ALICE / PHD CANDIDATE / BUJUMBURA BURUNDI
To write about Alice is an honor because she’s an absolute savant, has incredible stage presence and an ability to see the best in everyone. She is currently at Harvard pursing a PhD and her humility is astounding. Bloom wouldn’t be Bloom without featuring such a powerful person, so meet Alice, she’s in full freakin’ Bloom.
HOW WILL YOU BLOOM IN 2016?
I’m in my first year of a PhD program at Harvard and this summer will be the first time I conduct economic research. I am excited because I can finally apply the knowledge I have been developing and produce work on something that I care about.
“When you’re in a place where you are 100% confident in your success, you are probably not pushing yourself enough or are ready to move onto the next level.”
I’ll be working on two projects on campus. One is focused on pharmaceutical R&D investment decisions and the other is focused on Medicaid, a state and federal program, which provides health care for low-income peoples. On the pharmaceutical side, there is so much conversation going on about drug pricing and I am eager to learn more about the trade offs involved. On Medicaid project, we will dig into both recent and upcoming reforms that may have an impact on the health care that the Medicaid population receives. For me, my involvement is a big deal because it is the first time that I will be partnering with professors who have done amazing research in the field. I am excited to build these academic relationships and provide context to the policy surrounding our research.
DESCRIBE A MOMENT WHEN YOU FACED AND OVERCAME AN OBSTACLE
I am an African-American immigrant woman and occasionally, when I have been accepted into selective programs, I have had doubt about whether or not my success was achieved because I have been good enough or because the boards were trying to satisfy a quota. When I was accepted into the undergrad engineering program at Wash U in St. Louis, I didn’t feel that way because I knew that I was good enough, that I belonged. Conversely, when I was accepted into my PhD program at Harvard—a time where I was older, more mature and confident—I started to ask questions, “Do I belong here? Am I good enough?”
In my first year in my program, I have occasionally felt these thoughts surface and I think it’s because when you are in the place that you are supposed to be and feeling challenged, you will naturally start to question yourself. When you're in a place where you are 100% confident in your success, you are probably not pushing yourself enough or are ready to move onto the next level. Impostor Syndrome is something that I never expected to face and eventually had to recognize that the insecurity comes from the fact that I was being challenged. I know that Harvard does not admit scholars that they don’t believe in and I have gotten positive feedback from my professors and peers, which has helped me shut out some of that doubt. However, I can say that there is still a feeling that because I may be one of the only Black girls in the class, I have to excel the most and get the best grades to prove I belong. Although this pressure exists, I remind myself that by just being here and making it this far is revolutionary in itself.
HOW HAVE YOU OR HOW WILL YOU HELP WOMEN?
My undergrad degree was in Engineering and as I excelled in the degree, I noticed that the field was predominantly male which is how I grew more interested in organizations that attempted to create more opportunities for girls to see successful women in STEM fields. Men are more frequently presented with the outcomes to excelling in math, for example, they may be told that if they succeed in math, they can move to New York, go into finance and make a lot of money. I don’t think young women are as frequently presented with the same types of success stories and outcomes.
After graduating from undergrad, I moved to Chicago, where two amazing female engineers and I started a new chapter of Girls Who Code for middle school aged girls. We taught them basic coding concepts like creating loops and setting up algorithms as well as utilized resources such as Khan Academy where they could further practice their skills at home. The girls loved it because coding lessons can be very visual and look a lot like cartoons! Another great thing about coding is that once you learn the basics, you can continue to practice independently which is why the program truly does create a lasting effect.
One of my favorite memories was when my previous company, Deloitte, agreed to sponsor a pizza party for the girls so that they could spend a day in the office and see women who work on the business side of tech which allowed the girls to visualize what this skill set could do for them down the line. Since most of the girls did not come from backgrounds where they had access to seeing women in this type of setting, I could see that it was very impactful.
WHAT IS A PERSONAL GOAL THAT YOU HAVE OUTSIDE OF ACADEMIA?
Since moving to Cambridge, my focus has been primarily on academics. One of my long-term goals is to expand my horizons and explore my community to get more involved. It is really easy to fall into the trap of what you know and if we do not actively try to leave our nests, we won’t see the beauty that is around us! I am committed to making more of a concerted effort to get off campus and into the city.