that I’ve been diligently unpacking, but I’d be less than honest if I said that the diligence was focused on unpacking boxes. I’m focused on unpacking my transition and reflecting on new opportunities.

As a part of this unpacking focus, I’ve been finding and getting accustomed to new rivers and lakes so that I can stick to the rivers and the lakes that I’m used to…if you know you know…for periods of reflection and writing.

Left: A picture with grass, trees, sky, and a lake ; Right: A picture containing sky, grass, and an arched bridge over a river.

I’m enjoying all I’m learning about a new community and institution, as well as about new colleagues and neighbors.

I’m also thrilled to have selectively spent time unpacking and setting up my new writing studio. While the other unpacking can wait, I’m re-establishing my writing practice after moving-related (and anticipated and planned for) gaps in my regular writing process.

I’m finding new “pre-writing” contemplation walking trails and paths.

I’m forgoing new place-based writing rituals and routines

I’m settling in at work, home, and play…and focused on possibilities.

Even as I walk by unpacked and/or tucked away boxes, I’m thrilled to be unpacking new thoughts and plans for opportunities in writing, leading, contributing in new spaces and places.

As always, if you have thoughts on this or other posts, you can find me on Twitter at @BerondaM…even when I should be unpacking!!

Welcome back, Beronda

I’ve resumed traveling in fits and starts…but am consistently masked and following what I hope are strict safety protocols as the pandemic continues on.

In March, I returned to the last site outside of the U.S. that I had visited before the pandemic grounded me two years earlier.

I visited Puerto Rico to do some mentoring interventions, the same work that took me there in March 2020. Two years earlier I sat in the liminal space of trying to figure out how to live on the planet without the physical presence of my Dad who had passed away in October of 2019.

In March of 2020, I sat in San Juan staring at palm trees and the ocean trying to redefine what it meant to a “dad’s girl” without him.

Balcony overlooking area with palm trees and clouds at dusk overhead. Location: San Juan, PR. (March 2022, Photo credit: Beronda L. Montgomery)

The pandemic ultimately forced me to traverse this space of redefinition sitting in physical isolation with myself while staying safe at home throughout many months of the early pandemic. Fortunately, I had virtual connections with friends and family, as well as an expanded set of personal interactions due to the final editing and launch of Lessons from Plants (Harvard University Press, 2021).

Out of an abundance of caution, I was slow to resume travels and in-person engagements, but ultimately vaxxed and boosted I slowly began to emerge and reengage.

I wrote throughout the period of isolation. I first used this blogging space to reflect on “meaning” of work in a pandemic, the role of leadership and trust in uncertain times, to process changes in my writing in isolation, and more. I also publicly grappled with national issues such as racism and elections through writing here.

As I braved coming out of isolation, I continued to write frequently although not in blog posts. As the pandemic raged on and my first book came out, I spent less time here writing based on my personal reflections and to engage shared community. I instead wrote many short pieces for magazines and public venues inspired by Lessons from Plants. I wrote on lessons from trees on seasonal adaptations and healing. I explored lessons from plants on community and mentoring.

I returned to the blog from time to time to share insights on big events, including a pending career transition.

Being back in Puerto Rico in March of 2022, I was again in a liminal space of emerging from the pandemic—or so I thought. I sat again contemplating how to be on the planet differently. Because though there was a rush to get “back to normal” among many, I knew I had to emerge from the pandemic understanding how to be together again differently.

As I began to reengage more fully in the “in-person” world, I would experience individuals citing work of mine and reflecting back to me words that they had engaged in this blog space—working “from affirmation“, stopping in moments to “process and proceed“, and “the limits of institutional imagination.”

During the Q&A after a recent talk, an assistant professor in their first few years on the tenure-track came to the microphone. While anticipating a question, I was instead given a most gracious thank you for the writing that I have shared through blog posts. They shared that specific posts had been critical to their persistence and advancement. That the writing I share here had been—and is—needed for them. I was nearly speechless—a rare occurrence indeed!

I thanked them for sharing and acknowledged the and is needed. I indicated that I received this as invitation to return to this space. I know the invitation is first for me, because most all of the writing I’ve done here starts as an answer to my own need for self-reflection and growth. I then lean into the concept of public sharing as rec0gnizing “knowledge as communal” which stems from my own upbringing and familial beliefs.

So, here I am to say—Welcome back, Beronda.

While, I’m not sure what fully lies ahead for my writing in this space, I’ve accepted the invitation back (thanks again to the brave soul who shared the importance of the space to them and their work). I am now eagerly looking to the horizon for new insights, new reflections, new inspirations…for me, and hopefully for those still here with me.

Oceanside looking towards the horizon with waves crashing on large rocks in the forefront. Location: San Juan, PR.
(March 2022, Photo credit: Beronda L. Montgomery)

As always, if you have thoughts on this or other posts, you can find me on Twitter at @BerondaM.

End note: I wrote and edited this post for sharing prior to the deeply tragic shooting of elementary students in Uvalde, TX. Before what was indeed a tragic week of shootings at a grocery store in Buffalo, NY and a church in Laguna Woods, CA before Uvalde. I have few words of consequence to share in this heavy moment. I debated whether I should even still share this post. The content of the post does not reflect my current conflicted state but is here for you now, if helpful, or in the future when you are ready to engage.

From “Ethos” to “Place”

I am walking boldly from “ethos” alone to “ethos and place”.

I am making a career move.


Since my undergraduate training in a liberal arts environment at Washington University in St. Louis, I’ve engaged knowledge and insights from many disciplinary perspectives while centering myself in the sciences.

I recall classes in literature, women’s studies, and African and African-American Studies (A&AAS)—the latter quite frankly to both learn about the experiences of Black Americans and Africans in the diaspora as much as to have the experience of a class taught by a Black professor. While studying biology, psychology, and math, these classes in literature, A&AAS, and women’s studies, among others impacted my intellectual pursuit of and engagement in my core disciplines.

I recall many conversations with my science professors about the cultural origins and global implications of scientific knowledge—such inquiries were often met with confusion, encouragement to “stay focused” on science, or on the rare occasion curiosity or encouragement.

Yet, I persisted.

Knowledge for me was never an individual pursuit alone, but a cultivation of my own curiosity which increased my individual knowledge and—because knowledge is communal in my family and culture of origin—a contribution to the collective knowledge of communities of which I was a part.

While my doctoral, postdoctoral, and (to-date) faculty positions have been in research-intensive institutions, I’ve always had a liberal arts “ethos” guiding my professional existence.


As a graduate student at UC Davis, I was actively involved in interdisciplinary communities, including the Ford Fellows Community, that allowed me to stay actively engaged in disciplines far beyond my own foci of biology and biochemistry. I read (and continue to do so) broadly—books and other scholarly works authored by my Ford Fellow colleagues and others in sociology, Black feminist theory, history, and more.

This interest outside my own scientific focus continued into my postdoctoral tenure at Indiana University and was formalized in my active involvement in communities focused on service learning and other community-engaged practices of taking knowledge outside academic spaces to impact local and community priorities. Such approaches that encourage pragmatic consideration of the impact of knowledge furthered my liberal arts and social engagement ethos.

The further cultivation and commitment to hold dear to such an ethos continued into my faculty career, despite expressed concerns that my commitment to “causes”—including work centered in equity and justice in the sciences, higher education, and far beyond—could be a distraction from my pursuit of scholarly “fame” and traditional forms of recognition.

Functioning based on a liberal arts ethos led me to consider (privately and publicly) not just what I was learning about plants and microbes in the experimental studies conducted by my research group to understand how these organisms perceive and respond to external environmental cues such as light and nutrient availability, but also to ask what can we learn from plants (#LessonsFromPlants) and microbes (#LessonsFromMicrobes) about how to be better humans—individually and in community.

Looking to plants and microbes as teachers is not an uncommon practice globally, although it can certainly be thought of as “outside of the box” in the sciences. Yet, these limitations do not guide one such as me who possesses a liberal arts ethos even when functioning in a research environment.

So, when invited to consider an opportunity to move from “ethos” to “place”—especially a place with expressed commitment to social responsibility and justice—I felt compelled to consider it.

Having engaged with a community dedicated to living out their expressed values and commitments, I knew this invitation was one I was eager to pursue.

Now I’m excitedly embarking on a new phase of my professional journey.

I am walking boldly from “ethos” alone to “ethos and place” as I prepare to join the Grinnell College community.

I look forward to sharing the journey ahead, including continuing to ask (as well as write about) how we collaboratively implement new means of leading and mentoring equitably, and what plants and other biological organisms and ecosystems have to teach us about that.

As always, if you have thoughts on this or other posts, find me on Twitter at @BerondaM