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Jazmine I. Benjamin

Graduate Student, University of Alabama

Being in science has completely changed my outlook on the world and my thought processes.

What do you do?

I’m a graduate student: I go to classes and work in a research lab. I am currently researching a protein that plays an integral role in the secretory pathway. I like to think of cells as warehouses – there needs to be a switch to turn conveyor belts on and off as needed. The proteins I’m researching are essentially the biological equivalent of that on/off switch.

Why did you choose this field?

I ultimately got into science because it challenged me. I’m one of the first scientists in my family, so I didn’t have anyone to explain the importance of STEM to me when I was a child. Growing up, I was great at fine arts subjects but struggled with the sciences and math. I loved working with my hands and researching answers to questions before asking my parents, which I think were the makings of a strong scientist now that I look back on it. Once I really sat down and read my textbook for introductory biology in college, I realized that it was extremely complex and intriguing. Understanding the mechanisms that keep cells and ultimately entire organisms alive was mind-blowing. I was also fortunate to have a patient introductory biology professor who answered my endless questions and saw my potential to be a great scientist. I realized that I wanted to pursue science after that class during my sophomore year of undergraduate, and I joined a research lab and switched my major to Biology at the end of the semester.

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

"I didn’t grow up with anyone that had a Ph.D. and thus had never considered one for myself."

I think one of my biggest achievements so far has been getting into graduate school. I didn’t know that a Ph.D. was an option until the beginning of my junior year of undergraduate. I spent my junior year working in a research lab and looking into graduate programs, and the summer and early fall before my senior year, I scrambled to take the GRE and submit my applications. I wasn’t expecting a whole lot and didn’t consider myself to be a competitive applicant, but I ended up having my pick of quite a few strong programs in the region. Seven-year-old, Lego-loving, dictionary-reading younger me could have never imagined working towards a Ph.D. I wish she would have known that she was honing the skills necessary for becoming a brilliant scientist 15 years down the road. 

Why do you love working in STEM?

"I love answering questions that others don’t even consider."

Being in science has completely changed my outlook on the world and my thought processes. I find myself getting excited about my experiments, especially when I get to use a microscope. I enjoy that I never have similar days – some days are strictly devoted to reading papers and writing while others are full of running around while working on three experiments simultaneously. I like to say that I’m never bored and always learning. 

Best advice for the next generation

Don’t allow anyone to limit you; there is no limit to what you can do. Surround yourself with people who support you and are enthusiastic about helping you to not just reach, but to surpass your goals. Find a mentor or job shadow someone who is doing what you want to do. Be honest with yourself about when you need help and never be afraid to ask for help. Once you’ve found success, don’t forget to reach back and help those coming up behind you.

Fave app

I really love music and podcasts – my favorite app is Spotify because I can access both from one app.