Can you tell us a little bit about your career path in forensics? How did you end up in the role that you currently occupy?
Like many new graduates, I found myself at a crossroads after completing my Bachelor of Science degree in biology and chemistry. Uncertain of my next step, I contemplated attending pharmacy school but ultimately took the suggestion of my collegiate mentor to explore a master’s program related to pharmacy. While determining if this was a career I truly I wanted to embark on, I found myself fascinated with the toxicological effects of xenobiotics on biological systems and decided to pursue my graduate degree in pharmacology and toxicology. The graduate program I attended allowed students the opportunity to study both the subjects of pharmacology and toxicology and obtain a dual degree.
In efforts to both deepen my knowledge of health science and attempt to cover some of my expenses, I started teaching as an allied health instructor. Teaching permitted me the opportunity to disseminate knowledge and connect the dots for my students. After teaching for a period, I decided that I wanted to expand my career and further my passion for toxicology by working in the field. I began working as a toxicology support specialist where I would assist in the interpretation of liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) donor results in urine, saliva, and blood matrices. Then, I was promoted to toxicology data review supervisor where I oversaw a team of individuals that reviewed LC-MS/MS chromatographic results to be reported to clinicians, medical review officers, and other laboratories. While working at that organization, my interests in forensics was further sparked and I decided to seek more career opportunities to satiate my desire to participate in the field of forensics. Since the organization I worked with participated in a performance test scheme sponsored by RTI International and the National Laboratory Certification Program (NLCP), I had become familiar with them and when I learned that they had a Forensic Scientist position open, and I decided to apply.
In your experience, how have diversity and inclusion played a part in your occupation?
Being an African-American scientist means that in addition to being knowledgeable of scientific matters and information, one must be cognizant of diversity and inclusion, especially in the workplace. This skill is typically tucked away seamlessly into the lives of most people of color in the workforce. In my occupations as a Forensic Scientist, Academician, and newly appointed Doctor of Health Sciences, I believe that I represent diversity and inclusion whenever I am present and able to make significant decisions that impact the workplace. My current working environment provides me multiple opportunities to make those types of significant and truly impactful decisions that aid in representation of all African-American people.
Can you talk about a time in the workplace where you noticed the benefit of diversity in a situation? Or where the situation would have benefited from more diverse thinking?
While working at RTI International, it has become evident that the company is dedicated to fostering an unwavering commitment to diversity in the workplace. The organization as a whole encourages employees to work with a myriad of individuals with many diverse ethnic and societal backgrounds. Prior to the highlight of racial disparity present in this country, the company had been actively engaged in diversity filled initiatives and activities. One example is the employee resource groups (ERGs). ERGs allow individuals the opportunity to commune in groups of peers based on varying demographical classification and provides some individuals with a voice. I have had the benefit of being a part of several ERGs. However, my participation in the Black Employee Resource (BERG) group has been influential in creating awareness around issues that primarily affect African-Americans.
Have your lived experiences shaped your approach to inclusivity in the field in any way?
Yes. As I mentioned earlier being an African-American scientist means that you represent an entire race of people when you speak and within your actions. I therefore believe that my approach to inclusivity would be to increase the amount of knowledgeable people of color, so that there are more voices present than just mine. I therefore am currently outlining the proper methodology to do so by informing collegiate students of my journey into forensics and highlighting both the impact and benefit of the work that we do.
Are there any stories you would like to share of a time you directly saw the benefit of diversity or inclusion in forensics?
I would like to respond futuristically to this question. The Applied Justice Research (AJR) division at RTI International is currently sponsoring a Racial Equity and Justice Planning initiative. I am currently on the planning committee for this initiative and am engaged in several activities that should work to promote diversity and inclusion throughout the division and across RTI International, as well as promote the inclusion of more African-American scientists in the AJR division and across the institute. This initiative seeks to identify racial disparity present within the division and take actionable resolution against it. With the current societal climate and attention being given to racial disparity in this country, it is imperative to me to be employed by an employer that not only acknowledges the issues but seeks ways to resolve those issues. If the initiative is implemented, this would momentously impact the diversity and inclusion in the workplace and provide tremendous benefit to all.