Dr. Maggie Wray, Ph.D.
Coach, mentor and teacher
Brief overview of my educational background.
- Graduated 3rd in my class of 497 from Boca Raton Community High School
- A.B. in Astrophysical Sciences from Princeton University (cum laude)
- Ph.D. in Neurobiology & Behavior from Cornell
Some interesting facts about me:
- I’m also a premium-level test prep tutor with Applerouth tutoring in Atlanta
- I taught undergraduate classes at Cornell for 4 years, and received an Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant award
- I’ve written and published 5 research papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals
- In college, I sang in an all-female capella group and was a member of the IHSA Equestrian team
- In 2012, I won 3rd place in the Fit Sciences Championships (fitness model division) and placed 6th in Ms. Bikini Universe (short class)
Want to hear more about my story?
Some people have known what they wanted to do when they grew up ever since they were 5 years old. I am not one of those people! I’ve actually changed directions a number of times, and the path that led me from where I started out to where I am today is anything but direct.
I attended a public high school in South Florida, but always dreamed about moving up north and attending an ivy-league university. Despite being told by my high school guidance counselor that I shouldn’t bother applying to such expensive schools because it would be like “going shopping for a BMW when you only have the money for a KIA”, I applied to seven different colleges including Cornell, Dartmouth, Brown, and Princeton, was accepted to all of them, and received enough grant money from Princeton that my family could afford for me to go!
I started out my college career wanting to major in chemistry and be an equine vet, but I had also always been fascinated by subjects like black holes, time travel, and the evolution of the universe, and after attending an astrophysics open house and taking freshman physics in my first year, I decided to major in astrophysics instead, and ultimately became very interested in astrobiology and the evolution of intelligence in the universe. However, by my senior year I was growing more interested in studying intelligent life itself rather than the planets and galaxies it inhabited.
Rather than continuing on in astrophysics, I wanted to apply to graduate school in biology or psychology to study intelligence in species on earth. The professor of my animal behavior course at Princeton actually told me not to apply to Ph.D. programs in my senior year, because I probably wouldn’t get in. But I decided to ignore him, taught myself enough biology to get a great score on the Biology GRE entrance exam…and a year later was traveling to Cornell University to start a Ph.D. in their neurobiology and behavior program!
I spent the next 4 years at Cornell studying animal intelligence, psychology, decision-making, neurobiology, the evolution of behavior, and individual differences in cognition and personality. I also had the opportunity to serve for several years as the head teaching assistant for the biggest behavior course in the country for several years, and literally write the manual instructing future teachers on how to run the course.
Then, in my fourth year of graduate school, I found myself in the hospital with a blood clot — which I learned was a potentially fatal condition. I remember lying in the hospital bed, and asking myself: if I knew that I only had another few weeks to live, would I want to keep doing this work? The answer was a definite “NO”, and in that moment I realized that if I did get out of that hospital I was going to make sure that the time I spent working was devoted to something that really mattered to me, something that would improve peoples’ lives in an important and measurable way. This experience made me painfully aware of the fact that we never know how much time we have left to live, and my life — any life — is far too precious to spend it doing something that is not personally meaningful.
And what really matters to me is helping students develop the skills they need to create successful and fulfilling futures.
Teaching and learning have always been huge passions of mine: I have literally been a teacher since before I can remember: according to my mom, by the time I was in kindergarten I was already a teacher, working every week to read stories to the pre-school students down the hall. And I loved teaching the students in my classes at Cornell.
But becoming a professor, or a high school teacher, wasn’t going to allow me to have the kind of impact I wanted to have on students’ lives. I had recognized that there were some really important skills that students weren’t ever being taught in school, but that they desperately needed in order to succeed. And through my background and experiences, I had acquired these skills that students REALLY needed to learn…along with the teaching skills necessary to communicate them.
Thanks to my Ph.D. program at Cornell, and my lifelong love of psychology and personal development, I have an extensive background in psychology, neurobiology, behavior, personality, motivation, and self-regulation that I can use to help students adopt effective and empowering behaviors and create the fulfilling, successful lives they deserve.
Through my experiences at Princeton and Cornell, I developed the organization, time management, and mindset skills that are necessary to succeed in the most competitive schools in the country, where my fellow students were literally the best in the world. And these strategies worked. I was one of only 5 students in my graduating class at Princeton to earn a degree in astrophysics, which had the most demanding course requirements of any major. I was also one of the first students in my Ph.D. class to graduate, even though I taught 2 courses every year in addition to completing my own research, writing my dissertation, publishing 5 peer-reviewed scientific papers, and winning an outstanding teaching award (plus getting married, adopting an orphaned kitten, and winning a fitness transformation contest). I was great at managing my time, working efficiently, and accomplishing my most important priorities. But these skills weren’t things I’d learned in school. When I started teaching classes at Cornell, and tutoring high school students, I realized that a lot of students had never learned these strategies. And without them, it was going to be much harder for them to succeed.
I also learned firsthand that going to a great college does NOT guarantee that you will have a successful career when you graduate, or that the path you end up on will be a good fit for who you are and what you want out of life. Between the time I spent trying to “figure out” my next steps during my senior year at Princeton and my final years at Cornell, I literally spent years poring through career books and research papers, talking with therapists and guidance counselors, and taking several wrong turns along the way before I found a formula for choosing a career that actually worked!
I absolutely LOVE the work I do now, and feel like it is perfect fit for me. But I also can remember very clearly how frustrating it felt to be confused and uncertain about my career path, and how much I wished that had been someone out there who was able to guide me through these difficult decisions. So, it is very easy for me to empathize with students who are going through their own career choices processes, and provide them with the support I would have loved to have in their situation!
A huge part of what inspires me every day is the desire to provide my students with the support and guidance that I wish I had received in high school and college. I can’t go back in time and coach myself through the process of choosing my major and career path, or teach myself the study skills that I needed as I transitioned from high school to college. But, through my coaching and mentoring programs, I CAN help the students I work with to develop the organization & mindset skills I used to achieve academic success at Princeton and Cornell, and help them choose a career path that is a perfect fit for them and leads to a lifetime of happiness and fulfillment.