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Organization Spearheaded by Graduating Seniors Seeks to Improve Access to Research

Organization Spearheaded by Graduating Seniors Seeks to Improve Access to Research
Marissa Marquez and Samantha Jackson co-founded the new organization, BIPOC. Photo by Kevin Vu.

Marissa Marquez and Samantha Jackson met in a neuroscience lab during their junior year, where they studied the neurophysiology of epilepsy and autism. Along the way, they also discovered friendship and passion for getting more students from underrepresented groups involved in STEM research.

Samantha Jackson. Photo by Kevin Vu.

Marquez and Jackson — both graduating seniors in neuroscience now and Graduates of Distinction for their efforts in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion — end their undergraduate careers at The University of Texas at Austin, aware of both the challenges that brought them together and the value of the experiences they gained.

"It's hard when you're put in a space where people don't look like you because, a lot of times, I would go into my STEM classes and just every so often would be this question of: should I really be here?" Jackson said.

Eventually, she and Marquez met neuroscience junior Emmanuella Bassey and alumna Destiny Okwubodu in the Women in Neuroscience organization. As the four bonded over their shared interest in neuroscience, MacKenzie Howard, research assistant professor in neuroscience and neurology, reached out to them about starting another organization especially to support students who are Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) interested in research.

The idea came up during the rise of the Black Lives Matter protests in summer 2020, which gave the four students and the lab they were in opportunities to reflect on addressing diversity and equity issues, especially in neuroscience.

The four students and their professor started planning for a new organization, called Because Inquiry Propels Our Curiosity (also BIPOC), focused on inviting more people from underrepresented populations into STEM research and seeking resources to support their success, Marquez said.

Marquez spoke specifically about why this is so important, especially for students interested in going to graduate school but who may not realize the importance of doing research.

"You have to get involved in research early on in your undergrad career to be a competitive applicant," she said. "You have to be a well-rounded person as well."

Marissa Marquez. Photo by Kevin Vu.

With Marquez as president, Jackson as vice-president, Bassey as secretary and Okwubodu as resources and membership officer, the organization held its first meeting in April 2021. Since then, BIPOC has become an official UT organization and has grown to 86 members. BIPOC members receive, from their early undergraduate years, resources such as mentorship, guidance and awareness of the type of research opportunities that are offered through workshops, seminars and socials, Marquez said.

"A lot of us were taught that there's this traditional timeline to do things. Like, you do your undergrad for four years, and then, boom, you go straight into graduate school, boom, you go straight into medical school," Marquez said. "When in reality, everyone has their own timeline. That's one thing for sure I feel that we've been able to show our members."

Many students are not aware of newsletters or email listservs that discuss research opportunities, Jackson said. BIPOC leaders scour different platforms and send research opportunities to their members.

Both Marquez and Jackson are planning on going into graduate school to focus more on research and neuroscience. They both want to remain involved with the organization and hope that BIPOC will be much bigger in a few years.

"We hope that we can still offer any pieces of advice or opportunities even beyond the organization," Marquez said. "Hopefully it can expand."

"I'm hoping that we'll be invited back after we graduate just to give advice," Jackson said. "That's my goal. Give updates each year that I progress in my Ph.D., just like 'This is how year one is, this is how year two is.' All the way to Ph.D. dissertation and be like, 'These are my next steps.' That's what I envision: coming back and giving updates on what it's like getting a Ph.D. because I still don't know."

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Sunday, 29 January 2023

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