Tell us about your current career position.
I am currently working on my Ph.D. in the department of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I work on a family of microbial signal transduction proteins called response regulators, and I focus on certain features of the proteins that influence specific aspects of their activity. I am nearing the end of my fourth year, and I am making my way toward the finish line. I am looking forward to the unknown that is the rest of my career in science.
What are the key experiences and decisions you made that have helped you reach your current position?
I am very grateful for my decision to attend North Carolina A&T State University. I was accepted to larger, more well-known universities, but I chose to go to (a historically black institution). While working on my B.S. in chemical engineering and my M.S. in biology, I began to see myself as a scientist, and I found my love of bench work. A&T fostered a great deal of my growth and maturity that I am not sure would have been fostered at a majority institution. A&T is my extended family.
I decided to complete the biophysics summer course at UNC (managed by the biophysics program at UNC and the Biophysical Society) in the summer prior to beginning my Ph.D. program. I was able to hone in on my interests while adding to my professional network. It was a great opportunity to transition to my current graduate program. The summer course completely altered my path by giving me experiences that still influence my decisions as a graduate student today. I value educational experiences that are focused on underrepresented minorities.
How did you first become interested in science?
I was always into science. I loved school and learning, and science was a major part of that. I had many ideas of what I wanted to be when I grew up, but as I tried my hand at different things, I seemed to gravitate toward science.
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?
There were many moments at which I have felt like I failed at something very important. My resolve has been to keep going. Graduate school is a long and tough road, like life. No matter what it feels like, I have to stay the course.
It helps tremendously that many people have provided encouragement and support along the way. The Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity program at UNC has been amazing! This organization has provided professional and personal support. The students in IMSD can relate to each other, and we are there for each other. IMSD and programs like it are unmatched resources for underrepresented minorities.
What advice would you give to young persons from underrepresented backgrounds who want to pursue a career in science similar to yours?
Anyone looking to go down this road should think long and hard about whether it is right for him or her. Underrepresented minorities have a greater responsibility. There is an added pressure that has to fuel us rather than hinder us. We have to reach the same goals as majority scientists, and we often have to do it with many more obstacles.
I would give the following advice:
- 1. You have to learn what the things are that you need in order to ensure your success.
- 2. You have to pick your battles wisely.
- 3. You have to be determined to succeed no matter what obstacles arise.
- 4. You have to be open minded, even when it seems like no one else is.
Additionally, I would say that you should never allow anyone to convince you that who you are, what you look like, what your gender is or where you come from makes you less capable or less intelligent. Find your confidence; you’ll need it. Find your self-respect; you’ll need it.
What are your hobbies?
I have a few hobbies and very little time to devote to them. I love doing science projects with my son. Sometimes I volunteer at his preschool. I really enjoy writing creatively. Scientific writing rarely affords the chance to be poetic. When I have time, I write for my own blog. I love fashion and music. I go to shows and keep up with blogs on music and fashion when I can. I watch sports to take breaks from focusing solely on science and to shout at the TV for a bit. I do a lot of fun, child-friendly things in my role as a mommy.
What was the last book you read?
I have not finished a nonchildren’s book in a long time. I read “Oh, the Thinks You Can Think” by Dr. Seuss with my son recently. It is timeless. I am also slowly reading a collection of essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson. “Cirlces” is my favorite essay thus far. I keep “The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni” and some other books by my bed for nighttime reading.
Do you have any heroes, heroines or role models? If so, describe how they have influenced you.
My mother is the greatest heroine in my life. She is my example of strength, sacrifice and resolve. My mother is one of the most intelligent people I know, and she is a beautiful woman. As loving as she is, no one has pushed me to succeed as much as my mother.
My great-grandfather is my greatest hero. He worked for at least 80 years and helped so many people earn college, graduate and professional degrees. He was loving and giving in a way that is rarely witnessed. I am grateful to be a part of his legacy.
So many people have been heroes, heroines, and role models. I can’t list them all. Ultimately, I am thankful.
What is it that keeps you working hard and studying science every day?
I want to make my son, my mother and my brothers proud. I want to make myself proud.
I am entranced by the possibilities and by all that we don’t know about how we work, how the world works and how the universe works. I get to play a small role in pursuing those possibilities and that knowledge.
I love what I do. Most people do not have the privilege of saying that.
Read Page’s June 28 post on the journal Nature’s Soapbox Science blog: “Science Mentoring: Does Race Matter?”