Q&A with Gloria Thomas
Young, energetic and highly intelligent, Dr. Gloria Thomas balances teaching, research and mentoring with owning her own photography business. She is a member of the ASBMB Minority Affairs Committee and PI of the NSF Chemistry Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Leadership Group. Thomas is dedicated to broadening participation of underrepresented ethnic groups in STEM.
Tell us about your current position.
I’m an assistant professor in the chemistry department at Xavier University of Louisiana. My research interests involve microfluidic approaches to bioanalysis. I’m also engaged in broadening the participation of underrepresented ethnic groups in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
What are the key experiences and decisions you have made that have helped you reach your current position?
I can identify four key experiences that set my current path as an academic chemist. First, when I was an undergraduate at Southern University and A&M College, my freshman chemistry honors professor, Mildred Smalley, convinced me to change my major from premed/biology to premed/chemistry. She was key in helping me apply for and receive several scholarships. She also had a profound, positive impact on my perspective about women of color in chemistry.
Later, my organic chemistry instructor, Robert Gooden, signed me up for an interview with The Upjohn Company and helped me prepare, despite the fact that they did not take rising juniors for their Historically Black Colleges and Universities Summer Internship Program. I was accepted into their Program for two summers and got my first taste of analytical chemistry and research and development in biotechnology.
The next push came during my last year of college in a conversation with my scholarship director, Diola Bagayoko. He explained the difference between medical school versus graduate school as this: "Do you want to be studying the work of other people for the rest of your life. Or, in four or five years, do you want people studying your work? That is the difference."
Finally, after obtaining my Bachelor of Science degree and before entering graduate school, I worked at the Albemarle Corporation in an R&D unit developing a synthetic product, a tablet for large-scale water treatment. I quickly learned that my worth as a chemist was primarily determined by meeting the color specifications of the tablet as proposed by the marketing teams and meeting the needs of the chemical engineers’ existing plant designs. While I enjoyed working with the business teams and engineers, I wanted to experience more freedom in my science.