Black in Micro LogoThe importance of mentoring has been a well-known fact for many years. According to an article from Forbes, “studies show that good mentoring can lead to greater career success, including promotions, raises, and increased opportunities.” In recent years, people have identified the need for these mentors and role models to represent a more diverse population—encouraging those typically underrepresented to pursue that interest. In a similar manner, once underrepresented students become researchers, doctors, professors, etc. a support system is crucial to growth.

Fortunately, for Postdoctoral Trainee at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Ninecia Scott, Ph.D., grew up with parents who helped foster her curiosity and develop a love for research. When she was old enough to attend camp, Dr. Scott’s parents placed her in programs that allowed her to meet other African American and underrepresented kids interested in pursuing science. Experiences in these programs were a welcomed change from what Dr. Scott typically encountered. She recalled, “In public school, I was in the gifted and talented program where I was only 1 of 2 or 3 [Black students], so going to these camps was really inspiring to me.”

At these camps, hosted by colleges in Dr. Scott’s home state of North Carolina, she met her first African American Ph.D.—which, except for her pediatrician, was a role she had not previously encountered. Having these early childhood experiences set the stage for what would be a defining experience in Dr. Scott’s life. During high school, she was selected by the State of North Carolina to participate in Summer Ventures in Science and Mathematics. In this 3-4 week program, Dr. Scott completed an in-depth study of how medicine is used in everyday life.Ninecia Scott

During this time, young people from areas in North Carolina were dying from Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. So, when Dr. Scott learned during this summer program about antibiotic resistance, it hit home. Here Dr. Scott knew she could use what she was interested in and good at to help change lives.

After completing her undergraduate at North Carolina Central University, earning degrees in pharmaceutical science and biology (with a concentration in chemistry), Dr. Scott found herself at the University of North Carolina in a post-baccalaureate program. From here, Dr. Scott traveled to Saint Louis to attend Washington University, where she earned her Ph.D. in Molecular Microbiology and Microbial Pathogenesis. Upon graduation, Dr. Scott learned of the IRACDA-MERIT Program at UAB. Drawn by the unique opportunity to do research, teach students in community colleges and HBCUs, and study at a world-renowned university, Dr. Scott decided to join UAB.

It wasn’t until the 2019 Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS), that Dr. Scott met Kishana Taylor MS, Ph.D. Excited to meet another African American in the field of microbiology, they exchanged numbers and followed each other on Twitter. Then, almost a year later, in August of 2020, Dr. Taylor put out a call asking people if they would be interested in creating a week-long Black in Microbiology event.

Excited at the possibility of giving back to the community of African Americans in medicine and science who encouraged her to pursue Microbiology, Dr. Scott jumped at the opportunity to be a part of the team. Once the group met to determine roles and develop a plan of action, they had just six short weeks to bring their vision to life.

As the co-lead of programming, Dr. Scott worked with Ph.D. candidate LaNell Williams at Harvard to differentiate Black in Microbiology from other Black in X programs. As a result, the programming team decided to use their voice on Twitter and offer daily panels and a keynote speaker to engage their audience.

To kick off the week (September 28, 2020), African Americans from varying subfields of microbiology posted to the Twitter hashtag #BIMRollCall to introduce themselves and show the presence of those who are Black in Microbiology. Then, to end the day, a keynote speaker and STEM education panel engaged with audiences from all over the world. In total, Black in Microbiology had over 3500 registered participants that connected with people from 6 of the 7 continents (missing Antarctica) on topics such as Virology, Parasitology & Mycology, Bacteriology, and Microbiome.

Moving forward, Black in Microbiology has hopes to continue growing its network, while connecting those in its community. Attesting to the power of this event, Dr. Scott adds, “a lot of us could count on our hands, how many people were Black in our fields. Now, with Black in Micro, we have a whole host of friends.” While they are currently in transition—building the framework to make their long-term success possible—Black in Microbiology urges anyone interested to stay connected via Twitter, learn more on their website, or watch sessions from this year’s panel on YouTube.