May 2011

An interview with Erika T. Brown

Brown, an assistant professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, talks about her research and some of the challenges she’s faced in her scientific development.

ASBMB: Tell us about your current career position.
Brown: I am an assistant professor in the department of pathology and laboratory medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, S.C. I also hold administrative positions as the director of institutional informatics and as an institutional coliaison to the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education. 

ASBMB: What are the key experiences and decisions you made that have helped you reach your current position?
Brown: One of my key decisions was to be open to relocating. I would not be in my present position if I had not relocated twice during my postdoctoral studies. Another decision was to cast a big net during my job search for an independent position and submit my application materials wherever I saw an opportunity available that fell in line with what I wanted to do professionally. And lastly, I developed professional relationships with colleagues, senior scientists and senior administrators who have been very helpful in teaching me how to navigate my career in academia.

ASBMB: How did you first become interested in science?
Brown: I always had a passion for both science and math, starting at a very early age. As a child, my parents really encouraged this. I would get gifts for Christmas such as a biology or slide specimen kit, miniature microscope and math workbooks. I enjoyed being stimulated by activities that were analytically challenging (i.e., word puzzles, brain teasers, etc.) when I was younger. And I found as an adult that biomedical research continued to feed the enjoyment I have always received from analytically challenging activities. 

ASBMB: 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?
Brown: As a junior faculty member, it is crucial to still have mentoring. Mentoring does not stop once the postdoctoral fellowship has been completed. In the early years of my independent position, I did not have a committed scientific mentor at my institution, because there was a lack of investigators who had a similar or overlapping research interest. I learned from this experience that if your needs are not being met at your institution, it is imperative to seek assistance from outside senior faculty with expertise in your field of research. And in some cases, it may be advantageous to work with an expert in your field who is based at another institution. It is an excellent way to increase your professional and scientific networks and resources.

ASBMB: What advice would you give to young persons from under-represented backgrounds who want to pursue a career in science similar to yours?
Brown: My advice would be to make sure you collaborate with or be mentored by someone who has a sincere and highly motivated interest in your professional growth and future career as a scientist, first and foremost. That can be someone of any race or gender. However, it is good to have a support system composed of other faculty/scientists/clinicians who may be experiencing the same challenges that you are. That is where being an active member of groups targeted to under-represented minorities and/or women in science can be very helpful. 

ASBMB: What are your hobbies?
Brown: Since my job requires an immense amount of reading, problem-solving and other cognitive duties, my hobbies involve more physical or sensory activities. I enjoy belly dancing, exercise, watching a good comedy (Judd Apatow movies are the best!), traveling, attending concerts, and eating Asian and Middle-Eastern food.

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