1. Tell us about your role and what does it entail?
I am a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at the Portland VA Medical Center and the Developmental Cognition and Neuroimaging (DCAN) lab at Oregon Health Science University (OHSU). As the recipient of the OHSU President’s Fellowship for Diversity and Inclusion in Research award and the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) Training and Career Development Fellowship in 2019, I research how methamphetamine-use disorder (MUD) and alcohol-use disorder (AUD) respond only partially to treatment. The overarching goal of my work is to identify changes in brain networks of drug-dependent individuals that will assist healthcare providers at the Portland VA Medical Center to individualize treatment approaches to drug addiction. A typical day at the VA begins with giving cognitive tests to evaluate impulsive behavior, attention, and working memory deficits. After accessing behavior, I perform two magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, one before the administration of methamphetamine and another after. The MRI scans allow me to assess differences in brain networks before and during peak levels of methamphetamine.
In addition to research, I serve as the director of the Youth Engaged in Science (YES!) Initiative, a multi-faceted program aimed at exposing students from underrepresented minority (URM) backgrounds to scientific research and related careers. The goal of YES! is to increase the disproportionately low number of URMs in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) fields. Our approach to addressing these issues is to offer exciting and relevant science educational programs to middle- and high-school students who are from groups that are underrepresented in STEAM. We bring these students into contact with URM clinicians and researchers to help URM students realize they belong and are welcome in the STEAM fields. We believe that by engaging in hands-on art-aided science activities and connecting with URM scientists, students are cultivating increased self-efficacy and inspired to pursue STEAM careers. YES! activities include tours of research centers and laboratories at OHSU, interactive art-aided demonstrations of scientific research and clinical practice applications at large-scale community outreach events, and visits to local schools to provide Brain-in-a-Box workshops.
2. What’s your background and how did it lead you to what you’re currently doing?
I am a proud first-generation college graduate who has a passion for research and serving people locally and abroad. I graduated from the University of Georgia (UGA) with three degrees in Animal Science with an emphasis in Animal Biology, Microbiology, and Genetics. In 2018, I graduated from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), Galveston from the dual Ph.D. program in collaboration with the University of Palermo in Biomedical Sciences and Neuroscience.
As a child, I enjoyed discovering wildlife and emulating my idol, the Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin. His passion for wildlife, enthusiasm for educating the public, and the famous line, “crikey,” sparked my desire to learn more about science. I knew as a child that this drive to uncover information and to investigate the world around me would play a pivotal role in my life. As I embarked on my lifelong dream of becoming the next Crocodile Hunter, I realized that science was, in and of itself, an adventure.
Attending a research-intensive institution, such as UGA for my undergraduate studies, afforded me several research opportunities to further my knowledge and scientific training. I sought out organizations that encouraged research opportunities for undergraduates. I was able to participate in two federally funded research programs: The Peach State Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (Peach State LSAMP) and Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP). Through these programs, I participated in a diverse array of opportunities. It was these experiences that prepared me for a career as a neuroscientist.
3. What advice would you give our teens about, getting into your industry?
Seek study groups
When I started undergrad as a first-generation URM student, I struggled a lot. I did not know how to study, and most of the information I had not been exposed to before. I studied a lot, but I failed a lot of tests. It was not until I joined study groups that I started performing better. I split my time between two groups. The first had the highest performers in the class, and the second was with other URM students.
Find a peer mentor in your field of interest
Remember, the best nuggets of advice will come from senior students in your major. They have first-hand perspectives on teachers, which classes to take, and how to prepare to get the highest grades.
College will be tough. Never underestimate your support circle. Stay connected with a support group outside of college (family, church, sports team, etc.)
Join organizations that can add to your CV and provide personal letters of recommendation
As a first-generation URM, I did not have connections to advance to the next level. I joined several student organizations and summer internship programs to strengthen my CV. I was a research scholar for four years in the Peach State LAMP program. I also did research in SURP, which provided scholarships to graduate school to the first and second place winner. Those programs provided strong letters of recommendation that landed me a full ride at the University of Alabama- Birmingham and the University of Texas Medical Branch.
Keep a GPA of over 3.5
Generally, the first cut to acceptance into graduate or professional school is the GPA. Make sure you keep your GPA high to make it past the first cut.
Take into consideration the cost of programs and the financial burden of student loans.
Complete as many internships as possible in your field of interest to gain knowledge and experience in the field.
My rule of thumb is to select two mentors that align with my interest and one wild card.
4. What is the most fun thing about your job?
I’m always learning. I am a sucker for knowledge, I get bored very easily, and I like a challenge. The nature of consulting is very conducive to those who get bored easily—from the partners down, everyone is continuously challenged.
In terms of my specific job, I have always been drawn to strategy—how do I make sure that this company or this client is successful? When you put in the risk component, though, you have to be more creative: What if this happens? What if that happens? What if their systems get hacked? What if this competitor enters their market? What if they don’t procure the right system? It makes me start thinking about the current state and simulating “what if?” scenarios and coming up with ways to protect clients from those situations. I love the fact that I still get to think about strategy, but then I get to be creative and help drive my clients and these awesome organizations in the direction of success.
I also love helping people and organizations. I very much believe that part of my purpose as a human being is to help others. Whether it’s helping an organization get to a good compliance posture and out of regulatory crossfire or helping my client get promoted through peer mentorship – I can exercise my desire to help others.
5. Did you have someone in your life growing up that provided you the support and inspiration?
At every stage of my overall development, there has been at least one person driving, shaping or fueling my inspiration, ambition or thirst for knowledge. Whether it was favorite aunt who taught me how to write compelling essays at 6; or my librarian in elementary school who exposed me to different literary genres and gave me free books if I worked the bookfairs; or my high school mentor who locked me in a conference at her law firm until I finished writing by hand all my essays for my Cornell application; or the countless silent sponsors I have had at Deloitte who line up leadership opportunities and admission into selective leadership programs so that I can mature my business acumen and leadership skills – I have always had someone. I think as much as it takes a village to raise a child; it takes an amalgamation of mentors and sponsors to build a leader. I am honored to have some of the best mentors and sponsors at Deloitte.
6. Can you share something about yourself that isn’t well known?
I am also the founder and CEO of Building Everyday Alliances by Delivery Support (BEADS), a national science outreach organization that promotes diversity in STEAM around the world. During my time in Africa, I did extensive work in Ghana, Tanzania, and South Africa providing basic medical attention in hospitals and remote villages and teaching in orphanages.
7. Is there anything else you would like to add?
I also have a passion for kiddos with developmental disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder. I do ABA therapy as a licensed Behavior Analysis Interventionist for a company in Beaverton, OR.