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KiTani Parker Johnson, Ph.D.

KPJ_lgTell us about your current career position. 

I am an Assistant Professor at Xavier University of Louisiana in the College of Pharmacy in the Division of Basic Pharmaceutical Sciences.  I also serve as the Director of the Centers of Excellence Program (COE) Scholars Program where I identify, connect, and manage select students with faculty research mentors.   

What are the key experiences and decisions you made that have helped you reach your current position? 

First, maintaining an active research program was the key, as this provides a competitive edge.  Doing so positioned me to have several career options, even during Hurricane Katrina.  Being one half of the “two-body rule”, my late husband and colleague, Dr. Duane Johnson and I, were invited to Omaha, Nebraska to be part of the University of Nebraska system.  This provided an opportunity to remain viable in the academy and in the research arena.  Secondly, having a solid network of collaborators and colleagues; this matters when one is in transition.

How did you first become interested in science? 

After completing the major anatomical systems of the cat through dissection, I was disappointed because I wanted to know “what’s the next step”.  Mr. Bailey entertained my curiosity by discussing the assigned cat dissection.  He allowed me to go beyond what was required and designed an extra credit project that was more challenging for me.  Upon completion, he recommended I study Biology.

Were there times when you failed at something you felt was critical to your path?  If so, how did you regroup and get back on track? 

Yes.  I lost my major collaborator, who was also my husband, very suddenly.  We had several projects going both between us and independently.  To re-focus my research, I had to reach out to someone I not only respected, but trusted scientifically and who could serve as a mentor during that incredible time of transition.  To date, my research is sharply focused on my very viable project that has received funding.  

What advice would you give to young persons from under-represented backgrounds who want to pursue a career in science similar to yours? 

Life will happen and sometimes present with unforeseeable challenges.  Deliberately seek out mentors that have absolutely nothing to gain from your relationship but who expresses genuine interest in your success. I have three mentors: one for research, one for career decisions, and one who is an African American woman who has accomplished many of my life goals.  Each of them has been successful in the area where I seek counsel.

What are your hobbies? 

I am a certified scuba diver and enjoy most water sports.  In addition, I enjoy reading and traveling.

What was the last book you read? 

Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver, this is a book that helps busy Christian women balance family, career, and other activities while being efficient and restoring our life’s priority.

Do you have any heroes, heroines, or role models? If so, describe how they have influenced you? 

My parents, Mrs. Rosie Parker and the late Ardis D. Parker, Sr. have always been my role models.  They were both first generational college students and supported all five of their children through undergraduate education.  Their faith and work ethic prepared them to train my siblings and me to become productive world citizens in our respective areas.

What is it that keeps you working hard and studying science every day? 

Understanding that I have a contribution to make at the basic science level that will lend to the body of knowledge that will aid in the elimination of health disparities in breast disease in African American women keeps me forever committed towards my research goals.