The world needs your brain. It needs your quantitative thoughts and unique point of view. The world, unfortunately, does not know it does.”
Who is Taylor Ferebee?
Taylor Ferebee is a new Ph.D. student in Computational Biology at Cornell University. She is an avid believer in the importance of Liberal Arts training in the hard sciences and a fierce advocate for visibility in STEM. In true “generalist” form, Taylor graduated from Roanoke College with Bachelors of Science in Mathematics and Physics including a concentration in Statistics.
At Roanoke, Taylor served as the President of the Roanoke College Chapter of Mathematical Association of America, Student Government Association Secretary, President of Catholic Campus Ministry, Stat Crew founding member, and Alternative Break Community Service Leader. After her freshman year, Taylor joined Stephen Wolfram’s A New Kind of Science Summer Science School where her passion for machine learning and film became awakened. Her passion for combining two fields continued as Taylor created a Biophysics research program between Hollins University and Roanoke College. Here, Taylor researched the Bundling of F-Actin in the Presence of Multi-Walled Carbon Nanotubes. During her senior year, she decided to study Sustainable Agriculture as a part of the Yucatan Semester Study Abroad program—a decision that made her a candidate for the USDA National Needs Fellowship for graduate study at Clemson University.
While not researching, you can often find Taylor at the local pub trivia nights, watching sports, early morning CrossFit class, or discussing philosophy with friends. As an advocate for visibility in STEM, Taylor facilitates meetings with faculty identifying areas where intentional language and actions are needed within programs. She also dedicates many posts on her Instagram honoring minorities that not only are strong in STEM but also have stories of moving mountains to reach their dreams. Taylor attributes her success and drives to the liberal arts training she received at Roanoke College. In her words, “the ability to have a passion for STEM and truly appreciate all aspects of the interdisciplinary world can only be fostered at a liberal arts school.” She used this drive while completing her Master’s research entitled, “Untangling Batch Effects in Single Cell RNA sequencing experiments.” In February 2019, Taylor was accepted into Cornell University for Computational Biology—an interdisciplinary program for the interdisciplinary.
MS Mathematical Sciences from Clemson, Certificate Translational Genomics
How did you choose to pursue this field?
My choice of the field came from my passion for finding and creating connections between unlikely entities. After realizing that biology was the perfect vessel for that, I found that the language of hard science was invaluable to the research areas I enjoy.
Who was your inspiration or role model that guided you to this field?
I grew up with a mathematician mother and rocket scientist father, so watching their curiosity really fueled my desire to find connections.
Did you always have the desire to work in this field? If not, what was your intended field? Why did you change careers?
I think what I have not intended is an easier question. At age 5, I wanted to be a rocket scientist like my father. Then, I wanted to be a neurosurgeon and a nuclear engineer. After I had a higher-level chemistry course, I went back to wanting to be a doctor. When I became a student of Latin, I was sure that I would be a computational linguist. In fact, I went into Roanoke College as Psychology, Physics, and Philosophy majors.
Eventually, I realized the link between all of these dreams is that they require quantitative creativity–something that is my best strength. Again, this is why I value my liberal arts education more than anything. I had the chance to explore these connections and become a better scientist.
What do you love most about your job or career?
What has been the most rewarding aspect of your job or career?
My most rewarding aspect of graduate school is the chance that I have to give a voice to some of the underrepresented students. Since I am across disciplines and a Black female, I have this opportunity to share innovative research that can not only inspire students to join in STEM but also share the opportunities in the multidisciplinary world.
What things would you want to see changed about your current field of study or job?
I want support for all types of graduate students. Too often, I see beautiful minds get muddled by the world of academia. These are some of the world’s most valuable minds, and to see the academic system impose the culture of competition and merit over passion and research is very disheartening. I also would love for there to be more adaptive systems for dealing with mental health in graduate students.
What are the most difficult things or disappointing aspect of your job?
The juxtaposition between being a spotlight cover story for my school and being expected to fail has been something quite difficult for me.
What tips would you offer to anyone thinking about entering into your profession/field of study?
Want it, get help and own it. Graduate school is one of the hardest seasons of your academic career, but it is YOUR degree. You have to be willing to put yourself on your advisors’ and collaborators’ mind. Respectfully demand their help and guidance. Accept the criticism and create the safety net you need to succeed. To do this, you must want it. There will be many people rooting for you, but you must root for yourself.
How have you combated the stigma of being a “woman of color” in STEM?
I own it but am not defined by it. My goal is to just be vocal about my needs and abilities as a scientist. I am the only Taylor, and while I am a woman of color in STEM, I also am a strong-willed, eloquent, and driven scientist. As soon as any skeptic sees this aspect of myself, it causes that stigma’s foundation to crumble.
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 myself to ask for help early. I thought asking for help would make me seem like the weak woman of color. In fact, asking for help would have set me further ahead of the pack.
Can you provide some words of wisdom to young ladies thinking about entering a STEM field as a career choice?
What is your favorite quote?
“Wer ein Warum zu leben hat, erträgt fast jedes Wie” by Friedrich Nietzsche Translation (as quoted by Frankl): “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”
This quote reminds me to maintain intention in the pursuit of my goals. While on the surface, I have had many successes in life, each are the result of many, many mistakes and failures. When I maintain intentional about my actions, I can endure these failures.
How has your family been a great influence or support system?
Grandmother: Zenobia Taylor
Parents: Melvin Ferebee, Director of Systems Analysis and Concepts, NASA Langley Michelle Ferebee, Deputy Director for Strategy in Aeronautics Research, NASA Langley
Siblings: Michael Ferebee MD, Emergency Resident, George Washington Hospital Melvin Ferebee III, JD, The Ferebee Group PLLC
My grandmother used to take me to the teacher store to get math and language workbooks. She also taught me how God, grit and family are the foundations of success. My parents and siblings gave me the (sometimes hard) lessons that allowed me to explore all of the interests I have had thus far. They also never failed to teach me some of the challenges I will eventually face as a woman of color in STEM—a lesson that I am incredibly grateful to have learned so early.
What are your future goals related to your career?
Ultimately, I would like to head an interdisciplinary research institution focusing on biotech and bioethics.
What are some interesting facts about yourself?
I have seen 347 Films (Feature Length & Short Film) in my lifetime. I have done over 20 open mic stand-up sets in the last year. I still read Aeneid by Virgil in Latin.
Website (under construction): TaylorFerebee.com
Contact Taylor for any further questions: