FIRST GEN. TO FIRST DOCTOR
My opinions in the scientific community are largely rooted in my background of being black, from a rural small town in Mississippi, being raised by a single mother, and becoming a first-generation college graduate. Thus, my past is different than most of my peers who are seeking doctoral degrees; nevertheless, unique backgrounds are what build the foundation of collaborations and the spread of ideas that transcend the science community.
To understand me, it is essential to understand how the opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. landed in my life. Until my senior year of high school, I did not believe college was an option for me; however, I received an invitation to attend the APEX leadership summit at the University of Mississippi. APEX was my first time actively interacting with college students in which attending college became an option for me. Through this leadership summit, I gained mentors who helped me navigate the process of applying to college along with the intrinsic components that followed my acceptance. Once I gained admittance, received scholarships, and completed other necessary requirements, I was officially a Freshman at the University of Mississippi.
Throughout my life, everyone had encouraged me to become a physician, so I decided to major in Psychology and take the prerequisites for medical school. Within my first semester of undergrad, I realized that I was not passionate about my Psychology classes; therefore, I decided to change my major to Classics with an emphasis in Latin. It was rare to see a black male in a classics course let alone decide to major in it, but I was passionate and driven to understand ancient Roman and Greek history along with learning a dead language, Latin. My passion for the Classics allowed me to study abroad in Rome, Italy during the Summer of 2016 under Dr. Hilary Becker. When I returned to the United States, I worked as an undergraduate assistant with archaeologists from across the United States removing remains from unmarked graves from the 19th and early 20th century. With this experience, I decided to continue the pre-med track; however, I decided to apply for a work-study position as a research assistant. Luckily, I received the position because it completely changed my world.
I began working with Dr. Nicole Ashpole in the Fall of 2016 just months after she was hired for her first faculty position. Within the first year, I realized there was a spark in me on the days I was supposed to go to the laboratory. That spark turned into a flame and within a year I was choosing to pursue a Bachelor’s in Biology and dedicated the rest of my undergraduate tenure working with Dr. Ashpole with the hopes of attending graduate school. Throughout this process, I struggled. I did not have a solid educational background like many of my peers in the upper-level science courses; therefore, I struggled and obtained mostly C’s and B’s in my science courses. Attending a public high school in a factory town in Mississippi did not prepare me to directly attend a University immediately after graduating high school. I recognized that my K12 education had hindered me, and despite my poor academic track record, I continued to strive towards my dreams. “Playing catch up” my four years of being an undergraduate student only motivated me to become a mentor and voice for students who come from similarly disadvantaged backgrounds as me.
My motivation is that I found people to believe in not only me but my dream of becoming a scientist; thus, I hope to instill those same values into future generations of not only scientists but any student who has not been afforded the “privileges” of life. I am a graduate research assistant pursuing a Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences with an emphasis in Pharmacology who was raised in rural Mississippi with no dreams of attending college, who graduated with a BA with a 3.1GPA and far lower science GPA, and who the world would more than likely consider an anomaly in my field. I am here to say that each person has a story, privileged or disadvantage, but what you do with that story is what matters. Be genuine, be relatable, and build your life on being different. You may one day surprise yourself and realize you have achieved what many believed as impossible.