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Ayanna Jones

Chemistry PhD Student, Emory University

I would also say that there is no one direct way of reaching any destination. Do not be afraid to take the road less traveled.

What do you do?

As a PhD Student, I wear a myriad of hats. As a graduate student, I take graduate academic coursework in physical chemistry. I also teach and grade undergraduate chemistry laboratory courses as a teaching assistant. Lastly, I conduct my own research in laboratory astrochemistry. 

Why did you choose this field?

Surprisingly, I stumbled upon chemistry as a field of choice. Although I have always loved science and asking questions, I never knew it would take me this far. Upon entering college, I wanted to be a graphic designer and a graphic arts student, but when I discovered that I had earned a full academic scholarship to my undergraduate institution, I wanted to choose a major that I excelled at in high school and that I perceived would need more academic preparation. As a result, I chose chemistry as a field of study.

 

As an undergraduate student I had the opportunity to do undergraduate research beginning my freshman year with my undergraduate professor. This initial exposure to undergraduate research would prompt me to apply for and participate in four summer research experiences as an undergraduate student. These summer undergraduate research experiments would introduce me to topics that introduced me to the importance of interdisciplinary research. For example, at Stanford University I combined chemistry and environmental science and sustainability and at the University of Chicago I combined astronomy and astrophysics. Subsequently, as I took my undergraduate coursework in chemistry as an upperclassmen, I fell in love with the material covered in my physical chemistry coursework including thermodynamics and kinetics. These experiences led me to astrochemistry which combines my passion for chemistry, physics, and astronomy!

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

An achievement that I am very proud of is getting accepted into my doctoral program. Growing up, I was always surrounded by people that had at minimum an undergraduate degree or that had not finished their undergraduate degrees. Now, most of the people that I know are either pursuing a graduate degree or already have one. As an underrepresented minority whose parents and grandparents grew up in a society that denied them opportunities to pursue higher education, I am inspired and proud to continue my work in higher education and to give back to my community. 

Why do you love working in STEM?

"I am able to examine my own curiosities and have an opportunity to effectively push my field forward."

As a scientist, I wake up looking forward to seeing more women and underrepresented minorities in the physical sciences and in STEM as a whole. The fact that I am one of the first women of color in my field inspires me to give back to other underrepresented groups who do not typically see themselves represented in STEM.

Best advice for the next generation

Pursue STEM wholeheartedly and without any inhibitions. Despite any negative commentary or opinions, pursue the STEM field that you are most passionate about and pursue it at your best ability. I would also say that there is no one direct way of reaching any destination. Do not be afraid to take the road less traveled.

Fun fact

A fun fact about me is that I love to read! Starting a new book is probably my favorite past time. These days I mostly reach for nonfiction books in my free time. I like to read books on self development or political commentaries.