For nearly three decades, The Science Coalition has been a steadfast advocate on Capitol Hill for robust, consistent, and predictable federal investment in fundamental scientific research. This year, we’re inviting different voices from all walks of life to participate in the Science is Everyone: Voices in STEM campaign. The unique perspectives of these researchers will reinforce the necessity of federal funding while amplifying the accomplishments of individuals from varying backgrounds who have strengthened our nation’s STEM workforce.
Black History Month is a time to reflect on the contributions Black researchers have made to science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and so much more. Over the last few weeks, The Science Coalition has highlighted a handful of groundbreaking individuals across its social media channels. As Black History Month comes to a close, it is essential to reflect on how we can continue to support the next generation of diverse talent whose discoveries are yet to be made. Robust, consistent federal funding for fundamental research is essential to continue creating opportunities for underrepresented minorities to pursue their STEM dreams.
I know this because those investments have shaped my career trajectory and developed me into the scientist, advocate, and leader I am today. Federal funding through the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Minority Access to Research Careers Grant (MARC), the Research Training Initiative for Student Enhancement (RISE), and the National Institute on Aging’s F31 award provided me with opportunities to do different kinds of science alongside different kinds of people in classrooms and labs across the country. In seeing people that looked like I do doing this work, it gave me assurance that I could also pursue a STEM career. In fact, it heavily influenced my dissertation at the University of Oregon (UO), where I worked to understand the transgenerational effects of stress, particularly the response of dietary stress and compound intervention on a small round worm called Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans).
In 2014, I moved to Eugene to pursue my PhD in biology at UO. The first couple of years were challenging, and at the beginning of my third year, I noticed something wasn’t right. For most PhD programs, the end of the second year and the beginning of the third year marks the advancement to candidacy. For me, that meant all of my time was dedicated to research. It’s also a time when many grad students experience imposter syndrome. My imposter syndrome was unique to that of my peers, because it was most influenced by race. While I could easily talk to my advisor and my peers about any challenges in my research, I didn’t have psychological safety, nor the courage to talk about race. For the first time in my career, I felt like an “other” in science. I certainly didn’t feel comfortable asking for help about it. When I did share with my peers, I could tell they struggled to understand how much race impacted me.
In a candid conversation with my advisor, I expressed how the lack of diversity was affecting my capacity to do science to the best of my ability. To fix it, I wanted to mentor and engage students of color who were interested in science, which led to the development and implementation of the Students of Color Opportunities for Research Enrichment (SCORE) program at UO. I designed this program to mirror the experiences and opportunities that MARC and RISE gave me as an undergraduate for students of color interested in STEM. My vision for SCORE is simple: to allow students of color to learn science around people with whom they can relate and identify. I successfully completed my PhD, and SCORE is now in its seventh year under Dr. Nadia Sigh’s leadership.
Since graduating in 2020, I joined Abcam as a Project Manager Team Lead for our new Cell Line Development Platform. Our goal at Abcam is to develop products that help scientists achieve their mission faster because we believe progress happens together. To do this successfully, we’ve created a team composed of people from all over the world. While the proportion of women and minorities in the sciences has grown, they remain vastly underrepresented in STEM compared to their share of the U.S. population. In transitioning from academia to industry, I have taken my core values with me and built upon them. One of my missions at Abcam is to retain diverse talent by changing the corporate environment framework in order to actualize developments and discoveries that change the world. Becoming part of the STEM workforce was made possible through hard work, dedication, and the access and opportunity that federal investment afforded me and many others. Science is hard. While increased diversity doesn’t make it easier, it does makes it more innovative, and that helps us solve problems faster. Without diversity, science is not at its best, and that cannot happen without continued federal funding for research.
This Black History Month, I would like to remind Congress of its critical role in building our nation’s research workforce and empowering – and inspiring – a new generation of bright minds to think about a career in science. Science needs them.
By Dr. Precious Alexandria de Verteuil, PhD, University of Oregon, Project Manager Team Lead, Abcam