1. Introduce yourself, who are you, and what do you do?
Hi! I am Dr. Joyonna Gamble-George. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and Biology with Honors in Mathematics from Xavier University of Louisiana, a Master of Health Administration from the University of South Florida College of Public Health, and a PhD in Neuroscience from Vanderbilt University. During my doctoral studies at Vanderbilt University, I became an entrepreneur and co-founded SciX, a biotech company searching for data science-based methods to combat brain disorders and other health issues. As a scientist at my biotech company, I get to direct the research behind and development of wearable devices aimed at improving chronic health conditions in patients. A typical day involves writing up experimental designs for future research projects and working with a team of technologists, software engineers, and other scientists to create a prototype of the devices we dream of creating. I also get to tell the public about my scientific discoveries in the form of written works published in scientific journals or orally at meetings and seminars.
I am also a neuroscientist that studies how emotions work in the brains of mice to find ways to reduce anxiety and depression in people. In addition, I create art and graphic designs to express the emotions I study in my research. In my current role as a AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the National Institutes of Health, I serve as an expert science advisor for doctors, psychologists, nurses, and other scientists all over the United States that conduct research on chronic heart and lung diseases and mental health in people living with HIV.
2. How did you arrive at this career (or point in your life/work)? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do?
When I was a kid, I wanted to be an artist, a physician, or a scientist. It wasn’t until I completed a summer research program while I was a high school student that was sponsored by NASA that I thought about becoming a scientist. I knew I wanted to become a scientist later on in life, while I was working in a research lab during my graduate studies at the University of South Florida. When I was finishing my Graduate Certificate program in the health sciences, I got an email about a volunteer opportunity to do neuroscience research at a hospital. I thought it would be cool to do research that involved studying the human brain. So I responded to the email, interviewed with the lab leader, and started doing experiments using drugs that have been known to treat kidney cancer to see if they can treat memory problems, such as those in people with a form of dementia like Alzheimer’s disease. This research opportunity was my first chance to do research that concerns the human brain. After this opportunity I was completely hooked on neuroscience research and a little over two years later I moved from Florida to Tennessee to complete a doctoral degree in neuroscience at Vanderbilt University.
Photo credits to Jimmy Campbell Photography (https://instagram.com/jimmycampbellphotography/)
3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings?
As a neuroscientist, I love studying how brain cells, called neurons, work. What excites me about these cells is that I get to discover as a scientist what happens to them when they malfunction, and what I can do to fix them when they do not work properly. I find this exciting because it is similar to solving a puzzle with a lot of missing pieces and is quite challenging, especially since humankind does not know everything about the brain and how it functions. We are still learning about new processes and pathways that occur in the brain and are used to carry on ordinary functions, such as memorizing events, places, and people or having a preference for one thing over another.
Likewise, as a scientist, I have the ability to use my mind and cool tools or machines to create treatments or technologies that can help people manage or cure their health conditions and even prevent them from getting a particular disease or disorder. Also, I get to inspire future generations of students, especially young girls and minorities (BIPOC), to desire a career as a scientist and provide an example of all the STEM career possibilities they can achieve.
4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a Story?
My personal cure for stress or raising my spirits in times of doubt is having some fun. For fun, I love to go on road trips or use my spare time to draw and paint. A perfect weekend would be sitting out by the beach on a sunny day with a cool breeze sipping on some ice cold green tea and reading a book authored by Toni Morrison.
The biggest challenges I have faced in my career are people not accepting me, even with my educational credentials, talent, and skills as a scientist, because they have preconceived ideas about what they think a scientist should look like externally. These indignities I have experienced during my pursuit to become a neuroscientist can at times dampen my spirits. Nonetheless, I do not dwell on it or let it deter me from my aspirations in life. I turn that negative energy into positive energy and continue to pursue my career path because I know who I am, I am proud of who I am, and I know I have what it takes to be a great scientist.
5. Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this?
My grandmother, Mrs. Menda Gamble Pettway, who raised me on a farm in rural Alabama, was my biggest inspiration and role model. She was a retired school teacher and believed in the importance of giving back to the community. Because of her, I saw how scientific discovery can be seen as a form of humanitarianism, especially when it is used to save lives by creating cures for common diseases that affect people worldwide.
6. What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time?
I would tell myself if I could go back in time to not let fear, intimidation, stress, or uncertainty determine the steps you take during your pursuit to become a STEM professional. Learn to take risks and explore the endless opportunities that await you on your STEM journey. According to Harriet Tubman, “every dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars, to change the world,” even if your dreams are to become an extraordinary scientist, technologist, engineer, or mathematician.
7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM?
Tip #1: Be Unique and Think Outside of the Box. In high school, my art teacher, nicknamed Froggie, would tell us to always try to be different and unique when it came to creating a piece of art. This advice has been quite helpful in my research because sometimes you have to think outside of the box when it comes to understanding how biological processes in the human brain and the rest of our bodies work, especially when you want to develop a cure to treat them when they do not work properly.
Tip #2: Know, Claim, and Own Your Worth. Do not settle for less in your life and know what you deserve in life, especially with regards to your STEM career. Do not give away your power or inner joy to others, but aim for your dreams in STEM despite the odds that may be against you. Lastly, be a living, breathing example of female excellence in STEM. Future generations that aspire to pursue a STEM education and career will look to you one day for guidance and view you as a role model or potential mentor.
Tip #3: Don’t Let Negativity or People’s Actions or Words Deter You From Your Dreams. When you let people’s actions or events that you endure in life defer your dreams, you are denying yourself the chance to see whether or not your dreams become a reality and how they can help you in your pursuit to become a STEMist. Always strive to live the life you want to live, to pursue the dreams and career path you want to achieve, and to never give up on YOU and your life-long aspirations regardless of the hardships you may face.
8. How do you measure your success?
In STEM, I measure my success as a scientist by the amount of ingenuity and creativity I put into how I probe a question that I want to answer through scientific research. For example, sometimes you may come to a roadblock when you are attempting to find a solution to your scientific question. It may be because you are approaching the question the wrong way. I experienced this as a graduate student. The drugs I was using were not reducing anxiety in all of the animals I was working with after they were exposed to stress. So I had to modify the animal behavior test that examined anxiety in the animals to determine why this was occurring. I found out that the animals even from the same strain or species had individual differences in anxiety after stress exposure. Since the way I approached answering the scientific question was different and involved creating a new animal behavior test, it involved originality and inventiveness.
Furthermore, I measure my success as a scientist by how well I effectively communicate my science to others and by the level of influence my research has in advancing our betterment and understanding of life. It is rewarding when you get the opportunity to share your research findings with the rest of the world at meetings, conferences, and other gatherings. When you effectively communicate your science to others, especially those that work in STEM, scientists can use them to further more discoveries that can save lives by curing or preventing disease or other health conditions.
Photo credits to Jimmy Campbell Photography (https://instagram.com/jimmycampbellphotography/)
9. Where can we find out more about your work?
You can find out more about my work at the following websites:
Personal Website: https://www.joyonnagamble.com/
AAAS IF/THEN Ambassador Webpage: http://ifthencollection.org/Joyonna
10. Are you social? Will you share your Twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile, or Facebook so that young women can connect with you?
Yes. My social media handles are as follows:
You can also contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.