Thessicar E. Antoine

 Bio Pic Thessicar E. Antoine, Post-Doctoral Fellow

As a recent Ph.D. graduate from the University of Illinois at Chicago Department of Microbiology and Immunology I have developed extensive skill sets including lecturing, research design, the execution of various research projects including the development of alternative therapeutical treatments to prevent the invasion of herpes simplex virus particles. During my matriculation at the University of Illinois at Chicago I was awarded several prestigious research fellowships including the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation Bridge to the Doctorate Fellowship, The Abraham Lincoln Fellowship, and the INRO National Institute of Health Fellowship, for my education based on my prowess in research and zeal for science.

Through my graduate career at the University of Illinois at Chicago I learned the art of working with students, faculty and administration. I am a thoughtful educator and advisor to the students whom I have had the pleasure of working with over the past 4 years. I find that success in my professional work stems from building collaborative and positive relationships as well as being able to respond to complex issues with a high degree of political acumen. I have the ability to assimilate into any needed academic culture. I have a propensity for development.

As a minority woman in science, I understand the importance of mentoring future scientists, as the disparity of minorities in STEM programs is great.  My desire to increase the number of minorities in STEM programs allowed me to become a student recruiter for the Graduate Education and Medical umbrella program. As a recruiter I traveled to various colleges to encourage undergraduate students to explore careers in the STEM sciences. I am very inclusive in regards to diversity in the education system and hope to expand the diversity of your intuition. Upon moving to Chicago as a PhD candidate, it was brought to my attention that the performance level of student in the sciences was very low. To provide a solution, I started a science initiative program for urban youth from underprivileged families.  My commitment to educate the youth in underserved communities lead me to become the co-founder of the after school science program at Michael Jordan Boys and Girls club of Chicago for urban youth (ages 9-12) in which we conduct laboratory experiments on concepts of biology, chemistry, and physics. I have patterned my life after a Swahili term, “Sankofa” which means, “never moving forward without looking back”. I truly believe that education is the best investment you can give to future generations and through this program I can stir within them the excitement of science.

Your advice to students preparing to start their STEM undergraduate degree

Stay the course. When I began my undergraduate degree in 2005,  I sat in a room of over 100 students determined to become the next generation of medical professionals. On the first day of class, my professor told everyone to look at the person to their left and to their right, because in four years that person would not be sitting next to them. As crazy at this tactic appeared, he was correct.  When I walked across the stage at my graduation, I was 1 of 45 students who completed a degree in Biological Science.

This journey is not for the faint at heart, and to make it your final destination you will need two important keys: resilience and determination. There are specific events that have occurred in your life that have lead you to pursue a career in the STEM disciplines. Do not forget your reason for choosing this path.  There will be difficulties, distractions, and deterrents that you will experience.  However stay the course.

In August you will sit down with some of the brightest students from all over the nations. Each student with very specific talents and skills sets.  As times get difficult, many people give up or change their path. However,  it is vital that you stay focused. “Every man and woman is born into this world to do something unique and something distinctive, and if he or she does not do it, it will never be done – Dr. Benjamin E.  Mayes.” It takes nothing to quit. Hold yourself accountable for your future. Do not deprive the world of the unique gifts that you have to offer.

Tips or suggestions on how to prepare for graduation and the future.

Your education is a journey, and on every journey you need a road map to help you navigate each step. Your navigation tool will be your student handbook that you are given during orientation the year that your start.  This book is your road map. It will tell you which classes are mandatory, how many elective you should take, the number of upper level division classes that are required, and lastly, the number of credits required to fulfill a degree from your selected department.

Too often students graduation is delayed because they did not take all the required classes by their senior year.  Do not fall into this category.

Apply for summer internships. There is only one-way to know whether a specific field is the one for you, and that is through first hand experience. Utilize every summer break to advance your career and build your CV by applying for internships. Many schools have programs geared specifically to minority students in STEM disciplines. Make the most of these opportunities as they can open the door to post graduations studies or job opportunities.

Lastly,  Seek out a mentor. I believe that mentors are very influential in helping you reach your full potential. Many times students feel the need to navigate through the process alone. A supportive mentor particularly in your field of interest will help guide you along the way.

Any advice you might offer students struggling in their STEM coursework

The greatest mistake that most student make is that they are afraid to say, “I don’t know”.  If you are having difficulties in a class, don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Be proactive and seek out individuals with the knowledge base to help you succeed. Your professors are there to give you clarity. Set up an appointment with then during their office hours to discuss the areas that you are having trouble with. If you find that your professors are unapproachable, find a more senior student (sophomore, junior or senior) or even another professor within the department to help you get a better understanding of the subject matter. If you are still experiencing difficulties investigate whether that class has a tutor that you schedule an appointment with. Most campuses have a student academic center with paid tutors that will assist you with your classes.  Also face the problem early, i.e. before the final. If you are not comfortable to the material, do not wait until the end of the semester to seek help; this will only bring about frustration. The earlier you understand the better.

One favorite quotes is “ Good things come to those that WORK.” Don’t be afraid to put in the work needed to reach your goals. There are so many resources on your campus that have been put in place to ensure your success.  You must take personal responsibility for your success. Lastly, be patient.  The learning curve may be steep, but having a poor attitude during your learning process will only slow you down. Stay positive and surround yourself with positive people.

Inspirational anecdote from AMP mentor/advisor/faculty engagement experience.

One afternoon I sat to eat dinner with a group of professors, one of which was an AMP mentor. He asked me what I planned to do once I finished my degree. Immediately began to tell him of all my plans, my frustrations, and reservations about the future. I believed he sensed my anxiety and once I finished speaking he began to tell me his journey from academia, to Industry, and finally back to academia.  At the end of his story he looked at me and said “ Thessicar, Don’t follow the money, follow your heart ~ Dr. Leroy Jones” Those words  resonated with me.  For the past four years I spent in graduate school it seemed that everyone was chasing the “almighty dollar”. Yet, by making this my primary focus, I was losing view of the beautiful journey I was on. To date, I have been following my heart, and it has lead me to some of the most awesome places. With every opportunity, something that must be sacrificed. This sacrifice may be monetary, it may be a relationship, but only you know the cost. My advice to every AMP fellow is follow your heart. As simple as these words are, many will struggle with choosing the path of true happiness.