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LaTanya Williams ’14 PhD

Associate Director for STEM, Office of Fellowships

LaTanya Williams ’14 PhD

Northwestern provided me with valuable learning opportunities that turned me into a great scientist.”

LaTanya Williams is the associate director for STEM in the Office of Fellowships. She received her PhD from the Driskill Graduate Program in Life Sciences in 2014 and now lends her expertise to Northwestern STEM students and alumni applying for nationally competitive grants. This includes the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF-GRFP), for which Dr. Williams serves as a national selector. In addition to her role in the Office of Fellowships, Dr. Williams is a fellow of Slivka Residential College and served as a panelist in last year’s Women of Color in STEM discussion of Northwestern's One Book selection, Hidden Figures.

How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?
As a fellowships adviser, I demonstrate how fellowships can be a cornerstone for future achievements. I help students identify not only their career paths, but more importantly the motivations behind them. As a PhD recipient who spent significant time at the bench as both a student and a postdoc, I understand that it can be difficult for STEM students to identify what bought them to science in the first place. 

What have been some of the most memorable twists and turns of your career?
After undergrad, I needed to support myself so I took the first job I could find—bank teller. This was the first in a string of jobs in banking that had nothing to do with my undergraduate major of biology. After five years of this, I realized that I had strayed too far from my career goals. I eventually decided to enroll in the MS in biology program at Howard University, which put me on track for my PhD. 

Tell us what inspired your research and/or work.
During my postdoc, I realized that I had a knack for working directly with students. I found myself helping students with revising their dissertations and presentations. Seeing that moment where they realized the changes that they needed to make to improve made me realize that I really wanted to work with students and help them academically.

Whom do you admire in your field and otherwise, and why?
My mom, who had my sister at a young age and me four years later. She held two jobs and made sure that we both went to college. She truly invested in my future and taught me that sacrifice, dedication, and focus is important to achieve your goals. 

Why Northwestern?
I came to Northwestern as a PhD student in the DGP program. Northwestern provided me with valuable learning opportunities that turned me into a great scientist. In addition, gaining acceptance into Northwestern as a Howard University student demonstrated to me that Northwestern values diversity and identifies the potential in students from all backgrounds. 

What books are on your bedside table?
I have two sons, 8 and 4, so you will find children’s books on my bedside table. I am helping my oldest make it through Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and my youngest is reading the Biscuit the Dog book series.

What did you originally want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a doctor for as long as I could remember. But growing up on the southside of Chicago with working parents who did not go to college made it difficult to find role models and mentors in medicine. But I never lost my love of science and I found my way to earning my PhD. 

What advice would you give your younger self or someone considering a similar path?
Remove distractions from your life to fully focus on and accomplish your goals. Create a plan to accomplish your goals.

What are you most proud of in your career to date?
I am proud that I received my PhD, completed a postdoc, and found opportunities to help students achieve their careers all while being a wife and mother to two sons. 

Published: August 4, 2020

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