Second-Year PhD Pre-Candidate, Pharmacology

Hometown: Detroit, MI

Tell us about yourself!

“I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan in a single parent home. With assistance from my mom’s siblings and mother, she wanted to assure that I had a life and education that she wasn’t able to receive in a segregated southeast Michigan. Sadly, our relationship in this physical life was cut short. As the result of a medical malpractice and the shortcomings of the surgeons who operated, my mom wasn’t given much time to live. However, she fought to give me the best life she could until she transitioned when I was 9 years old. At that point, I lived with my father for an amount of time and was ultimately taken under the care of my maternal aunts and grandmother until I graduated high school. I still prioritized my education and developed a curiosity for medicine when I began to demand answers to my questions regarding my Mom’s condition and my family’s relationship with western medicine. I sometimes struggled in math and science courses but didn’t quit because I’ve always been a very prideful individual despite my high school’s sometimes discriminatory and biased views of my work ethic and I had a desire to excel in a field where there aren’t too many black girls like me. I grew tired of that atmosphere and knew I needed something more to fulfil me. So, I made the choice to go to Spelman College, a historically black women’s college that has been raising women like myself to push boundaries since the late 1880s post reconstruction. At Spelman I majored in Biology, discovered research and the idea of grad school, and the rest is history! Here I am :)”

What is your favorite thing about your current program?

“I really love the folks who are in charge in the Pharmacology department. Our department chair and my PI, Dr. Lori Isom, is one of the most supportive mentors I’ve ever had. I’ve found a true home where I can develop and grow in her lab and I learn so, so much every day from the other students and staff. Also, Lisa Garber, our Student Affairs Manager, is the type of person everyone needs in their life. She’s a true and well-meaning advocate for students in the department.”

What factors or interests led you to choose your current program or field?

“I’ve always loved biology and science since I was a little girl. For that reason, I always chose classes and activities that surrounded this and it turned into my college major which ultimately led to graduate school and doing research. Pharmacology and neuroscience just happened to be the things I found to be the coolest within that realm.”

What one book would you recommend to the community? Why?

“The Souls of Black Folk – W.E.B. DuBois” In 1903, DuBois coined the term “double consciousness” as a term to describe the internal conflict experienced by subordinated groups, specifically black people, in an oppressive society. DuBois referred to this phenomenon as a psychological challenge and a “peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in assumed contempt and pity. One never feels his two-ness,–an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two reconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. Whenever I am faced with the challenge of being true to myself or code shifting in this academic space, or when I’m confronted with microaggressions, whenever someone doubts my intelligence because of what they assume of me, whenever imposter syndrome is afflicting me, etc—I keep the concept of my dogged strength in mind.”

What do you like to do in your spare time?

“Yoga, Meditation, Nature”

How did other people help you get to where you are today?

“The unconditional freedom, love, and support I received from my kin allowed me to feel confident enough to strive for my goal of completing this degree and become successful in my career. They set a great example of perseverance. Also, I have had many fabulous teachers and mentors that have given me the tools to prepare for each stage in my academic and professional life.”

What’s the best advice someone gave you that you still use today?

“Keep on keepin’ on.” – Grandma Susie

Tell us about a challenge you ran into in your educational training and how you overcame it.

“During my first semester in graduate school, I struggled with my transition from my Historically Black College (HBCU) to being a predominately white institution (PWI). I was no longer accustomed to the microaggressions, unconscious bias, outright racist happenings on campus, and my own insecurities as being the only black woman in many spaces. I had a hard time finding peace of mind. My grades and self-esteem suffered. I even started believing that I was less intelligent than my peers after it had been projected onto me by so many confounding factors. I realized that I had to find more faith in myself, started therapy, and really leaned on the leadership of my department that supported me to get me through it. After finally realizing I couldn’t do it all alone, I let go of my toxic indestructible black woman mentality and became transparent about my feelings with my department chair. I was met with support and understanding rather than the rejection I always feared. I finally was able to let some of my hurt go and I’ve been better ever since.”

What is your greatest source of inspiration to keep pushing toward completing your goals?

“My ancestors for sure. My Grandma Susie, who raised me after my mom passed away, was the daughter of two individuals who were denied beyond a 6th grade education. My grandma’s parents (my great-grandparents) migrated to Detroit from Macon, GA for auto jobs, moved on from Jim Crow, and escaped a lynching epidemic in the 1920s. My great-grandparents’ parents were actually born into slavery in the south. In short, my grandmother’s grandmother was a child slave during emancipation. It’s really not very long ago. It was illegal to teach a slave how to read and many of my ancestors for generations were violently punished if they were caught with a book (amongst many other things). Only 4 generations later and because they survived, I am happy to be working on getting my PhD and being the first in my lineage to get so far in my education. How could I possibly give up because it gets hard? They never did and nor will I.

What advice would you give to an aspiring scientist?

  1. Find a therapist
  2. Have a positive and reassuring internal voice as often as you can
  3. Prioritize having balanced life with things other than science that give you joy (friends, exercise, happy hours, netflix, etc.)
  4. Find your tribe. It’s important to have a supportive group of people who are like-minded, people who are mentors, and people who challenge you.

Can students and trainees contact you directly?

“Yes, of course! I would love to be contacted for any reason from needing someone to vent to, for advice (personal and professional), or just if you’re in need of being welcomed into a safe community space full of like-minded people. I’ve really made it a point to not only participate but also initiate social spaces for students of color where they can freely find fellowship with others.  My email is kaymw@umich.edu.”

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Spotlights are created with the help of Nnamdi Edokobi, third-year PhD candidate, Pharmacology Department.