I'm so excited to announce that I have joined the School of Natural Resources as Assistant Professor of Ecosystem Health at the University of Missouri. This is a culmination of all my hard work over the last ten years since I decided in my junior year at Northeastern Illinois University that I wanted to pursue ecology research and while doing my Masters at Chicago State University that I wanted to become a professor so I can teach and mentor while doing research. I'm excited and terrified but I'm sure I will do a awesome job.
ESA 2016 is almost over, and it has been fun in the racing across the convention center between talks kind of way. I decided to be a student volunteer, primarily as a way to cover the expenses associated with attending the conference this year, so I arrive Sunday early afternoon to help with registration. I was so surprised at what I saw both Sunday and Monday that I decided to tweet about it. Diversity seems to have become a hot topic over the past few years with many initiatives aimed at increasing diversity in both higher education and the workplace in all STEM-related fields. This is something I've become a bit passionate about over the past few years as I've furthered my career in Ecology. I've felt like I had a responsibility to the next generation to expose them to STEM in a way that is encouraging and supportive. Therefore, as my workload allows while in grad school, I've given back to my community through STEM outreach . Therefore, imagine my surprise when I saw many of colorful faces who are traditionally under-represented (URMs) in STEM and higher education. Albeit most of them were undergrads (I was mistaken as an undergrad this week and almost got indignant about it, but that's unrelated), it shows PROGRESS.
Back in 2013, fresh from graduating from my Master's at Chicago State University, I attending ESA in Minneapolis, MN and the only other face I saw that looked similar to mine was a professor in education who had an exhibit and whose research focused on improving STEM education for URMs. After seeing me, I received the most often asked question. What made me choose to make a career out of ecology? Who helped me? What resources? etc... I would say most people are baffled by my response. I'm not involved in SEEDS, didn't know about it until I was in grad school by which it was too late. Nor was I involved in any other programs whose mission was to increase participation of URMs in STEM.
I thought I knew what my path was going to be ever since I was 6, it oscillated between doctor, nurse and first African-American female president (something I vividly remember my teachers always asking me to say, I wonder if they believed it or was just patronizing me, but I detest politics now). From 6th-12th grade, I let go of my political aspirations and was on the healthcare pathway. Never realizing that those science fairs I participated in, joining Academic Games, debate team and robotics were in a sense hinting that my career may well be setting me on a different path. The sad thing is that those extra-curricular activities are no longer offered in my public school system. Of course, I didn't realize this new path until my Junior year in college, and I spent many years trying to catch up to those always knew they wanted to go into academia. I think I've done a pretty good job of that.
This ESA has been refreshing, to say the least. I'm struggling with choosing talks to attend as my previous research (masters) was on topics involving plant ecology and modeling population dynamics and my current research involves invasion ecology, disease ecology, and of course modeling. I haven't completely let go of the first as I'm still collaborating on projects not related to my current dissertation research. I know what the currency is in academia and believe it or not but I will have nice cushion in my bank account when I become Dr. Samniqueka Halsey
I'm currently attending the NACCB conference in Madison, WI where the theme is communicating science. Of course, this is a very important thing since if we don't communicate our science to the public, then really whats the point. How are we going to get support for change, funding for the next project?
Coincidentally, 20 minutes before my presentation today, I was on a Skype call to the University of Illinois to speak about the outreach I've coordinated as the Outreach Coordinator for STEM-Fem Alliance to the Mandela-Washington YALI fellows. These young professionals are visiting from various countries in Africa as part of a program to support their careers in Public Management and Policy.
I'm sad that I missed the discussion that STEM-Fem Alliance hosted regarding the interconnection between STEM and Policy but I've heard that they liked my presentation and hopefully I can meet with some of them when I return before they depart.
I would say my presentation on "Predicting Population Viability of a Monocarpic Perennial Dune Thistle Using Individual-Based Models" was a success. I'm a finalist for the student presentation awards,but it won't be until Wednesday to find out if I won. Regardless, Practice makes perfect.
In a stroke of luck, I received an email in February from a fellow grad student on our programs' list-serv about a fellowship which was a perfect fit for me. Geared towards for students from backgrounds less underrepresented (i.e. women and racial/ethnic minorities) who use computational methods in fields outside of computer science (they actually specifically mentioned ecology). What made it perfect was that although there are tons of fellowships out there, most of these "Pre-Doctoral" fellowships were geared toward graduate students just starting out in their grad program who did NOT already have a masters degree. (Getting my masters' sometimes feels like a gift and a curse). Or fellowships having the requirement of attaining "candidate" status which I did achieve in March after successfully passing my Preliminary Exam (with a 6 person committee, I might add). Back on topic... This fellowship was perfect. Computational Scientist.. CHECK. Potential for excellence. CHECK. Likelihood of successfully completing graduate degree. CHECK. Extent to which I will serve to increase diversity in the workplace. CHECK. I was a little nervous that I was only able to give a 500 character statement (equates to 2 carefully crafted sentences) and a CV (I think mine is pretty impressive). Well everything was turned in by the deadline and the wait began. We were told we would be notified a the END of July. Imagine my surprise when I received an email an the END of June that I was one of 14 selected as an ACM SIGHPC/Intel Fellow. Congrats to me. I have funding for 3 years, which is perfect as I have 3 years to go. This year I'm buying a "supercomputer" (well it has 12 physical cores and 24 virtual cores, 64 GB of Ram so close enough) because the limiting factor to my research is the processing power on my lab desktop. And the model, I've built definitely needs it. It has been a running for a few weeks now on the campus cluster just to calibrate it but I only had funding to pay for it until summers end. So this is awesome!