What is your scientific background?
I received my undergraduate degree in Chemistry at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. After obtaining my B.S., I decided to embark on a journey to become a professional scientist at NYU Langone Medical Center.
Through hard work and perseverance and with the help of extraordinary mentors, I received my Ph.D. in Cell and Molecular Biology.
After my studies, I continued my scientific training at Johns Hopkins University and Weill Cornell Medical Center where I studied neuroscience and cardiology, respectively. I have coauthored numerous publications and presented my work at international and national conferences.
Science outreach allowed me to channel my love of science and science communication to challenge the perception that science is boring.
Science has always been my passion, but at the end of my postdoctoral fellowship at Weill Cornell I had a realization. Science outreach allowed me to channel my love of science and science communication to challenge the perception that science is boring and that scientists consist of a specific demographic that an African American, native Mississippian, woman is not historically a part of.
In 2011, I joined the BioBus, a vehicle that allows students to have authentic research laboratory experiences by bringing a mobile science lab to their school and providing a research laboratory space where students and families from all socioeconomic backgrounds can pursue their scientific curiosity.
How did you transition from the lab to your current job?
During my Ph.D. career at NYU, I was involved with a lot of recruitment efforts. I soon realized that my efforts were not helping to increase the number of underrepresented minorities who would obtain a Ph.D., mainly because our efforts were focused on college students.
I volunteered for 2 years before I became a full time employee.
I became convinced that the intervention must occur much sooner, so I started pursuing ways to mentor K-12 students. During my postdoctoral fellowship at Weill Cornell, my yoga teacher told me about her college roommate who was starting this amazing project. I went to a fundraiser and volunteered on the BioBus and immediately I was hooked. I volunteered for 2 years before I became a full time employee.
The hardest part of starting my current job was to take the leap of faith and believe in my conviction that bench science or a professorship was not the correct path for me. I admit it took a little soul–searching, but I have no regrets.
Pursuing your interest will lead you in directions that you cannot predict. Five years ago, I could not imagine the wonderful opportunities and experiences that my current job has provided me.
Every day is an adventure of discovery, and I still get to continue to pursue my scientific interests while sharing my knowledge and passion for science with students and families from communities throughout the five boroughs and from all socioeconomic backgrounds.
How do you spend your day in your job?
Everyday is different, though I admit meetings are a big part of my life now. There are a myriad of ways that we accomplish our mission to democratize science and provide venues for all people to have an authentic research laboratory experience and pursue their scientific potential.
I teach on the BioBus, a mobile science lab, which is basically a field trip that comes to the school. Typically, the BioBus spends the entire day at a school where 6 classes board the BioBus during their normal science class. The teachers lead the students in inquiry-based, hands-on science exploration.
This experience is microscopy-based and is geared toward preK-12 students. Additionally, I led the efforts to develop our stationary research laboratory, the BioBase, where students who have been aboard the BioBus (and have had their interest in science piqued) have a place to go to pursue their scientific interest.
Also, I teach afterschool classes for students and weekend classes for families, both of which are designed to give students and families in-depth scientific experiences. Through teaching, I am given the opportunity to pursue my scientific interests in the guise of developing innovative, hands-on curriculum on a variety of topics.
Additionally, because 70% of the students that we serve are from low-income communities, they cannot afford the full cost of the BioBus visiting their school. As a result, we rely heavily on fundraising from individuals, foundations, and New York State and City, my job includes aiding in these efforts.
Since our inception, we have reached over 500 schools and communities. This would not be as successful without partnerships with other community organizations and supporters from communities throughout New York City. One key aspect of my job is identifying and maintaining these partnerships.
My training as a scientist prepared me for this job in numerous ways. First, I learned how to prioritize and multitask. Additionally, I learned how to think through a problem while overcoming many obstacles. Patience, perseverance and identifying critical relationships are among the skills that I learned in graduate school and are critical to my job today.
What do you like most about your job?
The BioBus offers a unique opportunity for me to use my skills to positively affect social change. In the near future, I hope to positively impact not only the perception of science in the New York community, but also the perception of how people view others from different walks of life (i.e. An Ivy League researcher and NYCHA resident).
During this whirlwind journey, I have learned how to manage other people, lobby governmental officials, develop engaging curricula for students and families, run afterschool programs, internship programs and summer camps and mentor the next generation of scientists.
The BioBus offers a unique opportunity for me to use my skills to positively affect social change.
Any advice for others?
My advice to graduate students and postdocs looking to move out of the lab is to follow your interests. Look for mentors who believe in you and will help guide you throughout your career. Also become a mentor; it helps to put your life in perspective.
Be bold and try new things. Do not be afraid to fail, through failure you learn the most important lessons. Also, continue to develop your interests even if you have a gel to run or a PCR to set up. Life is all about balance.
Join the conversation by commenting below or using the #moretoscience hashtag on twitter. Do you have a job in science that you love, or know someone who does? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or @DanaBerryBMC if you’re interested in participating in our series.