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

Damon Young

by Damon Young, May 29, 2013


know. So Black kids need to know STEM professionals and know the resources to tap into to get there. 

JP: Introducing children to STEM at a young age is important. I think what is most important is for young Black students to have Black role models that they can related to. As PhD’s we owe it to our community to teach at schools and volunteer, which we all do. Showing kids real life scientific applications is also a way to get them to be more interested. Once children have hope and see the real life application, they will be even more motivated to stick it out when classes and coursework become hard.

RJ: This is something that we all agree on here.  As PhD scientists, we need to make the effort to do outreach.  I think many first generation Black PhDs that “make it out” are so relieved and quick to enjoy the fruits of their labor, that they don’t think about where the next generation is going to come from.  I didn’t know any scientists growing up.  And once I got to middle and high school, the science influences I had were all teachers, none of whom were Black.  As Dahlia said, if we want to increase the number of under-represented minorities in the sciences, then we need to drive home that doctor and lawyer professions aren’t the only versions of success.  I think on-going mentoring and support speaks volumes to the life of a young forming mind. 

EBONY: For all the talk about administrative and institutional support, having a social safety net is just as (if not more) important. I'm aware that you each met each other while at different stages of your academic/professional career, but how has the formation of your "crew" helped you?

DH: My crew here in Pittsburgh has been amazing. If I had this while in graduate school, I'm quite sure I would have been less miserable. Having people with similar interests and people who understand when other people mix you up with the other Black person is priceless. 

MM: Having a crew that includes other young, brilliant Black women and men in similar fields has been my saving grace since I started graduate school. They say the best friends are ones who made you better and my crew of friends absolutely made each other better. Graduate school is brutal! And it was so awesome to have my fellow ninja scientists (yes, I said ninja scientists) as my support system because they understand first hand what I was going through and how to help me get through it. We aren't friends just because we were all Black, in the sciences, living in the same city, and undercover bougie ratchets - but having these things in common is what brought us together. And my life is better, both personally and professionally, for it.

JP: Having a young advanced degree crew has been a blessing because not only did I have support, I had an outlet. I had people that were just like me going through the same struggle. My crew allowed me to balance a healthy learning environment with fun. Because my friends were of similar backgrounds, I never felt like an outcast because I was  pursuing an advanced degree. Sometimes pursing an advanced degree can be isolating because so few of us are doing it that the rest of our community doesn’t want to mix with us. The only downside to having such an advanced crew is that having a PhD no longer feels that amazing or important. When all of your friends have either a law degree, PhD (science), or MD it no longer seems like a big deal. It seems normal. Because it just seems normal, sometimes I fail to see my own value.

RJ: I’ll be the first to say that I NEVER expected to build a support network like I have now.  Our crew is an anomaly to the utmost, and I cherish it deeply.  Not having to explain the whole “No, I don’t have spring or summer break” issue, the “no, I’m the other Black girl” issue, among other Black science grad student grievances is something I don’t take for granted.  I’ve been spoiled.  I went to a racially diverse high school, an HBCU for undergrad, and the ONE graduate research group with a critical mass population of Black grad students/post-docs (a whopping number of three).  If there is any downside to this, it will be that my first job is likely going to be huge adjustment for me. 

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