If Taryn Dooms, 20, was to write a book it would be about survival as an extrovert in science, it is a challenge that lingers on several years after giving up her desire to be a journalist and embracing science at the Paul Lawrence Dunbar Magnet school for the performing arts. Doom’s decision to change her career direction was influenced by a charismatic teacher who encouraged her to follow her love of chemistry. “When I first encountered Mr. King, I was shocked as I had never seen or heard of a black man in the classroom,” she said. “His passion was so contagious that I caught the science bug right away.”
Dooms grew up in a close- knit southern family in Mobile Alabama, a mostly middle to upper middle-class multi-racial neighborhood. The daughter of a now-retired elementary school teacher, tragedy struck early in her life. “My oldest brother Ernest was murdered when I was 5.” With an absent father, responsibility for her upbringing largely fell on her mother’s shoulders, Ann. M. Dooms, 59, who realized early that her daughter was musically as well as academically gifted as a young child. Sparing no resources she enrolled her in a private school at age three. The young Dooms eventually read her way into the competitive Paul Lawrence Dunbar magnet school where she excelled at playing the piano, violin and singing in the choir.
Selected to participate in the engineering pathways program at her high school and honored to be the first African American female to graduate with an advanced honors diploma as well as an IB diploma it became a world of ‘firsts’ for Dooms. Throughout this academe of science and high achievement one anchor remained constant. “My mother has always fully supported my academic career, she has not missed one recital, concert, or awards ceremony in my 20 years of living,” she said.
From her childhood, Dooms has maintained a hectic schedule juggling several balls in the air as president of the Tuskegee American Chemical Society. Chapter, tutor, innovative learning and sales associate at Zoghby’s uniforms and a student as well. “Taryn manages her time in such a way that she works out time to study, go to work, tutor other students, cook dinner, hit the gym, and even catch a few episodes of Girls on HBO,” Jashaun Bottoms a friend and chemistry major at Tuskegee university said.
A self-confessed nerd, she chose chemistry over history or English because it was everywhere and helped breakdown life’s complex phenomena. “I feel it is imperative for us to understand chemistry to apprehend the world around us,” she says wreathing her response with hash tags,
In 2014 she embarked on a chemistry project that looked at treating the public drinking water supply for humans and wildlife by cleaning it with Laccase an eco-friendly copper-containing enzyme that neutralizes Endocrine Disrupting Compounds (EDCs) found in medicines flushed down or drained into the water system. If these compounds are not removed they would have devastating effects on humans and wildlife. The compounds have the potential to dissolve the estrogen receptor proteins found inside cells, which in turn can lead to Hormone Receptor –Positive Breast Cancer. While conducting research, she learned that several methods had been used to assist in the degradation of EDC’s, such as ultraviolet radiation and advanced oxidation treatment. However, these methods were not only harmful to humans and livestock but they also produced noxious by-products over time. Dooms claims that the investigation opened her eyes to a major environmental issue.
“Taryn is very tenacious when it comes to research and she has performed very well. She makes the connections between theory and practice and she understands the big picture,” Dr. Russell Albert a former NIH post-doctoral fellow and current head of the department of chemistry Tuskegee University said in an email. Russell is a major influence on both her academic and personal decisions especially her continued love for chemistry, Dooms recalled during her freshman year his introduction of a “family-like vibe” in the class, which created an environment that made her believe in herself no matter how hard the classes became. “She’s from my hometown so we have a lot in common. She’s like a daughter to me and she knows that so she trusts me,” Russell said.
Dooms most likely gravitated towards Russell as a surrogate. “My father has never really been active in my life,” she said wistfully. It is a role that Albert was happy to take on dispensing advice on life after school and most importantly how to navigate the professional life as an African-American woman in a predominantly testosterone driven field where gender equality is still an issue but also where hard work and quality cannot be ignored. “She understands the challenges that are both inherent and external,” he said. Perhaps borrowing from his own experience he told her to speak up if she felt slighted and earn respect from her peers through quality work.
Dooms rises from bed at 6a.m., brews a strong cup of coffee and starts on her favorite ritual: applying make up. Touching her face with different hues and seeing the effect of the products in the mirror is not an act of vanity but a collection of ideas for a career she is keen to pursue; becoming a cosmetic chemist and conducting research for a major company. “ Taryn desires to work in cosmetics and I believe that she will be able to blend her knowledge of pharmaceuticals and her love for cosmetics to develop products that have a beneficial impact on consumers,” her former professor Russell said. From spectroscopy to electrochemistry Dooms has taken on several research projects learning from them and possessing the skill to channel them into her career path. She spent time at Louisville working on structure-property relationships between receptors and pharmaceuticals. She also had a stint at Samford University in pharmaceutical development.
After what she calls “considerable time” choosing her outfit she departs for the Tuskegee University Center for Academic Excellence and Innovative Learning, TCAEIL where she tutors students in general chemistry courses.
“One of the most rewarding feelings is when I have a student who consistently comes in for tutoring and they show improvement in the course,” she said. “ The student goes from loathing the subject to celebrating success. This is better than any paycheck I could ever receive.” Dooms uses crazy analogies to drive the point home when teaching, says her friend Bottoms who recalled an instance when she compared the many sets of quantum numbers an electron in a D or P orbital could have to the different combinations of sandwiches you can make at Subway. “ She did that to make the student understand the Pauli exclusion principle which states that no two electrons can have the same set of quantum numbers.”
Chloe Whittington a chemical engineering major at Tuskegee University, a co-worker and classmate observed her juggle up to 15 students at a time and all of them left feeling satisfied. “She doesn’t spoon feed information to the students or simply give them the answers, she breaks down the concepts in such a way that they not only understand the technical aspect of the material but also the background.”
Hardworking, ambitious, disciplined these are the words Dooms friends use to describe her. Whittington stretches it a little further arguing that her sunny positive disposition and live- life -to -the -fullest attitude might be driven by her early loss. “Her brother must be the object of her inspiration. His early death may explain her seize-the-day mentality.”
Dooms has 2,618 Facebook friends who see several selfies, the 9 best things about dating a chubby guy and the occasional picture of a bull dog wearing a navy blue baseball hat with gold lettering “ACS…chemistry for life.” The wall postings are a glimpse into her personality; a social life that explodes online and a subdued one that curls up with her favorite books by Lena Dunham and Enitan Bereola or a feminist that shows up in her favorite Game of Thrones characters Daenerys Targaryen, whom she believes is a representation of female power.
“My personality allows me to stand out and it strengthens my ability to communicate,” she said. “Never be afraid to showcase your personality and your positive traits. I am an extrovert who fell in love with a field that is dominated by introverts.”
Are you a member of the American Chemical Society? Become a member today!