Biology Professor Dr. Becky Adams has the perfect illustration to help explain concepts in her genetics class at Belmont. During a recent lecture, she was covering the differences between monozygotic versus dizygotic twins (commonly called identical and fraternal twins) and how identical twins were once the same cell. She likes to jokingly call them “real and fake twins.”
If Becky wanted to illustrate her point further, she could walk her class down the hall of the Janet Ayers Academic Building and introduce them to her very own “real” twin: Dr. Beth Bowman, who is also employed in Belmont’s College of Sciences and Mathematics as the pre-health advisor and summer undergraduate research director.
Students (and even fellow faculty, on occasion) mix the twins up all the time, with both women recounting embarrassing moments in elevators or the hallways where they admit they aren’t who the person greeting them thinks they are.
This is something they are used to, however, as the twins have been correcting peers at Belmont on their identities for a while now. Before working at Belmont, Beth and Becky attended Belmont as students, graduating in 2008 with their bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and biology, respectively.
Growing up in Nashville, the twins did everything together and set ambitious goals for their lives.
The decision to attend Belmont was instantaneous when they arrived for their campus tour. Beth said they both felt the unmistakable Belmont culture the minute they stepped on campus.
One of their favorite parts of attending Belmont was getting involved in student life, like Becky serving as the president of the Tri Beta Club (for which she currently serves as the faculty advisor) and both joining the Pep Band to indulge in their love for Belmont Basketball.
The twins feel they had a phenomenal undergraduate experience because of the marriage of the warm Belmont culture with rigorous teaching. “And it’s so cool to see that that is still what it is here: it’s still a delightful place to be, but also truly thoughtful about serious education for students,” said Beth.
Many of the faculty from their time as students, whether having them in class or as an advisor in the Chemistry club, are still at Belmont and are now their colleagues.
Despite having followed in one another’s footsteps their whole lives, the sisters said their college experience was the first time their paths started to diverge, and they began focusing on their individual goals. Aside from the enjoyable student experience, Beth and Becky felt academically prepared for their next steps after graduation due to excellent faculty instruction, research opportunities and the collaborative student environment. Beth said because Belmont was such a safe place, they were set up well to learn to thrive on their own.
Beth quickly knew she was headed for the Ph.D. route and enrolled at Emory University, but Becky decided to explore more options before she ultimately decided to pursue her doctorate at Vanderbilt University. “Beth’s always right,” Becky chuckled.
Becky did her post-doctorate at Yale University, and Beth was at Duke University before taking a job back in Nashville at Vanderbilt.
Coming Home to Belmont
Becky was fortunate to participate in cutting-edge research during her time at Yale, but she realized her heart didn’t want to pursue research full-time. “The part I enjoyed most in the lab was helping teach others what I had learned,” she said. “My post-doc included a lot of individual learning that was challenging for me, and I thought about how great it would be to help students learn that kind of challenging thing. So that’s what made me realize that teaching is what I really love.”
Becky was living in Connecticut while her husband and Beth were both in Nashville. In 2019, she was thrilled to see a position open at Belmont that would both allow her to move back home to be with her family but that was also perfect for her background and felt like “home” academically, as well.
“I was like, ‘I have to get this job; I have to get this job!’ I’m so fortunate that my colleagues selected me for this position because it truly ties in everything I love,” Becky said. “I love Belmont and coming back has been such an honor. I love Belmont students, I love teaching, I love research and getting to do that with undergrads. It’s not the pressure of full-time research; but I get the joy of helping others discover. It’s so fulfilling to every aspect of what I love about being a scientist.”
Meanwhile, Beth was working at Vanderbilt and Becky kept telling her, “You gotta come over to Belmont.” It didn’t take too much convincing. Beth felt the institutional culture at the other places she had been since Belmont did not match her values or her priorities the way that Belmont did from the beginning.
“That is an intentional choice that Belmont makes to support its students from the top and from the faculty. Faculty choose to be here because they care about students, student support and student-focused activities. Everything here is about giving them the best education and the best support,” Beth explained. “That thing I loved as a student is the thing I aspire to be as an administrator. I feel grateful that my experience as a student is a genuine part of who Belmont is.”
Making their Own Impact
Both are grateful for the experiences they gained at other institutions so they feel qualified to help students prepare for their next steps outside of the “Belmont bubble,” but couldn’t be happier to be back home with one another, the school they love and working alongside some of their favorite faculty who inspired them to be the professionals they are today.
In a long list of influential professors both women listed that cared about them, Becky pointed out that Biology Professor Dr. Jennifer Thomas was one of those teachers who “changed her life.” “She challenged me to think about what I was learning and ask myself if I had a true understanding of the material, but she also impacted my personal life in the way she showed me care about what was happening in my life and my future,” she said. “The fact that I get to work with her now and am still perpetually trying to make her proud of me – that’s never going to go away. She’s a very, very special person to me.”
Both women now get to work directly with students and want to have similar impacts on their lives in their own ways.
Becky said she can also feel a new prioritization at Belmont of helping the community. Last summer she started a summer program with Beth’s administrative help called “VISIBL,” which was designed to help students from local, public high schools to learn about microbiology and environmental microbiology, but more so, to help them begin to see themselves as scientists.
The twins benefited from a similar program when they were in high school that helped them say, “We want to be scientists; we are scientists; we want to major in science.” Being able to do something similar for the community is a priority for them now in their own lives and careers.
As an administrator, Beth feels lucky to be able to help students with their diverse interests by putting all the pieces of their education together to make the most meaningful opportunities for them. She meets with students one-on-one and provides broader programming strategy, complementing the excellent education that already exists by showing students new opportunities they didn’t know about. “To get to hold a mirror up for them to see how amazing they are and how high they should seek or what diverse experiences they could be getting,” Beth gushed. “To help them understand who they are and what all is available to them.”
Becky echoed that Beth’s role is hugely important because it gives students someone who has their best interest at heart outside of the classroom. “Our students are incredibly bright and talented, and I’m often shocked at how powerful it can be for them to hear that,” Becky explained. “The fact that I might get to be the one to say those things that help change the way they think about themselves – I can’t believe that’s what I get to do. Beth gets to do that to help them realize their potential, and I get to do that in the classroom. It’s fun.”
The sisters argue all the time over which one of them has the “best job,” each of them genuinely believing they hold the title. Beth mentioned they felt sorry for their “poor husbands” for having to listen to them talk about how great their jobs are non-stop, even outside of the Belmont setting.
And a lot of that outside talk leads to further collaboration. Becky said just the other night Beth called her to discuss an idea to get multiple perspectives on it, knowing Becky would give an honest answer and not be too concerned with hurting her feelings. Having that connection is a real asset.
“We are both problem solvers, and it’s fun being able to approach something from different angles. I take the teaching angle, and she has the professional development angle, and we love to come up with solutions that satisfy what is best for the students overall,” Becky explained.
Belmont’s new focus on whole-person formation lines up perfectly with how the women view their roles in education. “You can’t be this academic robot without realizing the entirety of who an individual is – their backstory, their growth, all that they’re going through in all aspects of who they are,” Beth said.
“Belmont is the place where we can focus on that individual support and where we can say ‘What do you want as a person? Because you are valued and you are important, so let’s figure out your personal, individual life. And not all schools are places to do that.”