Upon receiving the vibrant red envelope covering my acceptance letter, I realized I could do more than my short-lived science research project in my senior high school. As a proud Scarlet Knight, I vowed to participate in research. Rutgers University is synonymous with highly accredited research opportunities and eager principal investigators specializing in archeology through zoology.

I like to check my school email regularly. Sometimes waking up to a response from my professor clarifying instructions on an assignment is reminiscent of Christmas Day. As a stickler for routine, I send many announcements and operational emails to the trash. 

If you keep a watchful eye, you can catch unique invitations to research opportunities, focus groups, and info sessions. As I had two eyes on the pink, scarlet mail inbox multiple times daily, I noticed one that particularly piqued my interest.

One faithful and overcast fall day after my Object-Oriented Programming course, I saw the familiar icon of the Gmail app. I applied to a Black Health Inequities research position, and that email congratulated me and had instructions to accept. To this day, I do not recall filling out the application, and I thank that for my robotic nature, which is like autopilot.

There were two cohorts: health and education. We began reading Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation by Linda Villarosa, an expose on the origins of the medical systems’ consistent and ignorant discriminatory origins. I recommend the book, but not without taking appropriate breaks, as Villarosa accounts for the disturbing and preventable stories that statistics often blur.

We were tasked to discuss the chapters, integrating the current events. The overturning of Roe v. Wade brought more of these reproductive and maternal issues to light, but still, the data on maternal mortality is exponentially increasing amongst the Black population. I discuss this in my assignment that details proposals of mandated background checks, not just a slap on the wrist for infractions which often lead to patients being ignored or misdiagnosed, as well as hiring competent and compassionate doctors.

This was the Fall semester. I have yet to go to the fundamental research duties, and I did wonder what was in store for me upon seeing the schedule, including Douglass Discovery Day for Spring 2023. The event would feature science and art exploration and fruit platters where Douglass women presented their work proudly to their families, friends, and faculty. 

As a technology lead for the upcoming focus group, ORCHID, I was scrambling at first (Outreach to Record the Community’s Ideals for Doctors). Initially, I was confused about whether I would be interviewing participants since it was a conflict of interest. No, I am not a spy or anything secretive of that sort! Since I handled the demographic information forms of the participants, I would have unconscious biases during their interviews.

My principal investigator decided I could still make a research poster for Douglass Discovery Day. That was stressful to hear since I had to wait for my other team members to get their interview transcriptions into Google Drive. I felt stressed out yet very appreciative of the experience. Meeting with the graduate student leading the cohort helped my confidence in the research poster. Her explicit criticisms helped me learn more about scientific methods and integrity. 

I was beaming to see my team members when the day arrived. Since the research is conducted via Zoom and other telecommunications means, it was rare to see them all in one place. We practiced presenting our posters amongst each other, complimenting the methods and look of each poster.

My parents heard me present my poster, and I felt very proud. I was happy to be a part of a team of smart, dedicated, and caring people who want to see a positive change for everyone. The biggest takeaway from my hectic spring is to believe in my abilities and follow through, even when there are questions. I will always be a big advocate for science as it improves lives and gives people access to priceless knowledge.

Written by Tiffany Williams

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