We’re excited to present the 2022 recipients of the Rising Black Scientist Awards. This is only the second year of these endowments, but already we can feel the impact. We encourage you to read the words of the scientists themselves as we try and understand the value of equity in science and build a more inclusive community.
These awards were created in partnership with Cell Press. Our goal is to support talented and motivated young Black scientists on their journey. Two awardees - one undergraduate student and one graduate student/postdoctoral scholar (in the United States) – are selected. Applicants provide an essay in which they are asked what motivates them to change the world through scientific discovery, including what inspires their science, experiences that sparked their journey in the life sciences, and/or how they want to contribute to a more inclusive scientific community. Each essay is evaluated by a panel of Cell Press editors and academic advisors composed of leading Black voices in the life science community. Essays are judged based on personal voice, narrative quality, content & creativity, and clarity.
This year’s winners are Charleese Williams of Georgia State University and Elle Lett, PhD of Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania. To say that their essays were moving seems to be an almost criminal understatement. These are the perspectives necessary to build a future for STEM that reflects the full scope of our culture.
An excerpt from Charleese’s essay:
I think that science has a way of reaching people from all over, yet it tends to only get its hands on a privileged few. Sometimes, we have to take things into our own hands, which is part of the reason why I joined the Listening Subcommittee for the Georgia State University Neuroscience Institute’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (NI-DEI) Committee. Even in GSU, one of the most diverse universities in the country, the NI severely lacks diversity. Being able to help highlight the voices of people of color and create a platform for underrepresented students to share their experiences anonymously with our institute has been extremely rewarding. It has also allowed me to see that even if neuroscientists in marginalized groups don’t always have a platform, they are present. Trans folks, queer people, disabled individuals, people of color, and neurodiverse people are all around us in the scientific community, no matter how few they are compared to the majority. Representation matters and I hope that the lectures and podcasts that we’ve organized will reach those who feel as if they don’t belong in STEM. Creating safe spaces and support systems for members of the scientific community, as well as consistently framing my thinking in a socially conscious way are my ultimate goals, no matter what specific area of research I decide to focus on. [Read full essay]
An excerpt from Elle’s essay:
My understanding of why diabetes and other conditions were especially prevalent among Black Americans changed when I attended the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM), a state-funded, public boarding school for gifted students, and later Harvard College. In both places, I began connecting my own identity to the science I studied, engaging in research on insulin-producing beta cells (Draney et al., 2018) with the goal of improving treatment options for diabetics like myself, my mother, and other members of my community. Those places also exposed me to people from different backgrounds. By sharing community with them, I learned how different social conditions like healthcare access, social capital, and economic resources stratified people’s health and access to opportunities. I saw how these social disparities, and the cumulative and historical forms of discrimination that precipitated them, were directly related to the intergenerational occurrence of diabetes in my own family. As my understanding of discrimination and systemic racism became more nuanced, my scientific interests shifted from cellular mechanisms to societal structures, and I pursued advanced training in biostatistics and social epidemiology. [Read full essay]
These recipients are an inspiration. We encourage you to read their full essays to get the full impact of their stories.
If you are learning about this award for the first time and you believe that you could be considered for a Rising Black Scientist Award, we hope that you’ll apply during the next essay application in fall 2022.