Jackson State University alumna Carcia Carson has become the first Black woman to receive her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Vanderbilt University, JSU News reported this month.
“I am honored to become the first to accomplish this feat. I look forward to diversifying my industry and continuing the discussion of representation in high-level research environments,” said Carson.
A native of Terry, Carson earned her B.S. in physics in 2014 from Jackson State University before heading to Fisk University for its Fisk-Vanderbilt Master’s-to-PhD Bridge Program, where she obtained her master’s degree in physics.
Her years at Fisk exposed her more to medical physics, and now, after making history at Vanderbilt, her plan is to focus her professional research on developing translational research in cancer vaccines and personalized immunotherapy. Carson was inspired to center on translational research after seeing her grandmother diagnosed with cancer and selected to undergo an immunotherapy clinical trial, which was almost new, according to JSU News.
“Translational research is more likely to impact the treatment of cancer patients directly. That’s what I want to do. I want to have a direct hand in the treatment of cancer patients…I want to directly impact cancer patients with the hopes to improve the lives of people living with cancer,” she said.
With many of her colleagues not coming from HBCUs, Carsons said she thought her fellow students and professors would see her as not the “ideal candidate” but she made it thanks to her hard work and the support she received mostly from JSU which provided her with the ability to network productively with key stakeholders in her field.
“I felt small, and imposter syndrome started getting bigger. I felt like I didn’t deserve to be here. Being the first African American female to get this Ph.D., I didn’t see anybody that looked like me. So I started to find mentors in other departments that were Black women. I joined organizations that were for Black graduate students, and that truly helped me,” she said.
She is also grateful to the faculty at Vanderbilt for taking a chance on her.
“I was not the golden candidate that all faculty seek to advise, but the leader at Vanderbilt took a chance on me,” Carson said during her commencement ceremony. “Faculty needs to take a chance on all students. Just because they didn’t come from a prestigious undergraduate institution or didn’t have high-level research doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of being successful in your lab or program.”
Now, Carson is looking at advancing her medical research and obtaining her MBA degree. She hopes to become a director of oncology someday.