Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Steve Ramirez, Ph.D. Candidate

Courtesy of Steve Ramirez

A Young Scientist with a Bright Future, Steve Ramirez

In April 2 of 2013 President Barack Obama launched the BrainResearch through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative or Brain Initiative. The purpose of this project is to develop new technologies and methods in a collaborative effort among the best scientific laboratories to map the activity of every neuron in the brain. The aim is to find cures and treatments for neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, epilepsy and traumatic brain injuries to mention a few.  

Neuroscience, especially the newly burgeoning technique of Optogenetics, has become a popular field.  There are now many laboratories the United States and other countries working on memory using this technique. One of them is at MIT, which has made an impact in the progress on memory. In July of 2013, the well-recognized magazine  “Science” published an article by Steve Ramirez and Xu Liu led by Professor Susumu Tonegawa titled  “Creating a False Memory in the Hippocampus.” In their research, they were able to genetically label neurons from the Dentate gyrus (DG), known to be crucially involved in forming episodic memories, and activated these neurons with lasers. One of the authors behind this discovery is an energetic, humble and hard-working 25-year-old MIT PhD candidate in the department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Steve Ramirez.

Steve Ramirez is a first-generation American college graduate. His success derived from his parents escaping the civil war in their native El Salvador in the late 1970s.  His parents moved frequently from New York to New Jersey for work opportunities, then to Los Angeles, and finally relocated in Boston, Mass. where Steve was born and raised.

Steve completed his undergraduate education in Boston University. During his sophomore year, he became interested in science and Optogenetics. His decision to pursue this field of science was the result of volunteering in a neuroscience laboratory. Although his expectations were not as he’d envisioned–a life in lab was as intellectually taxing as it was rewarding—he didn’t get discouraged. Instead, Steve decided to volunteer in the laboratory of Professor Howard Eichenbaum, where research in memory neuroscience was being conducted. The latter proved to have in Steve Ramirez’ words, “vibrant, upbeat and [there were] wonderfully passionate students of neuroscience asking some of the loftiest questions in memory research.” It wasn’t difficult for him to want to be part of the research dynamics in that laboratory. Ramirez enjoyed how everyone led a balanced life at work and in his or her leisure time. His experience in Professor Howard Eichenbaum’s laboratory helped him look for similar opportunities when Steve was applying to grad school. He wanted to contribute his work in a lab that enabled the similar dynamics as the laboratory where he had volunteered in. The ideal workplace “had to have an atmosphere full of scientific camaraderie and endless creativity.” The Brain and Cognitive Science Department in MIT seemed to offer that and Steve now feels grateful to work in the laboratory of Nobel Prize Winner Professor Susumu Tonegawa. It is important to feel included and encouraged in a job and it seems that Steve found the perfect place, since his advisor guides him through his research as best as possible.

Steve describes his job as two complementing motions. The first consists of dissecting the inner-workings of something as seemingly abstract as memory to obtain a glimpse of how the physical machinery of the brain functions. The seconds is about teaching those discoveries to all students.

Additionally, his passion for science is evident through his never-ending curiosity about how the brain is still a mystery. What’s even more impressing is the technology used to study the brain without having to cut open a person, nowadays a Functional magneticresonance imaging or functional MRI (fMRI) aids scientists to understand it more clearly. In addition, lasers can be utilized to induce memory reactivation or to inhibit certain depression-related behaviors. Steve is passionate about his research since it brings out that “childlike sense of wonder,” as he describes it.

Steve’s dedication has led him to win several awards, published several papers, and has given several talks. Due to his dedication, persistence and amazing research, Steve Ramirez has gained the title of the “World’s Top 35 Innovators under the Age of 35” by the MIT Technology Review, being the only Hispanic so far to be nominated. He is considered one of the few scientists and the youngest to work in this field. Now he has also gained the opportunity to teach a neuroscience course entitle “Touring Brain Systems via Hollywood” at Tufts University.

Steve Ramirez’s career success is the result of dedication and the willingness to pursue a field as demanding as science. It is easy to assume that minority groups encounter more obstacles during their education. However, Steve shares his view on how his background played a role in his education. When asked if he ever had to overcome any obstacles while in college, his response was, “Science is one of the few disciplines that truly transcends national borders, ethnicities, gender, and any other construct…I embraced my Hispanic background as an opportunity to join the international family of scientists and to tackle some of the toughest questions neuroscience has to offer. I look at it as an opportunity to promote outreach, specially at MIT by bringing students during the summer to learn about research, and to continue to inspire highly motivated students from all backgrounds to contribute the single most important thing in science: ideas.” The best way he can demonstrate how race, socioeconomic, or gender cannot prevent anyone from pursuing science is with physicist Jeremy Bernstein’s description of what the scientific field involves, “…a great sense of elation and a deepened admiration for what the human family at its best, can accomplish.” Steve believes that science should equalize [everyone] and encourages students to seek out these present opportunities if that’s where their interest takes them.

His advice to students in STEM is to ask as many questions as possible (sending emails to professors whom it’d be interesting collaborating with), to take various courses in science, and to keep an open mind about where your career may lead. He also emphasizes the importance to join a laboratory if grad school is the next step in someone’s profession. In his words, “these experiences in lab are essential because they really color in the process of science, and they let grad school admission committees know that you’ve walked the research walk. Make it a point to really personalize your statements of purpose for each school and highlight both what you bring to the table, intellectually and practically, and how the university’s program is perfectly suited for your background in science. Just as importantly, be sure to talk to current students in the program of interest so that they give you the ‘E True Hollywood Story’ of working at that university or under a given supervisor.” Steve Ramirez wants other students to succeed in a field they are truly passionate about and advises “let your interests guide you because it’s more important to love what you do for work than it is to have a few extra letters tacked on your name after earning a degree.”

Steve has worked diligently for his current success. Nevertheless, he acknowledges the support his role models have provided for him. Some of them include his professors and teachers in neuroscience, but the most inspiring people are his parents because it was through their example that he learned how to be a hard-working person with a great work ethic as well.

Besides science, Steve enjoys spending time with his friends, but one of his favorite hobbies is running and playing piano. He explains, “One of the best outlets I have is music. When you sit down and, say, infuse your own personality to the top 40 songs of 2013 on the piano, you’d be surprised how ear-friendly Taylor Swift can increasingly sound. It really connects you with some corners of emotions that only melodies can express.”

Steve’s future plans are to have a faculty position and have his own laboratory at a university where creativity and curiosity can be practiced. He also hopes to teach students about the brain by being able to run his own courses in neuroscience.

There is no doubt that that Steve Ramirez is a role model for many in science.

                                                                                  Courtesy of TED Talks

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Luisa Whittaker-Brooks, Ph.D.

                                          Courtesy of L’Oréal USA                                            

Dr. Luisa Whittaker-Brooks, Chemical Engineer at Princeton University, is awarded the 2013 L’Oréal Fellowship for Women in Science

The L’Oréal USA Fellowship for Women in Science is a national program that intends to recognize women within that discipline. The fellowship aims to raise public awareness of women contributing to the sciences. Additionally, it honors female researchers who may serve as role models to other women. Dr. Luisa Whittaker-Brookes, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Princeton University, was awarded the L’Oréal USA Fellowship this year.

Dr. Luisa Whittaker-Brooks currently works in the School of Engineering and Applied Science in Princeton University. She was born and raised in Panama, and her interest in science arose in the 11th grade thanks to her teacher, Yolanda Moreno de Niño. As Dr. Whittaker-Brooks shared, “she [her 11th grade teacher] was really enthusiastic about science and that made it easy for me to be interested in science [as well].” It is a known fact that science is a first choice career-path to many people. Nevertheless, the little interest there is in the scientific field propels her to be “a driving factor to encourage minorities to choose a STEM career,” just as her former teacher was to her. Having this in mind, Dr, Whittaker-Brooks pursued a Bachelors of Science in Chemistry from the University of Panama; and a Masters of Science in Environmental Planning, from the Latin-American University of Science and Technology, Republic of Panama.

In the year 2007, she moved to the United States, where she worked towards another Masters of Science in Chemistry, from State University of New York. Afterward, she expanded her educational career by receiving a PhD in Chemistry from the latter institution. Her work in research has not been exclusive to Princeton, and has been the Junior Research Scientist in Cornell High Energy Synchroton Source (Grazing Incidence X-Ray Diffraction Experiments on Polymers Electronics) at Cornell University and at the National Synchrotron Light Source, Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York.

Education would serve as a platform to further her contribution in science. Dr. Luisa Whittaker-Brooks’ research has made an impact in chemical engineering and polymer science with several presentations, 12 publications and two patents. Moreover, her research discoveries have been displayed in the covers of four high-impact journals, such as the Journal of Materials Chemistry and in Journal of Physical Chemistry. Aside from this, she has won numerous academic and mentoring awards. Also, her passion is not limited only to science itself, but mentoring students by promoting and implementing teaching methodologies that focus on student-centered learning. There is absolutely no doubt, that Dr. Whittaker-Brooks is an exceptional and deserving candidate for her most recent award.

Presently, there has been an increase in women choosing the scientific field. Nonetheless, it is easy to assume that various obstacles must be overcome in order to succeed in a field dominated by men. On the other hand, Dr. Luisa Whittaker-Brooks explains how the cultural bias (women in science) is transforming and decreasing.  The opportunities she’s been granted with, demonstrate how gender is not a decisive factor, but her intellect and aptitude to conduct research. For example, Dr. Whittaker-Brooks indicated how, “performing meaningful research helped me feel like I was contributing to a greater cause-advancing human knowledge and developing foundations for the next wave of technological innovations.” She wants to see other minority students enter STEM education programs and career fields, this due to the high demand for skilled professionals.

Dr. Luisa Whittaker-Brooks describes the numerous programs from which minority students can benefit. In the continuous effort to inspire others to study science, Dr. Luisa shares the positives from the field. In her words, “The cool thing about being in a STEM field is, that you have the ability to create and build stuff.” She supports this view with the creation of webpages, and how they help people in general. Also, the shared belief that in order to strengthen the economy in the United States, and maintain its competence globally, education in science, technology, mathematics, and engineering must be provided. For those considering a career in science, it is worth listening to someone already in the field. Dr. Luisa Whittaker-Brooks’ encouraging words are, “I encourage you to gain experience by spending a couple of summers working in a lab with people that are successful doing their job. From there, you can tap into your talent and set your own career goals. Always discuss the sciences and explore your interest in a STEM field… At the end of the day, I guarantee that you will be totally satisfied by pursuing a STEM career.”

Dr. Luisa Whittaker-Brooks’ current interest and projects in Princeton University are in working with polymers and organic electronics and researching photovoltaic characteristics of new solution-processable, non-fullerene acceptors. One of her career goals is to become an assistant professor and to have her own research laboratory.

   Courtesy of L’Oréal USA

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Alberto Kousuke De la Herrán-Arita MD, Ph.D.

Dr. Alberto Kousuke De la Herrán-Arita 

Have you ever heard about Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a chronic neurological disorder caused by the brain's inability to regulate sleep-wake transitions. Symptoms include permanent sleepiness and fatigue, unsynchronized patterns of sleep along with hallucinations. The United States is the leading country with patients suffering from narcolepsy Canada follows in second place and Mexico in third (1,2).

Stanford University has one of the best and well-recognized centers in the world that investigates and provides treatment to patients with narcolepsy. The “Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine” was the first medical clinic ever established to specialize in sleep disorders, and its current director, Dr. Emmanuel Mignot, who is known internationally for discovering the cause of narcolepsy, leads one of the biggest research groups in the world.
Here you will find the youngest postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University, Dr. Alberto Kousuke De la Herrán-Arita or “Beto” as he prefers to be called by his friends.

Dr. De la Herrán-Arita was born and raised in Culiacán, in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico. His interest in science began when he was very young as he explains,  “I became interested in science ever since I watched the TV series ‘Cosmos’. I remember sitting next to my parents, listening to ‘Carl Sagan’ lucidly explaining different topics like Einstein’s theory of relativity, Darwin’s theory of evolution, and several other mysteries of Science.”

While he was growing up, Dr. De la Herrán-Arita encountered a very difficult challenge, the lack of research opportunities in Mexico. He remembers, “The only difficulty I encountered during college was getting myself involved in scientific research. Where I come from (Sinaloa), scientific research was practically unavailable (at least in the natural sciences). Fortunately, scientific research is becoming less centralized in Mexico, and several new research facilities are being created all over the country. However, scientific research is still underfinanced in Mexico, as less than 1% of the GDP is destined to science.”

As an enthusiastic teenager, Dr. De la Herrán-Arita paved his way in medicine; at the age of 16 he attended the Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa, (Autonomous University of Sinaloa). Being the youngest student of his class, “Beto” never felt intimidated and was determined to find all the resources available to get involved into scientific research.

After completing medicine, he interned for a year in the laboratory of Dr. René Drucker-Colín at the Institute of Cellular Physiology from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. In this laboratory they study the neurophysiology of sleep, among other neurodegenerative diseases. His dedication and passion for science, especially his interest in investigating neurodegenerative diseases such as narcolepsy, lead him to pursue a PhD in Biomedical Sciences at the same institution.

While he was working in his PhD, he created a transgenic mouse model that mimics narcolepsy. He found that mice lacking the helix-loop-helix transcription factor O/E3 results in a decrease of an essential neurotransmitter called “hypocretin” (a.k.a., orexin) in the lateral hypothalamus, resulting in a narcoleptic phenotype in mice. This finding got his research into the cover of  the Neuroscience journal. Nonetheless, this is not his only achievement he also was given honorable mention for completing his doctoral degree in the shortest amount of time (3 years) with 8 publications and 2 book chapters. He was granted several awards, amongst them the “Premio al Mérito Juvenil 2012“ (Congressional Youth Achievement Award) on Academy, Science & Technology given by the state of Sinaloa, Mexico.

After completing his doctorate, Dr. De la Herrán-Arita continued to be fascinated by neurodegenerative diseases and wanted to study the autoimmune basis of narcolepsy.  He shares, “Neurodegeneration and autoimmunity are [two] fields that are constantly evolving and changing course, always incorporating knowledge from other different areas.” He we was able to join the laboratory of Dr. Emmanuel Mignot at Stanford University as he recalls,  “I always fancied joining Dr. Emmanuel Mignot’s group, they’re the A-team in narcolepsy research and autoimmunity. Working with them is a really challenging and amusing experience; they work really hard and party like rock stars!” It is important to note that although Dr. De la Herrán-Arita has attained a respectable status in science he enjoys what life offers outside of his laboratory. Some activities he takes pleasure in are martial arts, hiking, bouldering, long boarding and paintball, without forgetting his passion for science all the time.

Now as a postdoctoral scholar, his work just got accepted by one of the most recognized journals, Science. His work will be published in the upcoming months. Due to his dedication, hard work and extensive knowledge he was awarded the 2013 Dean’s award from Stanford University leading him to be the “only” Mexican to receive this award in the entire academic history.

Dr. De la Herrán-Arita’s dream is to launch an Institute dedicated to neurodegenerative diseases in his beloved Culiacan, with hopes to investigate, prevent and provide treatment to patients suffering from such illnesses.

There is no doubt Dr. De la Herrán-Arita is an inspiration of what can be accomplished through hard work and passion.

1. What is Narcolepsy, National Institute of Health (NIH).
2. Statistic by Country for Narcolepsy. Right Diagnosis.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Julius Edson, Ph.D. Student

Julius Edson, Ph.D. Student

The objective of the National Science Foundation (NSF) is to promote science by giving research grants to scientific laboratories throughout the United States. NSF has several research grants one of them is the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSFGRF). This fellowship recognizes and supports outstanding under-represented entering graduate students who are perusing either a master’s or doctoral degree in Life Sciences, Engineering and Mathematics. The GRFP provides three years of paid tuition and stipend for their graduate education.

One outstanding 2013 GRFP recipient is Julius Edson, a second year Ph.D. student in Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Irvine. Julius Edson is a member of American Institute of ChemicalEngineers, National Society of Black Engineers and former recipient of Graduate Assistance inAreas of National Need Fellowship (GAANN).

Among his achievements include: research publications, invited research talks, poster presentations, and several fellowships and awards. Edson’s passion for science and yearning for knowledge propelled him to go around the world to do research. He had the opportunity to travel to Colombia, Austria and Sweden where he did research for three summers. Once he relocated to the United States he learned about electrochemistry, and techniques in biomaterials and corrosion science. However, it was not an easy journey.

Julius was born in Lagos, Nigeria and moved to the United States at the age of seven. Julius’ interest in Science developed early on when he was in middle school and it became his favorite topic in class. As he says it was, “The only topic that I never struggled to stay awake.” Later on, he pursed Biology and Chemistry hoping to go to Medical School and become a surgeon. However, his interest for Nanotechnology stirred within him and wanted to combine it with medicine.

Julius majored in Chemical Engineering at City College of New York.  Here, he had the opportunity to do research in Chemical Engineering. As he mentions, “I was looking into research labs in undergrad, I stumbled into my undergrad mentor's lab and ended up changing my track [from medicine] to Chemical Engineering.” It is not usual to find students who will switch from medicine (MD) to Science (Ph.D), in general is the other way around. Most college students have an interest in pursuing medicine, and they start doing research with the purpose of attending medical school. Nonetheless, Julius’ intent was different.

This is when he decided to study Chemical Engineering, although with limited knowledge of what the field consisted of. Even though he’s encountered moments where people question what he does exactly, Julius enjoys the ability to “dabble in everything.” With this he means that Chemical Engineering is an interdisciplinary field that allows him to combine certain aspects of different disciplines. To illustrate this better for example, Civil, Mechanical, Electrical and Computer Engineering, specialize in one particular area and Julius found it more suitable for him to not follow any of those branches in Engineering.

It is normal for college students to experience some hardship in order to receive their degrees. As it was the case for Julius, he experienced a financial burden throughout his education but “what college student doesn’t have those nowadays?” Nevertheless, one of his biggest hurdles was Mathematics. He was excellent in all Biology and Chemistry courses he took yet he found that Math was not his strength. He overcame that obstacle after some time, however, and he eventually “fell in love!” with Math.

Julius has a profound passion, positive attitude and willingness to move forward, which encourage him to continue in Science. His recommendation to other students is, “go for it! It is one career path that I do not see a negative. With a technical degree, there are so many options available to you, and you can carve your own path.”

Julius next goal is to obtain his Ph.D Degree in Chemical Engineering with the hopes of establishing a biotechnology company.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Lilian Kabeche, Ph.D. Candidate

Picture taken by Erin O’Flaherty
Lilian Kabeche, Ph.D. Candidate

The goal of The Minority Affairs Committee (MAC) from the American Society of Cell Biology (ASCB) is to increase and support underrepresented scientists by promoting their professional career with annual travel fellowships from the National Institute of Health (NIH). Thereafter, they attend the annual ASCB meeting with the purpose of promoting scientific communication and mentoring. Students who are selected to receive this fellowship, present novel scientific findings and compete at the MAC poster competition. This past year, almost 100 recipients participated at the poster competition and a total of nine awards were given to the best poster presenters.

One of these nine recognized is fifth year PhD. Candidate in molecular and cellular biology miss Lilian Kabeche from Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College. Lilian Kabeche is a John H. Copenhaver and William H. Thomas fellow, a member of the ASCB, and former NIH research grant recipient. 

Among her achievements include participating in research talks, her most recent was at the annual ASCB meeting for one of the special interest sub-groups, “Aneuploidy: Causes and Consequences” at the ASCB annual meeting. The title of her talk “Cyclin A degradation controls the transition from prometaphase to metaphase in vertebrate cells,” was presented to an international audience that included students, post-doctoral fellows and faculty.

Miss Kabeche’s interest in science started while in high school, and she attributes her love to science and enthusiasm to her teachers, who became her mentors, as she explains. “It was my high school biotechnology and chemistry teachers that really opened my love for science. I still remember the passion that my chemistry teacher exuded. He loved science so much.” 

She also explains the benefit of having great teachers and mentors who were passionate about teaching very basic biological topics by using cues or models. As miss Kabeche indicated, “I still remember the way he taught us DNA transcription and translation.”  She explains, “We had to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. So one person at the end was the DNA template, and read the message to the next person, who was the mRNA, then that was translated into the actual protein by another student, who made the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  However, mutations can occur and the message was no longer perfect! This got really messy, but to me, it was an amazing experience!”

Her great experience in high school and the enthusiasm that her professors had about science was what lead her to study microbiology and Immunology at the University of Miami. Years later she decided to pursue a PhD in Cell Biology in Dr. Duane Compton’s lab at Dartmouth College.

Like many students Miss Kabeche had some challenges such as fear and doubt. She explains, “Difficulties and challenges are what you make of them. I think that the biggest challenge for me in my PhD has been myself…there have been some moments of doubt and fear: a couple of times feeling a little self-doubt. Asking if I am really smart enough to do this. But I've found that, that's why you have a giant support system.”

Miss Kabeche explains how fortunate she is on having a great family who has supported her and guided her throughout her career. “My family has been with me every step of the time... They listen and support and tell me that I can do it, and they are a giant pillar of strength that have made any challenge that I have had into nothing more than a minute thing.”

Also she emphasized the importance of having a great mentor and lab members in her graduate career. Someone she provided as an example is her graduate advisor/principal investigator (PI) Dr. Duane Compton. “He has been an amazing PI through out my PhD. He has taught me to be patient, and meticulous with my work. He has always been there when I have felt self-doubt with only assurance and amazing amounts of confidence in me. My lab is amazing whenever I've been kind of sad because things are working like I want them too, they are there with a smile.”

Miss Lilian Kabeche’s passion toward science led her to promote science by recruiting students into her graduate program. One of her first recruiters was her sister Ruth, who works two labs away from her and has also been a great supporter.

Ultimately she is grateful for having great teachers who kept her motivated and interested in research and science. She compares her interest and passion to science to a puzzle.  In her own words, “Science is like a puzzle and with each experiment, you make a new puzzle piece that you can place, eventually you have a beautiful picture. I really like that about science. There is a piece of you in every puzzle piece.”

Miss Kabeche hopes to continue doing research as well as stay involved in promoting science in the hopes that her achievements will bring more students to pursue a career in science.

To learn more about the MAC program

Monday, November 26, 2012

Dr. Erin Marie Williams awarded The L'Oréal USA Fellowship

The L'Oréal USA Fellowship "For Women in Science Program" is a national award that annually recognizes five outstanding researchers in engineering, mathematics and in the life sciences. The goals of this program are "to raise awareness of the contribution of women in science" and to "Identify exceptional female serve as role models for younger generations."

One of these five recognized women is Dr. Erin Marie Williams. Dr. Williams is a National Science Foundation Minority postdoctoral fellow from the department of Anthropology at The George Washington University's Center for the Advanced Study of Hominid Paleobiology.

Dr. Williams's interest in Anthropology was early in her life as she explains, "I think I was like a lot of kids, and I was interested in Anthropology long before I know what Anthropology was all about. My first vivid memory of being interested in what I later learned was Anthropology was in the second grade when our teacher, Mrs. Warner, took us to the University of Michigan Natural History Museum and we saw the dioramas depicting different Native American groups. Most of us had visited the museum before and we were familiar with the scenes--the tiny people going about their day, growing corn, tanning hides, making snow shoes--but no matter how many times I had visited in the past, the dioramas always felt new and exciting to me."

Dr. Williams attended a small college in Iowa, Grinnell College. While in college, she was determined to go to Law School. She took the LSTA, applied, and luckily got into several schools. However, in the last minute as she explains, "I decided not to go." She took some time off before deciding whether Law School was for her, and during that time she embarked on several activities until she found her true passion as she explains. "I worked on a horse/dude ranch in Colorado, helped promote hip hop shows in Ann Arbor, MI, worked at the Princeton Review, bartended, etc. After awhile I got tired of my lack of direction and slowed down to think about what I was good at and what I enjoyed. I landed on Anthropology, recalling how much I'd enjoyed going on digs while in college, and considering different theories on the formation of culture. As it turns out, I've moved away from cultural anthropology, and even from archeology, to a degree. Or rather, I've broadened to include and focus on the physical and evolutionary components of anthropology."

Like many students Dr. Williams had some challenges during college, she explains. "My family did not have a lot of money, so I worked all through college, but had worked through middle school and high school...I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well at times, and not enough pressure at other times. But I always felt a great deal of support from my parents, family and teachers."

As a woman in STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Dr. Williams explains some other challenges. "I have always felt that I was held to slightly different standards than my white peers. I don't know whether this was an internal or external pressure, perhaps it was both. But it helped me to try to exceed those standars and expectations."

Dr. Williams explains how she was able to accomplish her goals, "Frequently, I set very specific goals and consciously worked to surpass them. I have always celebrated my victories and made sure to allow myself to fell good about them. Two of the most helpful things for me was seeking out opportunities to participate in extra-classroom activities and attaching myself to a good mentor."

She explains how fortunate she was on having great mentors who supported her and guided her through her career. " I've been fortunate and I had access to a number of professors during undergrad and graduate school that were willing and able to provide a lot of research opportunities and mentoring. They worked with me on my writing and research skills, and allowed me to participate in activities that are not obviously available unless sought after."

Dr. Williams emphasizes the importance of having a mentor and she helps those who want to pursue science. "When I have my own children, I think I will encourage them to find a mentor and through that person, to ask for the help they need, to ask to be allowed to participate in research."

"Students that seek out opportunities and carve out their own niche get to participate in so many more activities than those that take a more passive approach to their education. It is hard to be bold at time, but I believe that there are tremendous benefits."

Dr. Williams will continue her research and teaching human evolutionary biology. "I'm particularly drawn to smaller learning institution... I also plan to continue working with younger students, particularly those that don't have abundant exposure to scientific concepts and processes, to get them excited about the sciences."

To learn more about her research.

To learn more about the fellowship and how to apply.