Brianna, Computer Science and Engineering

My current academic/career path is getting my Ph.D. in Computer Science and Engineering. I want to stay in academia and become a professor, mentoring students and conducting my research. I love research because it allows me to use my experiences and my computer science knowledge to help populations that are less understood. I have struggled for a while, and I want to help people who now face the same obstacles I did. 

I have rare traits that are not as likely to be seen in computer science, such as being an African American woman with ADHD and bipolar disorder. It is scary to be on the rare side of things in a field dominated by neurotypical white men. Still, I understand the importance of students seeing someone in the field who is similar to them. 

There are a lot of strengths and benefits of neurodiverse thinkers. These are people who tend to question societal standards. Questioning societal norms helps to bring research to new populations, create new status quos, and eventually end up helping other people to learn about things they have not experienced themselves. People encourage students to always “think outside of the box.” I think it’s fair to say that neurodiverse thinkers sometimes don’t see the box in the first place. 

I wish people understood the impact of my abilities without labeling me as my ability. I also wish professors and teachers went through training on how to work with and help neurodiverse thinkers. Sometimes it’s tough for me to go to class. I can’t comprehend quickly without being distracted by everyone else in the class too, so I tend to watch the lectures online. As a person with bipolar disorder, I go back and forth between manic and depressive states. When I’m manic, I’ll turn in assignments early. When I am depressed, sometimes I cannot concentrate long enough to turn an assignment in on time. 

“Neurodiversity is when you have a set of people who all think, feel, and act differently compared to society's standards. Sadly, people who do not fit in tend to not be successful in going through society's direct path. When I say society's standards, I mean specific policies set at higher levels such as academic curriculum, how students are taught, community and cultural stigmas, and the standardized milestone paths expected out of students.”
- Brianna

I have dealt with emotion-regulation problems for years and just assumed it was a symptom of ADHD. It was only recently that I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. That was a huge thing for me to learn to accept and navigate because a new disorder means new self-management. I am still learning how to help and take care of myself.

The moment I knew I was on track and could finally see myself having the ability to reach my dreams was when I got into graduate school. I definitely do not look the best on paper, meaning I don’t have the highest GPA or a number of publications. When I got accepted into graduate school, though, I just felt for the first time that the possibilities were endless for what I wanted to achieve in this lifetime. I was ecstatic and euphoric to have the opportunity to be a part of a Ph.D. program with the opportunity to do research I was passionate about. 

Honestly, if I could do anything in the world, I would choose to be a professor in academia. It is probably not the standard answer for many students, but that truly is my passion. I always knew I wanted to help people. Being a professor will allow me to teach students, mentor undergraduates, advise graduate students, and still complete research within accessibility, where my passion lies. 

I think my perspective can be influential for younger kids who face similar challenges at a young age. It is vital for them to see someone who looks like them complete the goals they imagine or have a sense of what is possible for them. I think there is enormous strength in neurodiverse children being able to see and hear from adults similar to them to promote agency in their own skills.