Still EvolvingAfter a seminar with Dr. Charmaine Royal, Huang Fellow Ayokunmi Ojo reflects on the tension between personal passion and choosing the "right" major.
Dr. Charmaine Royal gave us (Huang Fellows) our first career talk of the summer, and it was an excellent one to start the series. Similar to our seminar speakers, Dr. Royal followed an unconventional path, changing her professional pursuits as she advanced in her academic career. She entered the esteemed Howard University as a medical technology major on the premed track but courageously changed her major to microbiology in the first semester of her senior year. This change in her academic track extended her undergraduate experience by 2 years but resulted in a found passion for biology.
While hearing about Dr. Royal’s delayed path to her undergraduate degree, I think about the conversations I’ve had during the school year among classmates afraid to change their major. They know their passions do not align with their current field but the pressure of picking the ‘right’ major for the pre-medicine track and fear of changing paths deter them from pursuing their true interests. We, the Class of 2025, have only finished our freshman year, the ‘exploratory’ year, and we’re already scared of switching it up. I can only imagine the courage it took Dr. Royal to face the extra years of stress, exams, and musty dorms, as her peers were preparing themselves for graduation. After seeing how her illustrious professional career panned out, the delay appears minuscule in the broader scheme of her life.
After graduating with her microbiology degree, Dr. Royal pursued her postdoc at Howard as the first postdoc in her lab. Throughout her training, Dr. Royal illustrated how her mentor would throw her into the deep end, fully trusting her to fulfill expectations. She noted that providing unfailing support with sprinkles of tough love is a characteristic of a good mentor. Outstanding mentors guide theirs mentees in their professional development and personal growth. I hope to find this soon, if I haven’t already, because alongside a trailblazer exists a network of support starting with an impactful mentor.
Currently, Dr. Royal directs the Duke Center on Genomics, Race, Identity, Difference, and the Duke Center for Truth, Racial Healing, & Transformation. Her work encompasses the intersection of race and genomics, aligning with her values of telling the truth about science while fully understanding its societal implications. This is the lens I wish to encompass on my path to a medical doctor. Science is never separate from society, but rather advances to better serve society, centering people as primary benefactors.
Despite her extensive expertise, Dr. Royal notes that her scholarship in the field of race and genetics is “still evolving, discovering new ways of approaching [genomics] as [she] interacts more with her research and colleagues.” I hope this mindset is embodied in all spaces of scientific academia because our approaches to discoveries should evolve alongside our society to fuel purposeful innovation benefiting all communities.
Ayokunmi Ojo, Huang Fellow ’25
Kunmi’s interests encompass the intersection of health economics and policy to address health inequities facing people of color. .