The Black Science Hall of Fame Inductee #1
Meet Evan Brooks
Name: Evan Brooks
Undergraduate institution: North Carolina State University
Graduate institution (current status): 2nd Year Ph.D. Student in Developmental Biology at the University of Cincinnati.
Evan, when did you first realize that you were interested in science? What are you researching right now?
I have been fascinated by science since the seventh grade when I got my first exposure to science through a summer program at the North Carolina School of Science and Math (NCSSM). One memorable experience that I had in high school was being taught and mentored by Ms. Korah Wiley, my first Black science instructor. Ms. Korah consistently encouraged me to pursue science all the way through high school—I owe a lot of my persistence to her.
My research interests are in developmental biology and its applications to studying birth defects. I am currently investigating the role of primary cilia (antenna-like projections on the surface of nearly every cell) in the development of the face. Primary cilia are important because they regulate embryonic developmental processes. Any disruption in the form or function of cilia results in a condition called ciliopathy. Ciliopathies cause a variety of birth defects and are poorly understood.
What does the phrase “Black Scientists Matter” mean to you? What do you think this movement might mean to others?
To me, “Black Scientists Matter” means that Black folks are exceptional scientists and deserve to be highlighted. There is no reason why there should be “hidden figures” when Black scientists have made countless contributions to our world as it is today.
For those who are Black, I think this movement means that Black Excellence in science will finally be highlighted and appropriately celebrated. For those who are not Black, I think that this movement will be a learning opportunity for them to understand why this movement exists and how they can help in ensuring that Black scientists are respected and honored for the work that we do.
What does pursuing a Ph.D. mean to you, your family, and the community you come from?
Pursuing a Ph.D. is about becoming an expert in my field and also being a role model to other Black folks. You can be a scientist and not forget where you come from. One of my main motivations is to make my parents proud. They’re super supportive of me pursuing my dream.
For my community, I’m earning this Ph.D. to show the next generation of students that you can do something great with your life even if you’re from a no-name town in the middle-of-nowhere in North Carolina. I want to show them that everyone has the potential to do something great.
What has been your biggest obstacle so far in grad school?
Believing in myself and being confident in my work. Grad school has been the hardest thing that I’ve ever done, and I’ve never dealt with as much failure as I did in my first year of grad school. To come into grad school and to have nothing work no matter how hard I tried was devastating. I’ve been working to separate my worth as a person from my work and being open about how I’m feeling. I’ve even sought therapy/counseling.
If you could be any Avenger, who would you be and why?
Black Panther, hands down. I love that he uses Wakandan technologies to fight for the good of not only his community but the world. He’s deeply loyal to those around him and also has exceptional strength and speed.
What short-term and long-term goals do you have for yourself?
My short-term goal is to officially reach Ph.D. candidacy this fall. It’s been a stressful time so far, but I’m doing my best to enjoy the intellectual challenge and embrace the uncomfortable growth that comes with preparing the written proposal and oral presentation. I hope to have my first first-author manuscript out within the next year or two, but we’ll see how that goes, since plans change all the time in science! After my Ph.D., I want to pursue a postdoctoral research position and eventually land a faculty position at a primarily undergraduate institution or small liberal arts college where I can focus on teaching and mentoring undergraduates to be the next generation of scientists.
No matter what I end up doing, I want to incorporate public science outreach in my line of work. I think that it is so important that scientists share their work with the general public because their tax dollars are funding it. It is also extremely difficult for the public to access understandable scientific information. I believe that it is the responsibility of scientists to be transparent about the work that we do and communicate it effectively to the public.
Do you believe diversity and representation are important in science?
It is very important that Black scientists are represented and highlighted at greater frequencies to show the public that we’re here and do excellent work. Having a Black female science teacher/mentor in middle and high school affirmed that I do belong in science. Meeting other Black scientists at professional conferences and on Twitter has continuously affirmed my place in science, so I think that it is very important to show the next generation that you can be both Black and a scientist.
I think when we start to relay to the general public that scientists come from many different backgrounds, we will begin to dispel the myth that old white men are the norm in science. I also think that a more diverse scientific workforce will lead to creative solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems.
Do pineapples belong on pizza?
I plead the fifth.
This interview was conducted by Adrian Davey. Adrian is a second-year PhD student in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. When not in the lab, he enjoys scrolling through Twitter, writing young adult fantasy, and eating Thai food.