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. Although I have an unconventional background, I have come to appreciate that what by many seen as a weakness has slowly developed into a strength. My lifestyle and environment truly has shaped the way that I have been able to overcome problems throughout my academic journey.
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 as an Assistant Professor in the Biomolecular Sciences Department in the School of Pharmacy at the University of Mississippi. 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 dedicating the rest of my undergraduate tenure to 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 K-12 education had hindered me, and despite my poor academic track record, I continued to strive toward success and my personal goal of receiving a PhD. “Playing catch up” as an undergraduate student only motivated me to become a mentor and voice for students who come from similarly disadvantaged backgrounds.
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. To say the least, I achieved the impossible. Completing my Ph.D. in 3.5 years at an R1 institution was no feat; however, I believe that it is what allowed me to transition to Stanford as a postdoctoral scholar. I am here to say and be an example of each person having a story, whether privileged or disadvantaged 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 impossible. Postdoctoral~Mormino Lab