In 2006, Tiffany Oliver, Ph.D., was a junior studying biology at Tennessee State University and a member of the Minority Access to Research Careers program, a rigorous, yearlong research program funded by the National Institutes of Health. It’s also the first year she attended the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minoritized Scientists (ABRCMS), which was held in Orlando, Fla.
“Going to this conference showed me that there were so many other people of color and minorities who were doing research that was just as cool as mine,” Oliver said. “And it allowed me to network with students, faculty and staff from other institutions. I remember going from table to table learning about summer internship opportunities.”
One of the early lessons Oliver learned at ABRCMS was the importance of communications skills. It’s a lesson she has embraced throughout her academic and professional career. Oliver currently is chair and associate professor of biology at Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga.
“Back then, we practiced our elevator speeches and how to talk to someone about our research in a very concise way,” she said. “Say you’re on an elevator with the program director of the summer research program at Harvard. How do you shine in that moment? This was a way to show them your ability to think and speak about your science so that you can grab that opportunity.”
Oliver remains active with ABRCMS. She continued to attend the conference as a graduate student at Emory University, often recruiting new students to Emory’s STEM graduate programs. As a faculty member, she has attended and judged poster presentations.
“It was just another opportunity after undergrad to continue to engage with minority students and hopefully encourage them to pursue a Ph.D. in STEM,” Oliver said. “It’s been with me every step of the way.”
Oliver initially thought she wanted to be a medical doctor, but her first course in genetics changed her mind.
“I learned that genetics was this beautiful marriage of biology and math—I love math and I love biology. In my mind, genetics sat right at the intersection of that,” she said. “It’s just very practical. At that point, I changed my mind completely.”
Oliver’s short-term research goals include studying the genetics of giant viruses and gaining experience with the analysis of metagenomic data. Longer term, she wants to continue to use her passion for science as a vehicle to provide training and research opportunities for minority students in STEM. That’s one of the reasons she chose to teach at Spelman College, a historically Black college for women. And it’s one of the reasons she finds ABRCMS so valuable. Just like the conference helped her as a student, it now helps her students grow and learn. Taking students to the conference is an annual highlight for Oliver.
“At ABRCMS, they get to experience science,” she said. “For many students, it’s their first scientific conference that’s not at their home institution. And for it to be anybody’s first experience, it does not disappoint. It is executed in excellence.”