Accomplished graduate Lataisia Jones earned her Ph.D neurobiology/neuroscience and social media lights up after her sister posted a graduation photo on Twitter.
Sounds pretty routine. Except for one thing: Her sister’s Twitter post was “liked” or shared more than 6,000 times.
— Black Excellence FSU (@befsu) August 3, 2017
“I never imagined it to be this big, but I’m glad it is,” Jones said of her Ph.D.
“It’s 2017 and still an African-American being a first has created such honor and motivation and inspiration. I’m talking to people in Tennessee, or California, or other countries and they’re asking me for tips about biomedical programs, putting up with long hours in the lab and asking what kept me interested and driven. I think it’s wonderful.”
— FSU Biomedical Sci. (@FSUBiomed) August 5, 2017
It’s 2017 and still an African American being a first has created such honor and motivation and inspiration. I’m talking to people in Tennessee, or California, or other countries and they’re asking me for tips about biomedical programs, putting up with long hours in the lab and asking what kept me interested and driven. I think it’s wonderful.”
Congratulations to our newest PhD, Dr. Lataisia Jones! pic.twitter.com/4gaUBqtZdr
— FSU Biomedical Sci. (@FSUBiomed) July 19, 2017
Jones, now a role model herself, credits the mentors and advisors who guided her on her path to a Ph.D.
During her five years at FSU, she worked under Professor Pradeep Bhide, the Jim and Betty Ann Rodgers Eminent Scholar Chair of Developmental Neuroscience in the Department of Biomedical Sciences. She successfully defended her dissertation on dystonia, a disease causing involuntary muscle contractions, and was awarded her Ph.D. in neuroscience at the summer commencement ceremony.
“She has had a number of challenges that she went through outside of research, and she is very resilient, deals with it well and gets things done,” Bhide said. “It’s great that she’s gone this far. She would stand up against any student anywhere.”
There was always a lot of pressure, Jones acknowledged.
“Not only am I the first black graduate,” she said, “but I was Pradeep’s first grad student, I’m the first Ph.D. in my family, and I don’t have any friends who have a Ph.D.
“There were many times when I wanted to give up. I didn’t know how I got there or if I was even good enough. Eventually it got to the point where I would talk to certain members in my department, such as Dr. [Richard] Nowakowski [the department chair] and Dr. Bhide, who always said, ‘We wouldn’t let you get to this point unless you were capable and knowledgeable enough to do so.’”
Through various outreach programs, Jones continues to teach and connect with kids through science, and she visits elementary schools with predominantly minority students and conducts hands-on experiments to introduce them to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). She is currently working in a lab to finish a project related to her dissertation and plans to pursue faculty and postdoctoral positions that can afford her the opportunity to encourage the next generation of minority neuroscience researchers.
“I think it is very important to have that pipeline created even as early as elementary school,” she said.
As of 2014, only 163 of the 4,923 graduate students in U.S. neurobiology/neuroscience programs were black or African American.