The Chemist: Fitting In
Hello, beautiful people. This week we're talking about fitting into your work/school environment. I'm going to be as open, honest, and vulnerable for this one in hopes it resonates with someone.
This is one of those things for me where I'm almost always the only black person in my classes. At Pitt, there were three in my graduating class, myself, a black guy, and an African guy. Coming to OSU I'm the only one in my year. It's frustrating and sad, which is why I want to do everything I can to encourage other black students to pursue STEM. Representation is everything. Sometimes it's comforting just knowing there's another one of us in our majors. Someone that can relate to your struggle and appreciate your blackness - and also catch your references.
Now I love my non-black friends with all my heart, but sometimes it gets lonely and I can feel out of place. There's just a disconnect between us at times and for me, being the only one in my year at OSU, that was a hard pill to swallow. I still enjoy my time with them and I love hanging out with them but they don't understand my struggle. They don't get that I can't relate to them like they do to each other or that people look at me funny when I'm out with all of them. There are things that happen to me subtly from outsiders that they just don't recognize. It's not their faults, it's just the thing about being black and a PhD student and a chemist all in one.
It's just you typically want to feel a sense of community in undergrad and I found myself yearning for that even more in grad school, really because I moved again and knew no one when I got here. Yes, I have a community with my non-black classmates, but once I got close with my amazing black women friends I felt better - Sierra is one of them and that's who's in the picture below. I felt like I had found a community with people that look like me, doing the whole chemistry grad school thing. I can be vulnerable with them in a way I can't be with my other friends. There's no pressure. There's no holding back with them. They understand my struggles because they once were there's and I love them for it. I love them for taking me under their wing and guiding me through this last year and I hope I can do the same for the new first year students.
So what should you do when you look around the room and notice you're the only one with a little melanin?
Shine. Do yo thang! And also look for mentors. Find orgs like NOBCChE or NSBE and connect with people that look like you but at the same time make connections with those that don't. Those relationships are just as valuable. Then when the time comes, YOU be that sense of community for the next round of black STEM students. Fitting in isn't easy, but it can be done. You can feel at home when you're far away. You also have to embrace the fact that you're going to feel lonely sometimes. Stay confident that you're doing something you love and grow within yourself. Sometimes you will be the only one but that doesn't mean each one can't reach one. There are some obstacles we just have face in this world. Don't be afraid to find the black people either because 9/10 they won't just come to you. I'm here to tell you that being the only one is a balance between not losing yourself to completely conform and also being open to new experiences and relationships. Maybe you're the one to break that stigma that black women aren't in this or that field. Maybe you're the one that shows out and inspires others.
If any of you are feeling down and discouraged, talk to someone you trust and that truly supports you. Don't get so lost in your emotions that you lose sight of the end goal.