The Inner Rambling of a Transitioned Scientist and STEM Professional
An Ode to Corporate America
When I used to think of a career woman, my mind would instantaneously conjure up flashes of white women in pumps, power walking down busy city streets of Manhattan, and the like. Very 80’s montage-y (lol). These images generated before me on the big screen during my childhood and beyond almost always painted a 3-fold image that I either couldn’t relate to or didn’t want to relate to.
She was White. She was unfulfilled. And deep down she longed for a man in whom she could place her fulfillment. Did I mention she was white?
Unfortunately, I was also met with this same conundrum when it came to entering the field of STEM, only this time He was White. He was an outcast/ nerd, and he was a man.
Whatever those depictions were… they weren’t representative of me (okay so I am most definitely a bit of a nerd lmbo).
So how did I wind up here; in STEM, and in Corporate America (#DoubleWhammy)?
Well, it wasn’t luck, nor was it inspired by the examples of the women I saw on TV. Outside of the movies Boomerang, Brown Sugar, Love and Basketball, and The Best Man, I don’t recall very many depictions of enterprising, college-educated black folks on the silver screen. Granted I did have access to ‘A Different World’, ‘Fresh Prince of Belair’, Living Single, and ‘Girlfriends’, I didn’t really discover those shows until I had already made up in my mind what I wanted to do with my life (for the most part, cuz’ I’m still figuring it out everyday B’ lol).
I told my mother when I was 8 years old that I wanted to be a doctor, so she bought me medical dictionaries and anatomy books. In high school, my chemistry teacher was recruiting students into the AP course. She noticed that I showed interest in the material, and encouraged me to take the advanced placement course. There was also a summer program that my high school guidance counselor introduced me to that would expose me to research at local universities. I had an interest that was nurtured by the community around me.
As I matriculated through high school and undergrad I was vocal about the things I was interested in for my future, and to this very day, this personality trait has served me well. I tend to spend a lot of time contemplating the things that I want out of life and career, and I’ve found that for the most part, there hasn’t been a shortage of individuals who respond well to flattery and at least some sort of outline for my career plan. Fostering relationships, networking, and not being afraid to rely on the kindness of strangers is how I got to where I am today. Don’t think of it as kissing ass. Nobody gets anywhere by keeping to themselves and doing ‘good work’. It’s a sure way to get overlooked.
I landed at the University of Chicago because I cold-called primary investigators. Sent my CV, and made a good introductory impression that led to interview invitations and permission to use some pretty high-profile people’s names for recommendations. Landing a job in Big Pharma was a bit more complicated, but I’d like to think the things I had become comfortable doing and navigating through my Ph.D. and post-doctoral journey aided me in my successful matriculation here. In my 3 years in industry, I’ve gotten awards, corporate-wide recognition, and promotions in relatively short periods of time.
I’ve learned that my career success is one part doing the work and two parts investing in people and relationships.
In my book, ‘Black Girl’s Guide to Greatness: A sorta-kinda novel-like self-help compilation of inner ramblings’ or B Triple G (BGGG) for short, I touch on the significance of representation. I also talk at length on how important a community of support truly is in the rearing of successful professional scientists and the like.
When I think about the wealth gap in this nation, I get irritated, because even though black women in America continue to show out in the classroom and rise to the occasion, we still tend to be the most underpaid. Why?
Two words. ‘Systemic Oppression”. Now before you go off saying, “Here we go again with this victimhood mentality.” Hear me out.
Lack of resources, lack of opportunity, lack of exposure.
These three things perpetually exist in lower SES BIPOC communities and serve to further debilitate already disenfranchised groups. Fortunately, I had access to two out of these three things (exposure and opportunity), plus the magical fourth: support.
If you don’t know better, you can’t do better.
You can hear rumors of the late great ghosts of Black Scientists Past (George Washington Carver, Benjamin Banneker, and Mae Jemison etc.) all day long, but, the modern face of Black folks in STEM can be rather sparse and lacking. Which makes it difficult for young folks to relate and ‘know better’.
Take that and compound it with the ever-increasing difficulty of some of these subjects, lack of resources to afford tutoring, plus the belief that something must be ‘wrong’ with me if I don’t naturally do well in these subjects… you end up with diminished returns, and the selection of less lucrative careers in administration, education, and the service industry (EMPLOYMENT — BlackDemographics.com). While these are respectable career paths, they seldom result in more than $40,000 annual earning potential, let alone 6 figures. Hence, the wealth gap.
So, how do we transform the face of the career woman and STEM professional to a more inclusive one?
How do we reject the narrative presented at the beginning of this little ramble?
How do we encourage more diversity in STEM?
Well, I think it’s a multimodal problem… but we can start with resources, exposure, opportunity, and support. Everything else can be discovered in my book 😉 #ShamelessPlug.
I’ll end with the rejection of the tired stereotypical depiction of the successful STEM professional.
I am Black. I am woman. I am fulfilled.
To get your Inner Ramblings fix, visit www.stupidscienceinc.org. Feel free to donate to our scholarship program for HBCU STEM students, and connect with Stupid Science Inc. on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram!
Kendra completed her undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences at Stillman College and later received her Ph.D. from the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a dissertation focus in cancer epigenetics. She went on to continue her post-doc education at the University of Chicago before joining a major pharmaceutical company in their department of Global Scientific Communications. Recently Royston has assumed higher responsibilities within Clinical Development managing oncology clinical trials as an Associate Director. She is a strong advocate for diversity equity and inclusion and has been given additional responsibilities on shaping the strategy for patient education in the clinical trial space. Dr. Royston is also the founder of Stupid Science Inc., a nonprofit organization that aims to increase diverse representation in STEM fields/ careers.