1. How did you get into the field?
It honestly just kinda happened. My first research experience as an undergrad was with my genetics professor, a Black woman who studied dopamine in C. Elegans. When I applied for grad school, I wasn’t 100% sure about the type of research I wanted to pursue so I applied to interdisciplinary and interdepartmental programs. I got accepted into the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program here at UCI and fell in love with the field!
2. Tell us a little bit about your research.
My research focuses on understanding the long-term effects of adolescent nicotine and cannabinoid exposure. We know teens smoke, vape, and/or eat nicotine and THC, but we don’t know all the lasting implications of it. I seek to understand how this adolescent drug exposure impacts learning and memory, anxiety, and drug-seeking behaviors in adulthood.
3. What accomplishments are you most proud of?
The accomplishment that I am most proud of lately has been leading Black In Neuro as its President and securing a post-PhD faculty position!
4. Tell us a little bit about your journey? What important lessons have you learned along the way?
I’m a first-generation college graduate and daughter of immigrants. I started college as pre-med, but changed my mind halfway through undergrad because I realized that I wasn’t really passionate about it. I was doing it to make my family happy and that wasn’t a good reason. The most important lesson I’ve learned so far is to pursue the things that YOU are passionate about because that’s how you’ll make a difference in this world! I love teaching and mentoring. That’s why I’m getting my PhD – to be a college professor and inspire students to see themselves as scientists too. If I still pursued medicine, I wouldn’t be achieving my dreams right now and I probably would’ve never founded Black In Neuro. I know I’m positively impacting more lives this way. And my family eventually came around too!
5. Who do you look up to? What is your source of inspiration?
I look up to all of the Black professors and leaders who came before me. Honestly, the fact that they were able to push through all of the systemic barriers meant to keep them out of academia and pave the way for all of us coming after is what keeps motivating me to do the same.
6. What is your favorite hobby or activity outside of work?
I’m a big foodie so I love trying new restaurants and dessert places with my husband
7. What is your favorite comfort food?
Anything chocolate! Usually chocolate chip cookies, brownies, or cake
8. What types of music do you enjoy listening to?
I listen to all types of music. My playlists will range from R&B to country to 2000s hip-hop and pop to Disney songs. It just depends on how I’m feeling.
9. If you could give one piece of advice to young Black scholars getting into life sciences what would it be?
Find a mentor, or three! It can feel really overwhelming at times to navigate academia, especially if you’re the first one in your family to do so. But there IS a lot of support out there and people who are genuinely rooting for your success (like me!). Finding good mentors can be challenging but you want people who 1) support your dreams, even if it is not what they think you should be doing, 2) can share opportunities, resources, and their network with you, and 3) offer guidance and encouragement when you want to give up.
10. Could you please share your social media handles with us?
Twitter: @FutureDrDukes @BlackInNeuro