Q: Briefly introduce yourself: name, major, and year.
Jaydeen Sewell, BIOL major/PSYC & MCB minors, senior
Q: What made you interested in your field?
Since I was small I always wanted to do something medically related. My uncle got me a book called “Dr. Bones” and I loved it. In high school I went to the National Youth Leadership Forum on Medicine at St. John’s University. We went to med schools and met residents and doctors and watched a knee replacement surgery. It was fascinating. This and the book made me want to be an orthopedic surgeon. I love science. People don’t go to the doctor or dentist in Jamaica [where I’m from] and they don’t really understand mental health. They attribute it to spirits and other things. My aunt had diabetes and lost her baby. No one explained to her why and it really shook the family. After her baby died my aunt had a breakdown and no one understood why. I wanted to understand why. Through science I want to help people understand, so I feel like being a doctor will help me give back to my community.
Q: Who has been a role model for you throughout your career? Explain this person’s impact on your life.
There isn’t one specific person, it’s my family. I grew up with aunts and my uncle. They’re my driving force, they’re here to support me and want me to become someone. I can always depend on them. They’re always there and will be until the end.
Q: Did you have any sort of support network throughout your career? Perhaps family or friends? How did this help?
Always. I have an extended family – mom, sister, aunts, uncles, dads. They’re always supportive. I know if anything happens I won’t be judged for it, they won’t make me feel like I can’t do it. If I make a mistake they won’t leave me hanging. They encourage me to keep going, keep pushing. It’s a good feeling. Especially my mom and sister because they’re the only family members in this country. Knowing that I can always call on them is what keeps me going and keeps me motivated to do something and become someone great in the future.
Q: What were some initial obstacles in your career?
My mom and sister worked a lot so they didn’t know about things like college. My mom didn’t know much about school or applications. It was a challenge. My mom didn’t understand what it takes to be a doctor – classes to take, activities I had to do, etc. She thought I should be a nurse because she knows about that. She doesn’t understand the different pathways in STEM. I also had two teachers in high school who knew I wanted to be a doctor but they didn’t help me that much in terms of opportunities.
Q: How do you stay motivated and inspired despite these obstacles, pushbacks, or setbacks?
I’m very positive. Yes, sometimes stress or depression get the best of me but I believe in myself. Once you tell me ‘no’, or ‘I can’t’, that’s my motivation to prove to you that I can do it. There are a lot of obstacles against women and minorities in STEM but I don’t let that stop me.
Q: Do these obstacles still exist? If not, are there different ones? How have they developed over time?
When I came to college I started looking at the big picture and realized there aren’t a lot of women in STEM, especially minorities, and that was an eye-opener. Coming to Storrs it was hard to find my people and the ones who would help me with my STEM career. It made me feel not motivated. I didn’t find the right people to support me. Friendships are really powerful. You can’t be alone on a big campus like this.
I hear guys in my STEM classes talk about their grades and what they’re doing and who they’re working with and what research they’re doing, but I don’t hear women talk about that. I don’t hear minority women talk about even being in a lab doing research.
I don’t know if it was because I’m black but I was part of an all-female group who had to write a case study and all the ideas, research, and figures I added were erased. None of me was in the draft that was submitted. They would make decisions without consulting me. I had to talk to the professor and the group about it. I said that we’re all women in a science class in a male-dominated field and I shouldn’t be left out.
A guy once implied that the B I got in PNB wasn’t good enough. I cried. I was discouraged. I struggled really hard for that B and he didn’t make me confident about getting into med school.
Another obstacle is that opportunities can be hard to come by because I can’t afford them. I have to balance whether I should spend the summer volunteering at a hospital versus working a paying job.
Q: What do you think is the most important value or trait of being a woman in STEM?
We’re motivators and innovators. We can take something simple and common and make something big of it. People feel like because we’re women and have a caring nature we can’t contribute much to science, but that’s what makes us better people for science - because we have so much to contribute. We shouldn’t be overlooked. Our strength is our ability to care for others, our desire to care for others, and think past what we want to what’s going to be able to help other people. We as women not only bring our brains into STEM but our passion and the need to be innovators. We see a problem and we attack it from different angles.
Q: What are some useful resources you would recommend to women looking to excel their STEM career?
Find a support system. Having those one or two people in your corner who understand what you want to do and what you need to do to make it happen and who will always support you will keep you on track. Mental health is a big thing in science. We as women take on a lot of things and we tend to overlook our own mental health. We have to take care of our mental health. If that’s not solid, nothing else in your life will be. I had to learn that the hard way. Seek out a mentor that you can relate to or someone that will be able to understand you as a person and your career goals.
Q: What advice would you give to a woman just starting off her STEM career?
Don’t give up! Do not give up! If you know that’s what you want to do and you feel it in your heart, whether you’re the best at it or you’re not so good at it yet, don’t give up. I can’t stress that enough. In high school I wasn’t doing that well in science, I took the AP bio test and got like a two. I didn’t understand half the stuff my AP bio teacher was teaching me. Chemistry too. But I pursued it because this was what I wanted to do. Having that mindset is what will get you far. One failure or one bad grade won’t set you off track forever. You need determination to move forward. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do it. I learned that the hard way too. Don’t let anyone discourage you or make you feel like you’re not good enough. We are the accelerator to our future, but we are also the brake and listening to others may cause you to step on the brake too hard.