'Unlikely Scientist': Chemistry alum Eugenia Duodu talks about unlocking potential in STEM

February 16, 2018 by Dan Haves

Eugenia Duodu (PhD '15) was invited to speak at TEDxYouth in Toronto to share her experience of growing up and finding that there were very few scientists that looked or acted like her. In her talk she recounts her journey to becoming an "unlikely scientist".

Eugenia, who studied at UTM under Professor Patrick Gunning, is now the CEO of Visions of Science Network for Learning, where she leads a team whose focus is to provide engaging programs and opportunities for youth who are traditionally under-represented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

What does it mean to be an “unlikely scientist”?

Growing up, I did not interact with any scientists outside of the ones I saw on TV or learned about in school. Through this, I developed an image of who a scientist was which was largely rooted in traditional stereotypes. I never once imagined a black woman who grew up in a low-income community because I was never exposed to such a narrative. This was partially the root cause of why it was so strange for me to see myself as a scientist, because I literally never saw myself.

You talk about having “one foot in the lab, and one foot in the community”. As a PhD student at U of T how were you able to balance the two?

Time management was key in me being able to balance my passions. I worked hard to balance the demands of research as a PhD student and to remain committed to my community work. This often meant adjusting my schedule and working on the weekends to get it all done. Professor Gunning was super supportive of my work and we kept an open line of communication regarding my involvement. When faculty members would discover my community work, many encouraged my involvement and even gave their support.

What excites you the most about the work you’re doing to unlock the potential in future “unlikely scientists”?

My area of work is very exciting at the moment because it has received little attention. I think what excites me most is that participating in this work will undoubtedly make a deep positive impact on the lives of the youth that we serve and their communities at large. We actively and consistently work with youth and provide them with opportunities that otherwise would not be made available to them. We know the incredible work that can come from these youth when they are given an opportunity to shine. I am really excited for the future because I know that it will definitely be good.