An Evidence-Based Narrative of My Journey Towards a Career in Toxicology


By Jalissa Nguyen posted 07-12-2018 14:50


I decided to pursue a career as a scientist because of my early childhood experiences near a fenceline community and various programs that piqued my interest in scientific research. My scientific journey began at Baton Rouge Magnet High School when I was accepted into the Math and Science TRIO program at Southern University and A&M College. This six-week program during the summer of my junior and senior years of high school inspired me to pursue an undergraduate degree in Chemistry. During my freshman year, an encounter with Dr. Wesley Gray and Dr. Ella Kelley served as my introduction to scientific research and the Louis Stokes-Louisiana Alliance for Minority Participation  Program. Through this program, I attended my first scientific conference, the SOT Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah. This conference allowed me to see the diverse nature of scientific research and inspired me to continue to work in Dr. Gray’s laboratory so that I could share her work with others.

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I live out this quote from Zora Neale Hurston, "Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose."

In 2010, I was selected as the first place winner of “The Undergraduate Student Poster Presentation” at the South Central Regional SOT Meeting and the following year I was selected for SOT’s 2011 Undergraduate Diversity Program. These experiences served as my introduction to the field of toxicology and increased my interested in scientific research and graduate school. In 2011, I was awarded my first off-campus summer research experience through the Research Experiences for Undergrads at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in the Biochemistry & Cellular and Molecular Biology department. This summer research experience helped me to acquire a variety of new skills in biochemistry, molecular biology, and microbiology in the laboratory of Dr. Brad Binder. During the summer of 2012, I was awarded the United Negro College Fund (UNCF)/MERCK Fellowship. This fellowship offered me the opportunity to be mentored by MERCK scientists Dr. Anthony Paiva and Qian Si, receive UNCF/MERCK fellowship support for my undergraduate studies, and develop networking relationships with other minority scientists.

Taken together these research experiences influenced my decision to pursue graduate studies in the Molecular and Environmental Toxicology graduate program at the University of Wisconsin Madison. The goal of my dissertation was to elucidate the role of environmental estrogens in rodent urinary tract dysfunction in the laboratory of Dr. William Ricke and under the mentorship of Dr. Christopher Bradfield. While at the University of Wisconsin Madison, I mentored undergraduates, first-year graduate students, and one professional student. In addition to my on-campus leadership experiences, I served as SOT Food Safety Specialty Section graduate student representative, secretary for the Professional Development Subcommittee of SOT’s Graduate Student Leadership Committee, and the graduate student representative for the Continuing Education Committee.

In 2017, I was selected as the 2017 summer fellow for the International Life Sciences Institute North America where I evaluated the utility of alternative toxicity testing methods for food relevant chemicals under the mentorship of Dr. Mansi Krishan. This research experience helped me understand the broader impact of scientific research away from the lab bench and the value of applied toxicological studies. In 2018, I completed my PhD and accepted a position as a toxicologist for the State of Texas. In my current position, I work with a team of health assessors, epidemiologists, and information specialists to conduct toxicological investigations at hazardous waste sites. In this role, I hope to be the “voice” for individuals who come from small neighborhoods like mine, local and abroad.