As we gear up for Hidden Figures Revealed: Realizing the Dream, a panel discussion and screening of the 20th Century Fox movie production Hidden Figures in the LSU Union Theater on March 17, we are bringing you the voices and faces of some of our most outstanding women scientists in the LSU College of Science! Over the next few weeks, you'll hear about what it's like to be a woman, and a woman of color, in STEM, and how our female researchers here at LSU are overcoming obstacles and realizing dreams.
First up is Jasmine Brown Baker, an LSU graduate student in biological sciences who conducts comparative genomics research in Dr. Mark Batzer’s lab to uncover the evolutionary history of new world monkeys. We went into the lab with Jasmine and asked her to tell us about her experiences as a scientist.
College of Science. What inspired you to pursue a career in science?
Jasmine: My general curiosity for the unknown inspired me to pursue a career in science.
College of Science: What is your research "superpower"?
Jasmine: My research superpower is using computational methods (programming) to analyze mobile elements (also known as "jumping genes") within primate genomes.
College of Science: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your research?
Jasmine: I was born and raised in north Baton Rouge and attended Southern University Laboratory School. I completed my undergraduate degree in biological sciences and my master's degree in biological sciences at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, Louisiana. I have always enjoyed critical thinking and problem solving. Initially, I began my education in the field of biomedical engineering, but switched to biology when I realized I wanted more of a biologically enforced research background instead of engineering. After switching to biology, I realized my passion for discovery and critical thinking could translate easily into a career in research.
I am pursing my Ph.D. in biological sciences with a focus on comparative genomics and mobile elements, also known as "jumping genes". My research focuses on these mobile elements, or DNA sequences that can move around in the genome, in squirrel monkeys.
Squirrel monkeys are one of the two New World Monkeys whose genomes have been assembled and annotated. My research uses primate-specific mobile elements, known as Alu elements, that are only found in squirrel monkeys. By studying Alu element insertions in the squirrel monkey genome [these elements move around over time], researchers can help identify patterns of geographic origin within the squirrel monkey lineage, conduct population studies and improve future biomedical studies using the squirrel monkey as a model organism. For example, there are various endemic squirrel monkey viruses that are used to model human viruses such as herpes simplex virus and Epstein-Barr virus in biomedical studies.
My research project on the squirrel monkey genome has been by far one of my favorites because it has pushed me to the limits as far as thinking critically and pursuing new skill sets such as computer programming and phylogenetic concepts and software usage.
College of Science: What does a typical day look like for you?
Jasmine: A typical day for me begins at 5 a.m. when I wake up to start my self-care routine. My routine usually involves stretching or working out, drinking a cup of tea and planning my day. After my routine, I eat breakfast and get dressed and head to lab. I have found this routine to keep me more balanced and productive throughout the day.
Once I'm in the lab, I open my planner and begin knocking things off my list. Usually my lab day consists of coding python script, designing primers and completing PCR [Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is a technique used in molecular biology to amplify a single copy or a few copies of a piece of DNA] for verification of informative genetic markers. Also, some days I spend time training undergraduates so they can gain productive lab experiences.
College of Science: What advice do you have for other woman / female students in STEM looking to be like you?
Jasmine: My advice to other female students is to seek opportunities that you enjoy and set clear goals. Setting clear goals will keep you focused during the most difficult times and help you block out any extra distractions that show up along the way. There will always be distractions or someone who does not have your best interest at heart, but you can only control your response.
Also, I would suggest having at least two mentors: one in your field of study and one that is not in your field of study. It is always a good idea to gain knowledge from people with diverse backgrounds.
College of Science: Who is your science role model?
Jasmine: My science role model is Annie J. Easely. She was an African American computer scientist and rocket scientist. She worked for NASA. She was a leading member in developing software for the Centuar rocket stage and one of the first African Americans to work as a computer scientist at NASA.
College of Science: Has support, mentoring or camaraderie been important to your success or positive experience in scientific research? How or where have you found support?
Jasmine: Support definitely has been important to having a positive experience at LSU. My advisor Dr. Mark Batzer has always been supportive. He provides a positive research environment as well as a wealth of knowledge.
My lab manager Jerilyn Walker is always encouraging and has helped me become a more focused scientist. My mentor Dr. Crystal Johnson, in the LSU Department of Environmental Sciences, has also had a huge impact on my positive experience while at LSU by providing guidance on how to manage graduate school and succeed. Lastly, when I first arrived at LSU, the LSU Director of Graduate Recruitment, Retention and Diversity Clovier Torry helped me adjust to a larger university setting and made sure I stayed focused on my goals.
College of Science: What are your goals / dreams for the future?
Jasmine: My dreams for the future are to further enhance my computational skill set so I can continue a career in comparative genomics and phylogenetics, or the study of evolutionary relationships among groups of organisms like squirrel monkeys.
Join us on March 17th to watch Hidden Figures, with scientists! Showtime is 5 p.m. in the LSU Student Union Theater. RSVP here.
FRIDAY, MARCH 17 | LSU UNION THEATER
- 3:45 p.m. Meet and greet with panelists
- 5 p.m. Movie Screening
- 7 p.m. Panel discussion
Open to the public!