Valerie Nwadeyi

1st Year PhD Student
Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences
University of Michigan

About Me

Right off the bat I want to say to you, believe in yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t good enough or capable of whatever it is that you want to do. Its okay to stand out and be different. Its okay to be more than just average, go for it. The world is yours. When I was younger I wanted to be an artist or fashion designer. I found my calling in Nuclear Engineering at South Carolina State University.

How was your experience with STEM classes and teachers in middle and high school?

I always loved STEM related courses, especially math. I got the most joy out of class when I was able to help my friends understand by explaining difficult concepts in a simpler way. I distinctly remember my 9th grade year when I was kicked out of physical science class (with Darian) because our teacher was not doing a good job at explaining how to balance chemical equations. We took it upon ourselves to teach the class. Lol. I love learning.

After grad school, what’s next?

After obtaining my PhD, I would like to be a nuclear forensics scientist. I see myself working to verify nuclear treaties between nations.

What do you do to unwind?

To unwind, I draw, read, sleep (probably too much) or watch Disney movies.

My Research

Tell us about your doctoral research

My research focuses on techniques to detect and discriminate between radioactive materials. Through the use of radiation detectors, I would like to develop an imaging method capable of pinpointing the exact location and components that make up the radioactive source. This line of work is very important in nuclear security and international safeguards, which is where I see my research going.

What is the coolest thing about your research?

The coolest thing about my research is how much information about a material or a source you can gain just from the radiation it gives off.

What is the most challenging part of research for you?

In my opinion, the hardest part is being able to discriminate and analyze all the information you can get from a detector. However, I’m just starting so my opinion could change.

My Grad School Experience

Why did you choose to go to Grad School?

My undergraduate program focused mainly on clean energy that nuclear engineering provides. Even though it was interesting, I knew I did not want to go into the energy field. I took a class in radiation detection and I became very intrigued by the fact that neutrons, gammas and atomic particles (which you can’t see or weigh) can be detected and quantified. Through this detection, you can use things you can’t see to tell you more about materials and the world around you. This to me was like magic and I had to know more.

Do you ever feel discouraged? How do you get around that?

Yes, and I have found that having a strong support system, faith in the most High and confidence in yourself will always help you overcome. In my sophomore year of undergrad, I was diagnosed with stage 3 Multiple Myeloma Cancer and had to sit out the entire school year. That’s when I realized how much I loved learning and it made me miss being in school. When I was finally able to go back, I felt discouraged by having to ask for help in order to catch up as opposed to helping other students like I used to do. Being off track with my class made me feel like I was starting over. Constant prayers, my support system and confidence in myself led me to great grades and opportunities that I never even imagined.

Who are some of your biggest cheerleaders?

My Mommy by far is my biggest cheerleader, she believes in my abilities even when I doubt myself. My sisters, both of whom are finishing up undergrad, and my 9-year-old brother are the reasons why I work as hard as I do. My best friends Marissa, Sean and Liz keep me grounded when I complain and I can always rely on them for a good laugh. Darian James, who I’ve known since high school, has been like a sister to me throughout our entire undergraduate career. We both studied nuclear engineering together and are both now pursuing our PhDs in different fields. She has always been someone I could share ideas with, discuss homework and count on for moral support. I don’t think my undergrad years would have gone by as smoothly if it weren’t for her. My undergrad advisors, Dr. Musa and Dr. Lewis, have also always been in my corner. They believed in my success long before I realized my full potential as it pertains to nuclear engineering.

What do you want to say to up and coming Melanin Genius?

Believe in yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t good enough or capable of whatever it is that you want to do. It’s okay to stand out and be different and it’s okay to be more than just average. Go for it! The world is yours.

What has been the most useful life advice you have received?

Stop stressing—seriously! I stressed myself out waaay too much because I wanted to be great at whatever I did. However, I had to realize that things happen and the only thing I could do was put my best foot forward. Regardless of the outcome, I had to be okay with the fact that I had tried my best and it was enough.

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