Rachel M. Harris, Chemistry

Rachel M. Harris has an M.S.Ed. from Wilkes University, M.A. in Chemistry from Hopkins, and is currently completing her PhD in the Chemistry department and as a part of the Bowen Lab.
I was a high school and adjunct chemistry, mathematics, and physics teacher for 10 years before deciding to enroll in graduate school at Johns Hopkins. I left education because of the workload and pay, but also because I knew that I could contribute more to the fields of science, research, and education. I chose Hopkins because of the research I would be doing, the graduate students in my department, and the facilities.
Working in the Bowen lab involves a multitude of skills, including computer programming, designing/building/machining components and electrical engineering. We study anions of molecules, clusters and nanoparticles utilizing time-of-flight mass spectrometry and photoelectron spectroscopy. The instruments in the lab are designed and built by the students. In addition to the chemistry and physics involved in the systems of study, students gain a solid understanding of lasers, UHV environments and ion optics. Every day is different and I am learning so much more than just Chemistry.

I would like to be a catalyst for positive change on campus. I have worked to rebuild a support group for graduate students who have children. I’m treasurer for Women of Whiting, on the planning committee for the Women in STEM lecture series, and have worked with the Center for Educational Research to improve TA training.

I’m also a single mom of two children: my son is starting his senior year at Loyola University and my daughter will be a 5th grader. love how Baltimore is made of many small neighborhoods, and feels like a much smaller city, and would like to see and be part of the university providing more opportunities for children in Baltimore.

Tara Ghazi, Psychological and Brain Sciences

Tara Ghazi is completing her PhD in the psychological and brain sciences department, and works in the Courtney Lab.

I came to Johns Hopkins because of the research I would be able to pursue, and the people I would have access to work with and learn from. In my field you must be accepted into a particular lab to work with a specific adviser, so it is important to get a sense of what your working relationships and environment might be like.

I work in the Courtney Lab, where we use cognitive neuroscience to better understand the relationship between the brain and behavior in a diverse range of individuals. My research is focused on understanding the ways oscillatory brain activity underlying working memory in humans may be different based upon sex, gender, and age. My undergraduate studies were in cognitive science, and my dissertation aims to truly increase understanding of differences between individuals – in their cognition and brain activity – by bridging and incorporating knowledge from several disciplines.

In many ways I am not the “traditional” student. I had a large gap in my education and pursued different career paths before returning to academia to become a scientist. I am an underrepresented minority in STEM, and I am a parent. At times during my academic career these differences from other students have seemed very large. Learning to appreciate how they contribute to my own unique perspective and voice, and respecting that others have ways in which they also feel quite different from everyone else, has been an important part of my  journey.

Alfredo Cumerma, Modern Languages

Alfredo Cumerma is a Gilman Research Fellow who recently completed his Ph.D. in Modern Languages, with a concentration in Latin American culture and American foreign policy. He’s currently serving as an administrative policy analyst in the police reform section of the Baltimore Police Department.

I came to Johns Hopkins because of the extraordinary support of my advisers, who understand the evolving labor market for PhDs of all stripes. More than half of PhDs today–sciences, social sciences, and humanities alike–work outside of academia by choice, life circumstances, or due to the waning state of stable academic employment.

I needed advisers who would support me on my path toward academic specialization and professional development for the modern workforce. I found that one of the advantages of a Hopkins doctoral education is its deep interdisciplinarity. I’m not talking about working within your usual allied fields, but with experts in areas radically different from one’s own, which is how you generate innovation.

As Hopkins PhDs, we have access to coursework and programs across all of its schools: the Carey School of Business, School for Advanced International Studies, and School of Medicine, among others. I also encourage any incoming PhD to consult with Hopkins’ Life Design specialists early in the process, before even committing to study here.

This multifaceted approach allowed me to design a research project which threaded its way into areas of critical social importance, all the while preparing me for the project management and problem-solving expected in public and private sector employment.

For my research, I examined the works of Latin American intellectuals: how they write about the state, why they write about the state, and how American foreign policy helped shape that human expression. The topic had a lot of connections to the intelligence community and disinformation campaigns we see in society today.

By the time I was finishing my dissertation, and contrary to the typical misperception of students in the humanities, I had secured more than 20 job interviews in eight months. The right one finally landed in front of me, right here in Baltimore, which I am now proud to call home. Now that this huge endeavor is over, I have an opportunity to shift gears and enjoy other aspects of life: a new job, home ownership, marriage. All of these happened during my last six months of the PhD, and I think that these life milestones are often overlooked as part of one’s education.

Sure, the point is to get where you want to be intellectually and professionally, but your education is also about designing your life in a way which makes living it satisfying.

Elmer A. Zapata-Mercado, Biophysics

Elmer A. Zapata-Mercado is a PhD candidate in the Program in Molecular Biophysics and a member of the Bouchet Society. His research focuses on the thermodynamics of lateral interactions of receptor proteins in the plasma membrane of the cell by employing fluorescence-based techniques. 

Zapata-Mercado was the recipient of the Francis D. “Spike” Carlson fellowship, given to outstanding students in molecular biophysics. He also completed the requirements to receive the certificate from the Teaching Academy for Preparing Future Faculty. He also aspires to help bridge the gap between the scientific community and the government through science policy work.