2nd Year PhD Student Computer Science University of California San Diego
5th Year PhD Candidate
Department of Chemistry
Louisiana State University
My undergraduate degree was in Chemistry and I graduated from Winston-Salem State University. When I was younger, I thought I would be an astronomer and a chemist in a beauty lab! Math wasn’t my favorite subject and I realized astronomy was more than just pretty pictures. I was always interested in the science behind making cosmetics.
How was your experience with STEM classes and teachers in middle and high school?
Science was my first love because my parents also love science. My mom was in nursing at NYU and worked in the OR. She now works in procurement management. My dad is a computer engineer who works in Global IT for Colgate-Palmolive. They made sure my siblings and I were introduced to science fairs, science museums, science books, computer programs and virtually anything science related. However, in high school my chemistry teacher definitely tried me. She told my mom I wouldn’t be a strong science student and that I should not consider it as a viable career option. I was hurt because I felt that science was all that I knew. Despite her lack of support, I applied to college and chose chemistry as my major. I did this for every college application.
After grad school, what’s next?
I would absolutely love to be a cosmetic scientist and work outside of the lab as opposed to only working at the bench. I am also interested in applying to post-doc positions. I try to keep an open mind so that I do not limit myself or close the door on what’s yet to come.
What do you do to unwind?
Even though it requires a great deal of focus, I am always energized and at ease when I serve my community by mentoring high school and undergraduate students. I do it because so many people were involved in making sure that I was on the right path and mentoring these students helps me give back the care and attention I received growing up. When I’m not spending time with my students I enjoy my platform as Vice President of the Black Graduate Professional Student Association. I definitely love kicking it with my friends in this group!
My Grad School Experience
Dr. Sayo O. Fakayode, or Dr. Fakay as I call him, was the main reason I chose to attend graduate school. I was working in the chemistry office when he came in and asked why I wasn’t in a research lab. I told him that I was not aware of any research since I was just a freshman trying to make it through my general chemistry courses. He invited me to attend a senior research presentation and I obliged. To say it was way over my head is an understatement. I was completely lost and struggling to understand what the heck the speaker was talking about. She was spitting chemistry in a sort of rhythm that left me in awe. Immediately after the presentation I went to Dr. Fakay and told him that chemistry might not be the field for me because I had no clue what she was talking about. He quickly replied, “of course she speaks so fluently (or fluidly); it’s her own work!” He then talked me into joining his research group and from then on he was like a second father to me. He guided me through it all and supported me at every step. To this day he tells people I am his daughter and I call him every week complaining about why he would let me attend graduate school in The Bayou.
The short answer is, “Definitely!” During my first year I asked myself daily if I truly belonged. I interrogated myself with thoughts like, “Maybe they just let me in because they needed a black female student to fill some sort of diversity quota.” “Why did Dr. Fakay talk me into graduate school?”
My doubt became obstructive because I did not feel like the strong student I knew I was. Even when I joined my research group it seemed as though I just wasn’t clicking with my research. I felt like I was the worse researcher in America because I couldn’t get anything to work. The project was passed down from my post-doc because she was tired of trying because it didn’t work for her. After years of things not working I became depressed and my days literally seemed to appear gray.
After a while my fiancé even questioned what was going on with me. The moment that really hit me was the summer going into my third year when I was preparing research for my general exam the following semester. My research advisor called me into a meeting and told me that because I did not have any progress in my work, I needed to think of other options such as a new research advisor, a master’s degree, or finding a job. To make matters worse, my fellowship ended that same time. I was devastated yet relieved because I wanted a way out of my depression; but still, I felt like a failure.
My mentors kept telling me not to think that way because they knew I was capable. I had the right personality and my research was very progressive in undergrad. During that time, I hustled by interviewing other research advisors, applying to jobs, and completed my master’s degree in a single semester. During a crazy fall semester of hustling LSU’s campus for a place in life, receiving rejection letters from jobs and wondering where the heck I would end up, I successfully defended my master’s degree and joined another research group within the department. I am now a PhD candidate in my research group.
Well, a lot of people. Here’s my cheer squad:
Natalie Diaz-Taylor (My mom)
Maxwell Cory Taylor (My brother)
Maxwell Anthony Taylor (My father)
Michael Jackson (a.k.a the best fiancé ever!)
Dajah (My bestfriend)
Jessica Simpson (My roommate/”sister.” We’re basically joined at the hip!!)
Nicole Offer (my sister from another mister)
Dr. Sayo O. Fakayode
[Insert that awkward moment when it’s like you’re basically giving a “Thank You” speech at an award show and they are about to play the music. . .]
Mr. Cliff Bell
Dr. Isiah Warner
Dr. Zakiya Wilson
Dr. Gloria Thomas
And of course my gorgeous line sisters from the Gamma Lambda Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated (Henelle Davis, Raydesha Banks, Courtney Avery, and Ashley Tucker).
What do you want to say to up and coming Melanin Genius?
Never let anyone tell you, “no.” According to my high school chemistry teacher, I would have never succeeded in science and my first research advisor in college was not in my corner either. The beginning of my graduate school studies was a challenging time for me but I never let this stop me. I know what my goal is and I am determined to achieve it. I’m close to the finish line but I can’t (and won’t) slow down. I still have lots to do and I plan to finish strong. You must trust the vision you have for yourself.
“If it were easy everyone would be doing it!” and “Control what you can control.” – Dr. Fakay
“Get your products and everything else is BS.” – Dr. Wilson