STEM Up (S2): Jazlyn Nketia

In high school I took an AP Psychology course that sparked my interest in understanding human cognition. I was particularly interested in what happens during our early years and how that shapes who we become as adults. During my freshmen year of undergrad, I enrolled in a philosophy course on Contemporary Moral Issues that inadvertently began my interest into interdisciplinary studies. As a Psychology major minoring in Neuroscience and Philosophy, I found a unexpected amount of overlap in content that encouraged me to incorporate concepts from unrelated courses in order to answer questions and engage in discussions on cognition. In the semesters that followed, I implemented what I had learned in my Contemporary Moral Issues class as a reminder of the guiding principles and biases that result from an individual’s personal history that can later show through in their research and academic endeavors. I also applied this lesson to my own thinking, so that I could try to minimize my own biases and be as open as possible in my studies.

1. How would you describe your role?

I am currently a Cognitive Science PhD Candidate at Brown University. In this role I take courses, conduct research, and work as a teaching assistant for undergrad classes. I am also the Educational Research Lead for the upcoming Katsuiku Academy in Tokyo, Japan. In this role I apply current research to policy and practice. I work with the team to develop a research-based curriculum that hopes to educate and nurture high school students in preparation for the future.

2. What are some challenges you have faced in this research?

Valuation of this work and its wide-reaching broader impact. People oftentimes dismiss “soft” science fields and do not see the rigor and importance of the contributions we make.

3. What made you choose this STEM discipline? Were you inspired by someone?

I chose Cognitive Science because it allowed me to utilize methods and theories from fields outside of my department such as Education and Economics to answer questions about cognition.

4. What’s the best way to enter your field? What kind of experience or skills should one possess to build a successful career in the same?

The best way to enter the field is to familiarize yourself with it’s associated fields. Cognitive science is an interdisciplinary scientific study of the mind (i.e., cognition). It combines methods and theories from fields such as psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, and computer science etc. Skills that are important for building a successful career include an understanding of research methods, statistical analysis, coding languages, and computational modeling. For those that are interested in conducting research, additional experience in research traditional research methods like surveying and interviews, as well neuroimaging techniques (e.g. fMRI, EEG, fNIRS etc.) are invaluable.

5. What are some cool things that people in your profession work on?

The most exciting/flashy thing people in my profession work on is artificial intelligence and machine learning. This includes self-driving cars, virtual reality simulation, and robotic companions for elderly people. Understanding how the brain processes information and executes actions allows us to reproduce these abilities in machines.

6. What keeps you going in your research? What’s next for your career?

Improving the condition and future for Black and brown children. Although I am not sure of what exactly I will be doing, I hope to continue academic and social programming consulting and research to support children at the margins.

7. What is it like to be a woman in STEM? What are some challenges that you have faced?

Being a woman in STEM is like being a woman in any part or sector of life. There is predisposition for men and even other women to dismiss or give passing acknowledgement to you as a scientist. This is exacerbated when you hold a BIPOC identity. It is important to ground yourself in why you are taking on these hurdles/challenges. Without this, imposter syndrome and stereotype threat can prevent you from reaching your full potential.

8. What are 3 things that you wish could change about STEM?

Barriers to access to STEM education and opportunities for BIPOC people that are present as early as childhood.

The myth of meritocracy-based advancement in academia. It is not the case that advancement is solely based on hard work, talent, and good scientific practice.

Blind trust and belief in past scientific research that is rooted in racism and oppression.

9. What do you think can help get girls into STEM?

Self-advocacy. Getting the resources and mentorship you need, and ultimately getting to where you want to be career wise is dependent on advocating for yourself. I attended a large public university for my undergraduate degree, and I curated my ideal experience by seeking out help and opportunities. Sometimes that meant not going to the most obvious people (e.g. program counselors) because I didn’t fit the mold of a student that they perceived as successful.

Many times, people tell you to figure out what you want to do, but they don’t mention half the battle. You have to figure out what you’re not interested in to figure out what your passions and purpose is. I have worked in multiple labs and taken course work in various fields. Many of them weren’t for me, but those experiences allowed me to narrow down my interests and strengths.

10. What message would you like to give to our young readers?

Your unique experience and perspective are invaluable. Don’t be afraid to pour your personal self into your professional life. It could be the difference between novel contributions and self-actualization or going along just to get along.

Thank you for reading our sixth STEM Up interview of Season 2! To know more about what Jazlyn is up to, follow her journey at @jauntyjaz or visit her website at jazlynnketia.com

Follow us on Instagram for more women in STEM interviews at codejammies

Want to make a difference with your STEM story? Email us at codejammies@gmail.com

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