Do it! There is plenty of room for you in the field and your ideas could change the course of history. Do not back down from a challenge. The value of a diamond is measured by the flaws.

Who is Kenisha A. Puckett?

I’m originally from Southern California and received my bachelors in Biological Sciences from the University of California, Riverside. Before starting grad school, I served as a STEM Educator at several colleges/universities to increase the number of highly-trained diverse individuals entering the STEM workforce. However, I missed being in the lab, so I continued my training through my master’s degree in Cell and Molecular Biology with an emphasis in Stem Cell Biology at San Francisco State University. As a former California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) fellow, I am no stranger to stem cells. My master’s thesis project, housed in the UCSF Center for Reproductive Science, investigated the impact of the environmental toxins on human and placental development. Today, I am a graduate student at Stanford University School of Medicine’s Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine Ph.D. program. My research interests are to continue examining human development to improve Maternal-Fetal Medicine. If I am not annoying everyone with my talk of trophoblasts then you can find me engaged in some artistic venture.

Educational Background

University of California, Riverside – Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences, 2011

San Francisco State University – Master’s of Science in Cell and Molecular Biology with an Emphasis in Stem Cell Biology, 2018

Stanford University – Doctorate of Philosophy in Stem Cell Biology & Regenerative Medicine, expected 2022

Specialized Training

STEM Educator and Student Affairs Officer – over ten years of experience coordinating, managing and creating programs to increase the number of individuals from non-traditional backgrounds pursuing a career in the STEM workforce.

 

Special Awards or Recognition

California State University Statewide Office of the Chancellor Doctoral Incentive Program (CDIP) Scholar, 2018 – present

Graduate Student Award for Distinguished Achievement San Francisco State University, 2018

Sally Casanova California Pre-Doctoral Program Scholar, San Francisco State University, 2017-2018

California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) Fellow, San Francisco State University, 2016-2018

NIH Masters to Doctorate Bridges Fellowship, National Institute of Health Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (NIH-RISE), 2017-2018

 

 

How did you choose to pursue this field?

I dreamed of a career in science since I was a child. Originally, I planned to become a medical professional but as I got older, I realized there were so many options in the STEM field. While working in STEM Education at UCLA, UCR and Moreno Valley College I learned about all the careers available in the STEM field. Equipped with this knowledge I pursued scientific research to enhance my skills. Next, I decided to continue my training through a masters bridge to a Ph.D. program which allowed me to strengthen my passion for stem cell biology. Opportunities in my masters prepared me to become a doctoral student at Stanford University.

 

Who was your inspiration or role model that guided you to this field?

I was inspired by my grandmothers.  They were both leaders of their families and made sure I not only to believe in myself but I should think for myself. My paternal grandmother started a performing arts academy in Compton, CA in partnership with Los Angeles Unified School District. I was taught discipline, leadership and the importance of serving my community.

 

 

Did you always have the desire to work in this field? If not, what was your intended field? Why did you change careers?

Yes, I always knew I would work in medicine. However, I did not know what it would mean for me.  My original view of science which was relegated to a medical doctor because I never saw or met anyone in other fields that looked like me. Later, I learned that as a Scientist I could have more innovative in my approach to future therapies and contribute to the scientific community.

 

What do you love most about your job or career?

I love being able to give my perspective. As a scientist, leadership is essential and I frequently provide my viewpoint to help solve problems. I enjoy working with others, being creative and collaborating with a common goal.

 

 

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your job or career?

The most rewarding part of my career is inspiring students during recruitment events or community service. Especially, when I talk to young people who never imagined themselves as a scientist, engineer or mathematician. There is a pivotal moment when they realize that the possibility of who they could become widens. By seeing or speaking to someone who can relate to their background they can see a greater vision for themselves.

What things would you want to see changed about your current field of study or job?

I want my field to be more inclusive and equitable for individuals from all backgrounds. For example, many research studies provide findings that only represent one view and at times foster group think. This narrow scope can reduce the quality of science and delay medical breakthroughs.

What are the most difficult things or disappointing aspect of your job?

The most challenging part of my work is troubleshooting experiments. It tests your perseverance, patience, and creativity. Experiments do not always work out perfectly and research can take you in new directions. It is important to be flexible and never rule out anything.

 

 

What tips would you offer to anyone thinking about entering into your profession/field of study?

(1) Do not do it alone. In order to become a scientist (or STEM professional), you will need others and you should not be afraid to ask for help. My profession thrives on inspiring and training new scientists. (2) Keep an open mind. There are so many areas of research available and you never know where an opportunity or experience may lead. It’s acceptable to be a trailblazer who is willing to take chances and think beyond your comfort zone.

 

 

How have you combated the stigma of being a “woman of color” in STEM?

My success has been attributed to my connection to a community. I am a member of diversity and professional organizations to build a network of fellow STEM colleagues. One critical component of these groups is the mentorship opportunities. Mentorship ensures that I am not alone as I navigate my career and I can pay this forward by supporting other women coming behind me.

 

 

 

What advice would you give your younger self about your career journey as a “woman of color” working in a predominantly white, male-dominated field?

I would tell my younger self to not be so hard on myself. It can be isolating working in a homogenous environment. It took time for me to have confidence because my experiences and approach to scientific problems was not the same as everyone else. At first, I thought being different meant I was not as good of a scientist. Eventually, I learned to have a perspective that did not mimic others was valuable. Independent thinking is critical to success in science and I learned to listen to others and become more effective at sharing my viewpoint.

 

 

 

Can you provide some words of wisdom to young ladies thinking about entering a STEM field as a career choice?

Do it! There is plenty of room for you in the field and your ideas could change the course of history. Do not back down from a challenge. The value of a diamond is measured by the flaws. My husband always says “it’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency.” Your career is a journey so allow yourself to learn and grow along the way.

 

 

 

What is your favorite quote?

Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution: it represents the wise choice of many alternatives – choice, not chance determines your destiny – Aristotle

This quote applies to my life because it highlights that success takes work. My friend’s joke I do not do something without a good reason. I had a clear vision for many years that I wanted to go to grad school. Where I am today and where I want to be is a matter of faith and perseverance toward an intended goal.

 

 

 

How has your family been a great influence or support system?

My biggest family influence has been my maternal and paternal grandmothers. They both had a friendship that spanned over 50 years. My maternal grandmother was very outspoken and was not afraid to share her perspective. I believe this is why I am not afraid to speak up for myself and others. My paternal grandmother loved the arts and taught music for many years. So much so that she started her own performing arts academy to bring the arts to our community. Her leadership skills significantly contributed to my discipline and creativity. My time with them gave me the foundation to have a career in education and now as a scientist coming up with ideas to solve complex problems.
My biggest supporter has been my husband. I have so many examples of times when I did not think I could make it as a scientist and he continued to have faith in me. He has stayed up when I had to pull all-nighters, given feedback on my ideas and financially invested in my dreams. As a graduate student, he has the challenge of having to give me frequent pep talks and advice on navigating my environment. He has prayed and believed with me for almost fifteen years. Many times, people can use my success or his success as a black businessman as a competition but rarely recognize my success is a team effort. My husband has led our home surrounded by the love of our families, friends, and extended church family.

 

 

How do you juggle motherhood and your career?

My husband and family keep me focused. There have been a number of times in my life that my family believed in my ability when I did not believe in myself. Their faith kept me going and support contributed to my success. I also understand the value of self-care so that I can properly manage the demand for work and family. I do not need to be superwomen, I just simply need to be myself.

What are your future goals related to your career?

My goal is to keep my career options open during my doctoral training. I am interested in gaining and increasing my experience in science policy, biotechnology and diversifying the profession.

What are some interesting facts about yourself that you would like to share?

I am a beauty lover whether it’s a person or venue. I freelance as a makeup artist and serve as support staff for event planning businesses.

 

We hope you enjoyed learning about our latest “STEMsation”, please comment about how her experiences have inspired you, how your experiences can inspire others and nominate our next “STEMsation to spotlight their amazing accomplishments.

 

 

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