A Journey of Personal Growth and Self-Discovery Made Possible by an SOT Award

By Eric Brown posted 19 days ago


Eric Brown Jr., BA, is a 2023 recipient of the SOT Diversity Initiatives Career Development Award. In this blog, Eric shares his experience of receiving the award and using it toward participating in the KC Donnelly Externship at Harvard University. To learn more about the SOT Diversity Initiatives Career Development Award, visit the award’s web page.

When I applied for the SOT Diversity Initiatives Career Development Award, I hoped but could not truly believe that it would lead me to Harvard University for a KC Donnelly Externship. Before I discuss my experience at Harvard, it’s critical to reflect on the moments that brought me to this remarkable opportunity.

In February 2023, I applied for a KC Donnelly Externship, an initiative established by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Superfund Research Program (SRP) to provide SRP-funded graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, including myself, with unique translational/transdisciplinary experiences within various research settings. The objectives for applying to this externship were vast, but one stood out: to delve into the complex mechanisms linking exposure to multiple environmental stressors (mixtures) with preterm birth. This research aimed to expand the analytical techniques for my dissertation. To do this, I proposed to collaborate with Dr. Brent Coull, an expert in chemical mixtures, at the Harvard Metals and Metal Mixtures, Cognitive Aging, Remediation and Exposure Sources (MEMCARE) Superfund Research Center.

Upon learning the news that I was awarded a KC Donnelly Externship, I was super excited. This opportunity was like a dream come true for a graduate student like me, offering a chance to explore research topics meaningful to public health and study at one of the most prestigious universities in the world. When the initial excitement subsided, I was concerned about how I would afford this opportunity, especially considering the high cost of living in Boston. To overcome this, I applied for an SOT Diversity Initiatives Career Development Award to supplement funds for travel and lodging expenses during this experience. These supplemental funds thus allowed me to increase my engagement with my toxicological research.

As a Black, first-generation college student, stepping onto Harvard’s campus felt surreal. Imposter syndrome hit hard. Doubts crept in as I wondered if I truly belonged there. The distance from home and the unfamiliarity of Boston only amplified these feelings. But with the support of Dr. Brent Coull, my PhD advisor Dr. Rebecca Fry, and my family, I found the courage to push through and to claim this coveted opportunity as mine.

Working alongside Dr. Coull, a leader in chemical mixture methodologies, was an incredible experience. Every day brought new challenges and triumphs, shaping me into a more confident researcher. But it wasn't just about the research. It was about forging connections and building a network within the environmental health community. I met multiple Harvard researchers and several industry leaders at biotech companies such as Amgen and Merck.

As the summer came to an end, I realized just how much I had grown. Harvard had once seemed like an unattainable dream, but now, it felt like a home away from home. The experience had not only deepened my passion for research but also empowered me to face future challenges in diversity and inclusion head-on. This was more than just a professional opportunity—it was a journey of personal growth and self-discovery. And for that, I will always be grateful. In the next year, I plan on applying the skills learned to my postdoctoral studies. I’m looking forward to building upon the relationships and connections that I made at Harvard. Thanks so much to the SOT Committee on Diversity Initiatives for helping make my dreams a reality.