Shaye K. Lewis, Ph.D.
Cooperative Agriculture Research Center
Prairie View A&M University
1. Dr. Lewis, In sum can you tell us about what you currently do?
Generally, I am a Reproductive Physiologist by training. My current research focus is on developing molecular biomarkers for male fertility. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of science, my research integrates reproductive physiology with molecular genetics and functional genomics to understand the genes and gene networks important for:
- Fetal and postnatal development of the male reproductive tract; especially the testis
- Genetic factors influencing semen quality; especially secreted small non-coding RNAs
2. What inspired you to choose this career field?
I have always enjoyed science and later in college I enjoyed the personal process of critical thinking and discovery through scholarly research. What originally inspired me about reproductive biology was the importance of the immune system in successful pregnancy outcomes, specifically in facilitating fetal development in utero. Sometimes scientific endeavors are personal. My research is currently focused in infertility and fetal development. Sometimes in life we misjudge the effort necessary to orchestrate the development of healthy offspring. I am currently inspired by the complexity of fertility resulting in successful pregnancy outcomes.
3. What parts of your job do you find most challenging? What do you find most enjoyable?
I work at a small University focused on agricultural research in large livestock species. One challenge is working with a non-traditional model species. At times, this can limit the speed research progresses. In academia I perform many duties I was not trained to perform. This is normal and to be competitive a good scientist must be willing and able to not just think critically beyond the training of their degree program, but also manage people, conflicts, budgets, and other administrative duties associated with running a research laboratory in an academic environment. This makes it difficult to focus solely on my research. But my first priority everyday is as a reproductive physiologist.
4. What educational preparation would you recommend for someone who wants to advance in this field?
To get to this point in my career I went through four years of college to earn a baccalaureate degree in Biology (specific major optional), two year for a masters degree (optional), almost five years for my Ph.D. (philosophical doctorate degree), and nearly five years of postdoctoral fellowship training. Preparation can start before college. There are spring break/summer camps and other learning opportunities that focus on early and frequent exposure to STEM-related fields. In college select a major that will expose you to the rigor you will experience in graduate school. Early in your college career, identify multiple mentors and regularly speak with you regarding your academic and professional development. Before you meet with you mentors have a written academic and career plan. This is a plan that details the training required to obtain your professional objectives. You don’t have to have everything perfectly planned but have a general idea of the direction you are heading. Have multiple mentors that you trust, will be honest with you, and that can do different things for your career and at different levels of your career. When selecting a graduate school, understand what field you want to study first. Next look to see what people are at the school doing that type of work and how prominent and active they are in their area of research. When the time is appropriate ask for what you want, a position as a graduate research assistant in their laboratory. It is completely appropriate to ask if they have funding to support you during your graduate studies in their laboratory. Update your career and academic plan as a concerted professional development plan.
5. Do you have any advice for young people and achieving their goals?
First you must love to read, listen, learn, and not be afraid of failure. Professionalism starts at an early age. When you start a new phase of you professional development begin with the end in mind. I mean, think about what you want and need by the end of your current training (or semester courses), and what you need to do to make this a reality. As an example, if you are a freshman in college and want to go to veterinary medicine school at the end of your college career (four years in the future), then as a freshman you should ask yourself, what are the prerequisites to get into any veterinary medicine school? Technically, you can choose whatever major you want but make sure you take courses any veterinary medicine school will require for admission.
Work hard/smart, play, and rest. Repeat ∞. Maintaining a balanced life is the key to success (whatever success looks like for you). Working hard (everyday) goes with saying. Hustle. Your efforts should have a purpose. Working smart is not as intuitive. Being consistently efficient, practical, and organized will help you work smarter. Play is anything you do for recreation. It is critical to maintain your recreational efforts as long as they don’t interfere with you work or rest. Rest; get a good night sleep every night. This will ensure you are ready to work hard and smart the next day. This sounds simple and intuitive. If earning an advanced degree were easy every smart person could earn them. But it’s not all about intelligence but also perseverance. People who lead a balanced life are more likely to complete their degree program and then successfully compete for next stage of their career.