‘There is a lot of work to do’

Christopher W. Williams

I am often told that I do not fit the stereotypical profile of a scientist. Is it because I am a tall, former collegiate swimmer and extremely extroverted? Or is it because I grew up in Baltimore City and posed for pictures at my Ph.D. graduation ceremony with dreadlocks under my cap? As you may have guessed, I am a young African-American male scientist. I am not the first, but I am still a rarity in the life sciences. My atypical look provides an opportunity to engage with others to deconstruct the stereotype and actively diversify the profile of scientists.

Although I am passionate about science, I realize that I could be the last scientist in my family. I accept that my future children may not be interested in following in my footsteps. However, I do not accept that a child, especially one who looks like me, may never have the opportunity to become a scientist and contribute to groundbreaking research, discovery and innovation.

My strategy to address this concern is to start the recruiting process early for the next generation of African-American scientists through effective science education and outreach initiatives. My recruiting tactic is simple: I show up. I consistently give my time and energy to disprove misconceptions about who scientists are, what they look like and how they can impact the world. The students do the rest of the work. They are challenged and encouraged with science lessons and, as a result, demonstrate improved reading, analytical, math and interpersonal communication skills.

My goal is not to turn anyone into a scientist but rather to improve scientific literacy and allow future scientists to reveal themselves. Ultimately, I want the students that I interact with to become more focused and confident individuals.

With that said, I must get going. There is a lot of work to do.

Christopher W. Williams Christopher W. Williams is a postdoctoral fellow studying genetics at the National Institutes of Health. He grew up in Baltimore City, Md., where he attended public grade school. As a child, he was fascinated by living things. He took that passion for biology to Frostburg State University. He earned his Ph.D. from Georgetown University in 2012. Contact him for STEM-related educational and outreach opportunities.