By Melissa Simon
Watch Tyler Alexander's interview on YouTube (click above).
Alexander's is the third in our "BUILDing Future Researchers" series highlighting BUILD scholars who graduated in the Class of 2022.
As a young girl, Tyler Alexander spent most of her time exploring nature, riding bikes at the park with her parents and visiting historic sites.
It was a childhood fostered by her life in her hometown of Bowie, Maryland, a small, quiet suburb about 20 miles from the bustling city of Washington, D.C.
Alexander, a recent graduate of Xavier University of Louisiana who received her bachelor’s in chemistry, said her passion for science didn’t take root until she reached high school. Rather, she was more interested in music, dancing and math.
As a high school sophomore, Alexander participated in a pharmacy technician course, which was a two-year program that allowed her to learn the trade and take a test to work in a pharmacy once she graduated.
Alexander spent her summer before college working in a pharmacy, an experience that when combined with career conversations she had with her father, gave her a clearer vision of her desire to go into healthcare. So when she entered college, she went the pre-medicine route.
But her journey took a slight turn when, as a freshman at XULA, Alexander applied for and was accepted into a summer research program at Vanderbilt University. That’s when she fell in love with the idea of research.
“After that, I [couldn’t] really see myself without research . . . and that’s what encouraged me to get into research and take my understanding a bit further outside of the pre-med realm,” she said.
When asked what she loves about being a scientist, Alexander said it’s the ability to think critically, work with a team to explore various topics and form bonds with other researchers.
“[My knowledge] continues to grow and I get more answers [to questions],” she said. “It’s the things that haven’t been talked about that I find very interesting and that I think will continue to intrigue me for a very long time.”
Alexander’s curiosity was further nurtured during her time in Project Pathways, XULA’s BUILD biomedical research training program funded by the National Institutes of Health. There she worked in the lab with Tyra Gross, PhD, on research related to Black women and fibroids, including what scientific data was available, how easy it was to understand research literature and what students knew in general about the risk of fibroids developing in Black women.
Their results found that there was little information and that it wasn’t always evidence-based, Alexander said. So they surveyed women at XULA about their knowledge of fibroids and created an educational program based on the data.
Alexander’s BUILD thesis, titled “Uterine Fibroids Campus Initiative at Xavier University of Louisiana: A Survey and Educational Program,” centers on the survey data and related educational program. She said she’s working with Gross to finish up the manuscript now and hopes to publish it in the near future.
Beyond being a research mentor, Gross was also a personal confidant for Alexander, whom the XULA alumna credits for motivating her to be confident as a scientist.
“I have experienced a lot of imposter syndrome in my life and so [Gross] just giving me the confidence and just reminding me that I’m supposed to be here [and sharing] positive words, has been very beneficial,” Alexander said. “That has meant the world to me.”
Looking back on her time in BUILD, Alexander said she’s certain being in the program played a significant role in overcoming her struggles with imposter syndrome and believing in herself as a scientist.
“It’s helped me understand that even though I never dreamed of doing these things, I am accomplishing them and to stand proud and continue to remind myself that I belong in those spaces,” Alexander said.
She added that while negative thoughts don’t go away overnight, it was the support from both XULA and BUILD leaders, along with her own positive self-talk, that helped build a sense of belonging as a scientist.
“It’s taken people telling me you are chosen, you’re here for a reason [and] just having confidence to be in those [biomedical research] spaces and being willing to learn,” she said.
Additionally, Alexander will be doing a research assistantship with Katie Biello, PhD, on male sex workers’ adherence to the HIV prevention medication Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP).
Biello is an associate professor of behavioral and social sciences and epidemiology, as well as the vice chair of the Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences at Brown University.
Alexander is excited to research PrEP, as it ties into her areas of interest, which include health disparities, maternal and child health, and sexual and reproductive health. These interests stem from her time working with Gross and seeing the disparity impacting Black women compared to other racial groups in terms of available research and materials explaining information.
“That really opened my eyes to issues related to Black women and reproductive health [and] cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure, [just] how my community is impacted,” Alexander said of her future research goals.
Note: Tyler Alexander's story is the third in a series called “BUILDing Future Researchers: 2022 Graduates Share Their Stories,” about recent BUILD graduates. Read all the stories in the series here in the DPC Newsletter Volume 7, Issue 3.
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The Diversity Program Consortium Coordination and Evaluation Center at UCLA is supported by Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health / National Institutes of General Medical Sciences under award number U54GM119024.