Am I my ancestors’ wildest dreams come true?

gggrandmaThere has been a lot going on lately. In the news, on the job, in the home. (Although the first has made me actually weep, the last two have been very good). I think about some parts of my journey (1, 2, & 3), and I have this deep pull of responsibility.

But to what? Is it to my faith? Is it to science? Is it to communicate science? Is it to help as many black people as I can? Is it to help anyone I can? Is it to be a good father? Is it to be a good husband? A good mentor? Just another keyboard warrior? Can I start with just being an adult?

Eyes closed…Breathe…

I recently heard the phrase “I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams come true” and wondered if I actually was just that, a dream come true for them. Looking back, so many people helped me fight the battle to get where I am and I sometimes worry I am not paying it back or forward enough. What lurks behind the smile is imposter syndrome 2.0 where I can’t even pretend to be something if I don’t know what that is.

Eyes closed…Breathe…

This is a lot of pressure to put on one’s self. But if I could just get that science grant, I could help so many people. If I could just convince them that they should eat their vegetables, the could grow healthy and strong. If I could just convince them that vaccines are good, then so many lives could be spared. If I could just convince them that there aren’t always fine people on many sides, then maybe I could live without some of the fear.

Eyes closed…Breathe…

If I talked to an ancestor, how would the conversation go? What questions do you think I would get?

“You made it through college?”

“Yes Sir!”

“They call you doctor?”

“Yes Ma’am!”

“They call you professor?”

“Yes Sir!”

“You got white people working for you?”

“Yes Ma’am, and a Nigerian, Mexican, and Indian?

“Well, is there still racism?”

“Not as much as when you were alive, but unfortunately yes. Your 
battles and scars were not in vain.”

“Well, I’m proud of you, and you should be proud of yourself.”

And just like that, you imagine the warmth of the past. It surrounds you and comforts you like a spiral ham sandwich on white bread a few days after Christmas dinner or a peach cobbler, with the good crust, and ice cream on top that soothes the soul. Even if not heard, I needed to at least imagine that last line. Some of you did too.

But some of your ancestors reading this would not be so pleased with you. And for that I say thank you for fighting with us.

Eyes open…Breathe

I sometimes feel so overwhelmed with what I feel I should be, that I forget to enjoy who I am. I should be proud of where I am. I should be proud of what I have become. I should take the time to enjoy me, and those around me. That doesn’t mean we aren’t fighting, hustling, researching, praying, parenting, mentoring machines that we can be, it just means that we should breathe sometimes.

It is time for our “shoulds” to become our “will dos”, and I for one, am starting now.


Ordinary Science

I really like John Legend, and LOVE Ordinary People. Turns out, that is a hard song to sing. In what would be guaranteed to make Randy Jackson say “some areas were a bit pitchy dawg” I dusted off the old pipes and gave it a try with a scientific spin on the lyrics. Is it perfect, no, but neither is science. We never pretend to be. You know what though, we are trying to help people and “you get from it what you sow.” I hope you enjoy it!

In case you were wondering, the pin says “Hope @ NIH” 🙂

Also, if you want to read some of my other science parodies here is Please Accept (to Let it Go), A Whole New Lab (to A Whole New World), and Hallelujah.


Ordinary Science

(Adapted from Ordinary People by John Legend)

My daughter was really sick
We wished we could heal her quick
She had that cancer in her brain
We’re waitin’ to see the doc
Ain’t no time for idle talk
We need a cure like yesterday

They read her DNA, these mutations don’t play
And they formulated a plan
Was two different cancers
With new sci advances
And help from the bench they will save my ‘lil baby girl

It’s just ordinary science
It finds cures for folks you know
‘Cause it’s ordinary science
You get from it what you sow

What you sow, ohh
You get from it what you sow
What you sow, ohh
You get from it what you sow

My daughter was ill once more
Fever higher than seen before
The chemo made her compromised
What infection could be
These things are hard to see
Docs studied up to get advised

Examine consult
To find the result
That would get my ‘lil girl out of bed
Bacterial advances with bad circumstances
Translational med stopped it cold before further spread

It’s just ordinary science
It finds cures for folks you know
‘Cause it’s ordinary science
You get from it what you sow

What you sow, ohh
You get from it what you sow
What you sow, ohh
You get from it what you sow

What you sow
Maybe you’ll vaccinate
Maybe before too late
Maybe you will, maybe you won’t
Maybe you’ll tempt fate
Please let us fight the fight
For cures that are in sight
Will science grow
We just don’t know it’s up to you and I

It’s just ordinary science
It finds cures for folks you know
‘Cause it’s ordinary science
You get from it what you sow

It’s just ordinary science
It finds cures for folks you know
‘Cause it’s ordinary science
You get from it what you sow

What you sow, ohh
You get from it what you sow
What you sow, ohh
You get from it what you sow
What you sow, ohh
You get from it what you sow
What you sow, ohh
You get from it what you sow


Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah (A Science Version)


This one felt good to write. It hit on my personal story (1 & 2) and addresses some things I feel about the scientific craft, fellow scientists, and the public perception of both. I kept hearing Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. It was on SNL, there is a Pentatonix version. As when I hear songs over and over again, I write lyrics to get them out of my head. I plan on singing so stay tuned and I will link the video once I do. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing the lyrics.

Hallelujah (A Science Version)

I started out a music man
That wrote the songs and led the band
Until I heard a voice that led to you
I overdressed, I met the chair
I got the job, with help from prayer
My science mission started Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I entered lab, green as can be
I tried to learn things desperately
What drives these science souls to want to help you
Was love not pride that drove the lot
With this I gave it all I got
The knowledge started growing Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Now we are ordinary folks
The warmth we have is not a hoax
We do our best yet little, is known to you
But in competition and trends we waste
The limited number of funds we face
While we fight for diseased and broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

To seek discoveries untold
I learned my questions must be bold
And collaborative communities are essential
So I made the call to take up arm
To follow data and do no harm
And hope to find some answers Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I sit here now with lab in hand
A scientific kind of band
And all we really want to do is help you
Within the realm of vaccine’s parch
Each cure is not a victory march
For there are those still hurting Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah


Jumping into the Deep End of Science

I have this memory of when I was two or three years old. I have a floaty on me, but I have to jump into the water. I’m sure I was only two feet above the water and I was jumping towards an adult in the pool, but for me, it seemed to be 20 feet into swirling pool of sharks with laser beams on their heads.

laserbeam-sharkI was terrified. I was crying. But I jumped.

I don’t remember much about swimming until much later and by that time, I was already jumping into the deep end with a clear knowledge of knowing how to swim. Touching the bottom of the pool for fun and things of that nature. Swan dives and failed flips turned back and belly flops. I was comfortable in the pool. It took a while I’m sure, but I had to get over that initial fear by making that initial jump.

Recently, I jumped into a pool of a different sort. The pool of senior author research articles and major grant writing. This time, it is not a fear of drowning, but a fear of failure (although drowning under the shear amount of emails might be a real thing). But by becoming a PI, I knew this day would come. Not that I was just dipping my foot in the pool before, but these are bigger waters, bigger fish, and bigger stakes.

I just got back my first corresponding author research article paper review back and…um…it…um…well…at least the first reviewer and editor were kind, supportive, and helpful, but yeah, it didn’t go so well. I’ll refrain from talking about reviewer #2. Also asked someone to review my grant. Again, great, helpful, but soul crushing comments.

I am just fortunate that for this jump, I had a floaty. I had mentorship. I had someone I could ask for help. I had someones I could ask (and I’m sure they would point out the flaws in that last sentence). Do you have a floaty? If you don’t please try to find one. Try, look for #BLACKandSTEM on twitter, go to your grad office, your boss, or just find a senior person and ask them (sometimes, it really is that simple). Engage the community you are in so you don’t have to recreate the mountain every time. Stand on shoulders, don’t succumb to the weight.

Even when it is the very nature of your position to jump, it is good to get the first one out of the way. It was exhilarating despite the outcome. It was terrifying, but maybe not as scarring as when I was younger (and clearly without the sharks with laser beams). Hopefully, because of the willingness to jump, and by finding floaties, I’ll be doing belly flops with a few low scored swan dives in no time.


A Whole New Lab (Dealings of a New Professor #1)

I just turned in my first external grant and I am HYPE (C’mon Cystic Fibrosis Foundation). So… I can’t sleep. I wanted to write on what it’s been like a new PI, but that will have to wait because when I sat down, I had kid’s music stuck in my head. When that happens, I have to write new lyrics to get it out of my head. So without further ado, here is that Disney classic from Aladdin, A Whole New Lab.


I can show you the lab

Equipment borrowed and brand new

Tell me, students, now won’t you give this young PI a try


I still work at the bench

Hope to not micromanage

I’m just into the data that I hope you might provide


A whole new lab

A new fantastic project for you

New toys are coming in

Not hard to spend (yet)

I want to do some science


A whole new lab

A dazzling place for you to do

Projects to change the field

Bad bugs will yield

Let me share this whole new lab with you


A whole new lab

Rotate with me

At U of A

Room 221



More on what it’s like to be a PI later. Also, there was a new podcast from the new crew. Check it out at




A New Era For Science Sound Bites, Stay Curious!

stay curious

How do I, say goodbye, to what we had, the good times that made us learn, outweigh the awkward.

As you all may know, I am transitioning away from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, thus, the time has come for me personally to take a step back in the podcast. I will not be far as I will still poke my head in once in a while to interview someone cool that I meet or be around the Facebook page like I’m still one of the cool kids. This does not mean the podcast is coming to an end; on the contrary the podcast is GROWING!!

For the students, the teachers, and the science appreciators out there, I am pleased to announce we have four (not one or two or three but four) new hosts. Welcome St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Postdoctoral Fellows Dinesh Fernando, Nicole Milkovic, Peter Mercredi, and Raju Rayavarapu (you get a host, you get a host). It doesn’t stop there, look under your seats because Science Sound Bites has also garnered the help of some of the communicators and educators St. Jude has to offer in Elizabeth Whittington, Carole Weaver Clements, Erin Starnes, and Kate Ayres. Finally, we have some advisors in Karyn Lawrence and the very person who gave me the idea in the first place, Zach Faber (the first interview I did #ComeALongWay). I will also remain on as an advisor to approve content. The goal, as it has always been, is to give you, the listener, a more diverse group of topics and even higher frequency.

It has truly been an honor to start this adventure and to provide a resource to the hard working science teachers, parents, and after-school providers. In fact, this has become a published resource in the Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education seen here. I hope you and your students have learned and enjoyed this as much as I have. The communication skills I learned by sharing science with you all has made me a better communicator and undoubtedly improved my job prospects. I’ve met scientific icons in Francis Collins and Jim Downing, hung out with my friends, and made some new ones. Thank you all for coming along for the ride so far. I’m excited to share the next part of this journey with you. I’d feel sad, but I know I am leaving the interviews in very capable hands!

So my first podcast as the “not host” is done my Nicole Milkovic, but as a send off she interviewed…drum roll…me (sad trombone haha). You finally get to hear what I have worked on, and will work on in my new lab. Enjoy Episode #21 called “Stay Curious.”

There will be more to come with the other hosts as well as some introductions. Until then, come by the Facebook page and give us a Like (

Stay tuned!


Science Sound Bites Episode 20 – Finding the Keys to Stop Zika Virus


May has come a bit early, at least in the way of this podcast. In light of recent info about Zika virus (like the structure and connections to microcephaly), I figured why not talk to someone who knows a lot about many different types of viruses (including Zika) and is actively doing research in “Finding the Keys to Stop Zika Virus,” and then, release the episode early.

In this episode (#20!), I talked to Dr. Husni Elbahesh, former St Jude Children’s Research Hospital Postdoctoral Fellow and current Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Biochemistry. He is a good friend of mine and I think you will be able to tell that as we talk. It was a great conversation. We chatted about some different types of viruses, what we learn from similar viruses to Zika, and what it actually takes to get sick from an infection. Come take a listen, I think (and hope) everyone can learn a lot from this one.

As always, please like the page on Facebook at and share with a teacher/student/friend/science lover you know. Also, if there are any topics you want to hear about, let me know!

List of terms
Virus, DNA, Protein, Zika, Flavivirus, Dengue, Coding strand, RNA, Transcription, Translation