Member Spotlight: Julia Sade Omotade, PhD

Julia Omotade

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC)

How long have you worked in the cell biology field?
I have worked in the cell biology field since 2009, when I started undergraduate research studying polarized membrane trafficking in Pamela Tuma’s lab at The Catholic University of America.

What is your field of research?
I am classically trained in cellular and molecular neuroscience and advanced fluorescence microscopy. Specifically, I studied the mechanisms by which the actin cytoskeleton regulates synapse formation during mammalian brain development. Currently, I work in science policy, where I serve as a trusted voice on key policies issues related to the biomedical research workforce, federal funding, and the biomedical research environment.

What initially got you interested in becoming a scientist and then later specifically your field of research?
By nature, I am a curious person and love investigating my natural world; and so, science was a perfect fit to allow me to systematically ask questions and tackle complex issues for a living. My first interest was in flowers, plants, caterpillars, rocks – anything that I could touch. Slowly, this transformed into a love, fascination and appreciation for the animal cell.

What is going on in your research now that you are particularly excited about?
Regarding research, I have transitioned from synapse biology to investigating critical policy issues in our nation’s biomedical research ecosystem. Oftentimes, individuals, institutions, and the media focus on the scientific “what” – what cures, treatments, and breakthroughs are being discovered to improve human health. Equally critical is the “who” – meaning who is our biomedical research workforce? Who gets to participate in science and research? What are the factors driving their success? How can we amplify parity, inclusion, belonging, and accessibility? In addition to the “what”, I am excited to roll out important work at the AAMC focused on the “who”.  In particular, I am spearheading the Black Women in Scientific Research (BWiSR) Initiative, which will investigate the experiences of Black women researchers across the broad spectrum of biosciences – transcendent of research area, career stage, and degree. This study centers Black women as the storytellers of their own narratives, harnessing their voice as community partners in identifying strategies to amplify the health of the research environment for Black women in biomedical science.

What is a challenge in your career and how did you overcome it?
An omnipresent challenge in my career is helping others understand the impact of scientists beyond the bench. Scientists are crucial members in all facets of society; and our training makes us poised for crucial roles in government, policy, communications, law, and executive functions across many fields, sectors and domains. It is important for not only the public, but for scientists themselves to realize that scientific research does not exist in a silo, but rather, is interconnected and has a wide reaching impact in many communities, sectors, and careers. Science is omnipresent – and with that, so too must the perspectives, voices and opinions of scientists be far-reaching. As we continue to see fluctuations in public trust in science, medicine, and institutions, it is our job as scientists to realize the unique role we have in advocating for scientific truth as a guide for shaping national and international policy decisions.

What is some advice that you could give to an early career scientist?
Don’t be afraid or ashamed to prioritize your health. The pressure of scientific progress can, at times, be crushing. I would urge an early career scientist to invest in that gym membership, a new hobby, therapy, or whatever tools and strategies that can be used to evoke and sustain peace, mindfulness, and grounding.

Why did you decide to become a member of ASCB and how has it helped your career?
I am a long-time member of ASCB. My connection with ASCB started in 2010 when I was awarded a MAC travel award to attend ASCB 2010. It was there that I won a poster competition for the post baccalaureate category. Since then, I have engaged with ASCB in various capacities, such as advocacy (e.g., Hill Days with the Coalition for the Life Sciences) and committees (I am currently a member of ASCB Women in Cell Biology).

Do you volunteer with ASCB and if so, what is your role and why do you think it’s important to volunteer with the association?
I volunteer with ASCB as a member of the Women in Cell Biology Committee (WICB). Because science, and cell biology in particular, has for so long been an exclusive field, it is important to have the perspectives and representation from individuals who, in addition to their expertise and acumen, bring a different cultural perspective. I am proud to be an Nigeran-American, female scientist who has exchanged a pipette for policy briefs in order to drive progress in the civic sector and beyond. It is this perspective and voice that I bring to both WICB and ASCB.

Who is your scientific hero and how have they inspired your career?
From the time that I was in Pre-K up until the time I graduated with my terminal degree, I did come across a Black scientist in my everyday community. That being said, I was inspired in my childhood by stories of George Washington Carver. Seeing his image and reading about his accomplishments would be a seminal moment in recognizing my power to contribute to the scientific world. In terms of a living inspiration, Dr. Anita Corbett, PhD has been such an inspirational role model for me. Beyond being a brilliant scientist, she is authentic and seemingly fearless, which has shaped so much of my professional approach and shown me that “being yourself” is possible.

What are you most optimistic about when it comes to the future of science?
I am most excited about the attention on health disparities research. Our nation has a bleak history of providing health, care, and scientific investigation for many marginalized communities, in turn allowing social determinants of health to create gaping disparities in our nation. I am optimistic that there is momentum to make it right: to include women and underrepresented minorities in clinical trials, to sequence genomes that reflect the diversity of the human species, rather than a subset; and to fund crucial social and behavioral research gives us a deeper understanding of the barriers to health equity.

Any interesting hobbies or pastimes you enjoy that you would like to share?
I enjoy rowing, art, napping, and hiking in as many National Parks as I can (ideally, at least once a year!). I also love empowering women and girls and being my authentic self.

About the Author:

This post was collaboratively written by several ASCB staff members.