Four Black women. Four close friends. Three---and one soon to be---STEM PhDs

Damon Young

by Damon Young, May 29, 2013


Kiera was just an example of early interest with lack of guidance and mentorship.  I’m in no way stating that learning has to be done within the confines of a classroom, but our young Black (and other under-represented minority) students are more likely to be misunderstood and their actions seen as criminal.  On the other hand, once you reach college, the opportunities for Black scientists to excel increase substantially as long as you have the proper connections.  As Jessica mentioned, being Black and female has opened doors that would have been substantially harder otherwise.  Establishing productive networking relationships early on exposes you to a plethora of funding and professional development opportunities.  I can personally attest to this.

EBONY: What in particular motivated you to choose your field? And, as the years passed and you've become more entrenched with your work---and have had more opportunities to apply it---do your initial muses/motivations/reasons still stand true?

DH: My path has been more so chosen for me, I think. I excelled in the sciences particularly chemistry and opportunities were available that led me down this field. I like science and I'm good at it. This still holds true.

MM: My high school chemistry teacher introduced me to a biomedical research opportunity and that one opportunity was the catalyst for the education and career paths I've traveled. In high school liked and was good at science, but I never saw me, a Black girl, as a scientist. The exposure to science outside of the classroom I had at the age of 16 made a huge impression on me. This one opportunity led to numerous others, and I met many other mentors along the way who kept me engaged in science, opened new doors for me, and helped me reach my goals. My experiences have and still do keep me committed to the work I do, and have made it even more important for me to do the same for other kids who are scientists waiting to happen, even if they don't know it. 

JP: My father indirectly motivated me to pursue a career in science. When it came time to choose a major, he told me to choose a major that would allow me to be independent and afford me the same lifestyle I was raised in. I chose biology because that came easiest to me in highschool. I also was under the impression that being a scientist would allow me to have a higher income. Once in undergrad, I found mentors who motivated me to pursue an advanced degree. An advanced degree was suppose to not only increase my pay, but also increase my influence on my work. As I pursued my advanced degree, I realized that I still loved science, I just wasn't a fan of the process. A lot of science is slow and can be socially isolating. I enjoy science, but I’m not sure I would choose this path if given the chance to do it again.

RJ: My interest in chemistry started with high school chemistry teacher.  She pushed us to the edge of our limits to really bring out our potential and made me think that perhaps chemistry wasn’t as impossible as people make it out to be.  Starting college however, where the difficulty increased, my confidence took a hit.  Once again, it was my advisor that pushed me to my limit and helped me to realize that I’m more capable than I sometimes think I am.  As I finish up my PhD degree, I often think about alternative paths that could have led me to a more social position.  I want to be able to use my people skills in combination with my scientific acumen.  And as Jessica mentioned, being in the lab doesn’t always provide that opportunity.

EBONY: What could be done to encourage more Black students to enter STEM programs?

DH: I strongly believe outreach to k-12 students especially in high risk areas can make kids aware of all the opportunities available to them excelling in stem fields. It's interesting to see that when you ask a child what a chemist does their answer tends to be blowing things up. If you ask them to draw a chemist it's usually a pimply face geek w huge lab glasses and an oversized lab coat usually hunchback. These misconceptions need to be changed and science needs to be more attractive. 

MM: I absolutely agree with Dahlia that STEM outreach to Black students from a young age is necessary. It's hard for any kid to aspire to an occupation they may know nothing about. Kids want to emulate what they see. If they're not seeing scientists and engineers - especially those that look like them - they're likely not going to pursue those careers. And we all know it's not just what you know, but who you

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