Unique Scientist: Dr. Chrystal Starbird

Time to meet Dr. Chrystal Starbird! Dr. Starbird is a structural biologist at Yale University in the USA!

What kind of scientist are you?
I am a structural biologist interested in how proteins come together and what these interactions can teach us about disease states.

What made you want to become a scientist?
Curiosity! I used to spend hours at a pond near my house looking for tadpoles and trying to feed ants to the pitcher plants. I also think I fell in love with the fact that science was something that could be understood, given enough time and study, whereas my home life, with a single mom heavily addicted to drugs and alcohol, rarely made sense.

“I am a first generation, African-American woman from a very poor background, who entered graduate school with 2 children and left with three.”

Dr. Chrystal Starbird

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
I am a first generation, African-American woman from a very poor background, who entered graduate school with 2 children and left with three. I’ve never met a single person in science who is all of these things (it’s usually the mom part where I lose people), but I don’t think our unique traits need to match for us to understand what it means to be different in science. I have met people of all kinds with many experiences and backgrounds, and their stories give me strength!

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
This is where I’m supposed to write something edgy, something that’s surprising (like that I once read my poetry on stage with Gwendolyn Brooks), but really, most of my time outside of work is spent trying to be an awesome mom. I do anything and everything I can to endow my children with the same level of curiosity about the world that I grew up with, because I think that’s what saved me.

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
I wish that organizations would spend less time touting their plans to increase diversity and more time rolling up their sleeves and getting the work done. If you acknowledge that diversity is important and that candidates from diverse backgrounds may have unique challenges, then what you need to do seems obvious. Offer unique and personalized support to invest in the people you believe to be the future of science!

One of Dr. Starbird’s protein crystals!

“I do anything and everything I can to endow my children with the same level of curiosity about the world that I grew up with, because I think that’s what saved me.”

Dr. Chrystal Starbird

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
There are many who have inspired me, but it’s usually when people I admire admit to weakness that I feel the most inspired. The leader of my undergraduate science program and dean of biomedical sciences once shared with me that he once had to write a check knowing it would not go through when he and his wife were going through graduate school with 2 children. I thought of these words every single time I felt that I was losing the war to pursue my science dreams despite the financial realities of raising children as a graduate student and they kept me from ever considering giving up.

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
This week I called my program officer to talk about a grant that has a new chance of being funded! I did this because I really wanted it, the opportunity to use that support to do great science and to be closer to my dream of running my own lab, but the old me would never have called because I didn’t think I should take up anyone’s time.


#WomenInSTEM, #BlackInSTEM

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