Tell us about your current career position.
I am an Assistant Professor in Genetics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH). I am affiliated with the UNC-CH Nutrition Research Institute.
What are the key experiences and decisions you made that have helped you reach your current position?
My interest in genetics, which began in 7th grade biology, was not fully understood until I began my undergraduate studies. As an undergrad, I took advantage of several opportunities to experience research hands-on through work-study programs and summer research opportunity programs. During this time, my enthusiasm for research bloomed and, after seeking advice and encouragement from numerous mentors (i.e. practically everyone I met in science), I began to pursue a career in biomedical research. I believe that without the initial trigger in 7th grade and without access to the appropriate research and mentoring resources in the periods that followed, I would not be where I am now.
How did you first become interested in science?
In 7th grade Biology class, my teacher, Mrs. Ruby Harris, introduced me to the “study of life”. I was fascinated and hooked.
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?
To be honest, I cannot recall a time when I felt that I truly failed at anything critical to my path, but there have been many times when I felt I did a sub-par performance. Generally, I regroup by figuring out what went wrong and then reminding myself that tomorrow is another day and another opportunity to do better or excel at something new. I consider every experience that does not live up to my expectations an opportunity to learn something new that can be applied for a better experience in the future.
What advice would you give to young persons from under-represented backgrounds who want to pursue a career in science similar to yours?
I would tell them there are dreams and then there are goals. A dream is something you think of but have no expectation of obtaining. A goal is something you believe you can achieve; therefore you strive towards it and give it your all. Working towards a goal is hard work and there will be many obstacles along the way including challenging situations, challenging people, and even your own doubt and fear. Successfully achieving that goal is about formulating a plan and seizing every opportunity to carry it out regardless of these challenges. Talk to as many people as you can about your goal. Find people who will encourage you and people who have achieved a similar goal. When I first leaned about science, I lived in a country with no running water, no electricity, and constant chaos from civil war. Most girls like me stayed home, got married, or got into trouble. There were no colleges, no scientists, no research, nor any semblance of it. I had no hope of becoming a scientist, but it remained my goal so I continued to work hard at my studies and learned as much as I could. When the opportunity arose, I was ready.
What are your hobbies?
My hobbies are reading, spending time outdoors, fitness, and dancing.
What was the last book you read?
The last book I read was Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. It is a story that intertwines socio-economic differences, politics, and science to make you think deeper about the limitations of the world we live in.
Do you have any heroes, heroines, or role models? If so, describe how they have influenced you?
My heroes are my parents. They remain my stunning example of strength, perseverance, overcoming the odds, bravery, morality, generosity, and empowerment. They grew up with nothing but wanted more for themselves and their family. They waited for no one to give it to them. They were very creative and they worked very hard to find a way (including moving halfway across the world) to get what they wanted for themselves. They took the time to teach their children our amazing history and to remind us regularly what African Americans have overcome already as an encouragement for overcoming what is yet to come.
What is it that keeps you working hard and studying science every day?
The goosebumps I get when I discover something new or come up with a better idea of how to apply my research to answer questions that impact the outcome of others’ lives.