STEM education starts with STEM introduction. That’s where S.T.E.M.Ed by Bri comes in.
Briana Simms is organic chemist currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Mississippi. After earning her bachelors in biochemistry from Xavier University of Louisiana, she was encouraged to pursue a doctorate.
Briana created S.T.E.M.Ed by Bri to share her love of science and address the lack of representation. Through STEM literacy, people are able to better understand the world around them.
How did you get into STEM?
I always knew I was interested in science. When I was younger, I was obsessed with the planets and space and learning about the universe around me. And my parents pushed me to learn as much as I can. Then I got to high school and had a phenomenal chemistry teacher for both junior-level chemistry and then AP chemistry. She really changed the game for me. She had a motto that she “Didn’t care about your grade, but I care that you know chemistry.” That really changed the way I thought about school and science. If you understand the material, the grade will come along with it. So that became my focus.
What does the average day in your field look like?
So I am a polymer chemist and I focus on making biomaterials. Any given day, I’m spending time at my fume hood setting up reactions or in the instrumentation room studying the properties of my nanoparticles. Some days I’m teaching students organic chemistry, other days it’s biochemistry. There’s a lot to do and a lot to look forward to. No two days are ever the same. But they are all fun!
How would you describe your research interests?
I am interested in understanding how different materials behave in our bodies and understanding how our bodies respond to different materials. One of my dream research projects is to be able to develop polymeric materials that can safely deliver pigment to the skin so I can help burn victims heal wounds, but also have a more even skin tone.
Who inspires you in STEM?
The first person that comes to mind is my current research advisor, Dr. Davita Watkins. To see another Black woman in this field doing what I dream of doing is incredible and inspiring. She pushes me to be better than I was yesterday and has truly shown me the ropes in this field. I also am so inspired by all of my STEM sisters I’ve met on twitter. I have so many incredible people that have come before and I’ve been able to talk to them online and they offer such great advice and encouragement.
What was your path towards a Ph.D. like?
I attended Xavier University of Louisiana for my undergraduate studies. I started out as a chemistry and math double major. Turns out I’m not good at math (lol). So I switched to Chemistry. My junior year, I took Introduction to Biochemistry and learned about the proteins that make my hair curly and that was my eye-opening experience. I changed my major my senior year to Biochemistry and had to take so many classes. It was tough but worth it! I didn’t think I was ready for graduate school, but my department chair and research advisor at Xavier really believed in me and encouraged me to apply to the University of Mississippi. I applied, met Dr. Watkins, and the rest has been history. It’s been a long journey and there have been struggles. But overall, it has been fun and a time of growth for me.
How did you get started with S.T.E.M.Ed by Bri?
This was a project that took a lot of encouragement from so many people. My sorority (Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.) has an NSF funded national program where we help Girl Scouts obtain their STEM Badges. My chapter and our constituent undergraduate chapter focuses on this project every year. So I have had the opportunity to bring STEM activities and STEM activity kits to girls in the state of Mississippi. Two years ago, we focused on engineering where the girls made rocket ships, bridges, and boats. This year, we talked about the Wild World of Polymers in a virtual platform. My sorority sisters constantly told me that I needed to turn this into a business because it’s somethng I’m passionate about and something I enjoy. So, here we are now! I’m really proud of the response I’ve received and am so excited to see how many young people will be inspired.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I am most proud of the students that I have the opportunity to work with. As a graduate student, I’ve taught and mentored too many students to count. But when we are in class or a tutoring session and I explain a concept, seeing the students’ eyes light up because they GET IT! THAT is the magical moment in my career.
What has been your most exciting experience in STEM?
Honestly, I feel like I’m going through it now. To be seeing several of my students following their dreams. I’ve discovered what I’m truly passionate about and am chasing that. Meeting so many incredible people! This is currently my most exciting experience.
What’s something about your field that you wish others knew about?
I am working in the area of drug delivery, but that does not mean I develop drugs. Also that anyone can do this. There are so many transferrable skills that are useful for biomaterials. So if you are even remotely interested, I say give it a try.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
My parents always tell me to “trust myself and to give it a shot anyway.” This has truly pushed me to apply for more funding, apply for programs, and send that email. I always remind myself that the worst that anyone can tell me is “no.”