This Microbiologist Sparked a Movement to Recognize Black Scientists In Her Field
It all happened so fast. It was August in Ann Arbor, and Ariangela Kozik, Ph.D., was at home analyzing data on microbes in asthma patients’ lungs (her University of Michigan lab closed since the COVID-19 crisis had shuttered the campus). Meanwhile, Kozik had noticed a wave of awareness campaigns spotlighting Black scientists in various disciplines.
“We really need to have a similar movement for Black in Microbiology,” she told her friend and fellow virologist Kishana Taylor, Ph.D., who is conducting COVID research at Carnegie Mellon University. They were hoping to correct a disconnect: “At that point, we were already seeing that COVID was disproportionately impacting minoritized individuals, but the experts we were hearing from on the news and online were predominantly white and male,” says Kozik. (Related: Why the U.S. Desperately Needs More Black Female Doctors)
With little more than a Twitter handle (@BlackInMicro) and a Google form for sign-ups, they sent out a call for anyone interested in helping to organize an awareness week. “Over the next eight weeks, we had grown to 30 organizers and volunteers,” she says. In late September, they hosted a week-long virtual conference with over 3,600 people from all over the world.
That was the thought that spurred Kozik and Taylor on their journey. “One of the major things to come out of the event is that we realized there was a huge need to build community among other Black microbiologists,” says Kozik. She's researching the microbes that live in our lungs and their impact on issues like asthma. It’s a lesser-known corner of the body’s microbiome but could have bigger implications after the pandemic, she says. “COVID is a disease that gets in and takes over,” says Kozik. “What is the rest of the microbial community doing when that happens?”
Kozik’s goal is to raise visibility for Black scientists and for the importance of research in general. “For the public, one of the takeaways from this whole crisis is that we need to invest heavily in biomedical research and development,” she says.
Since the conference, Kozik and Taylor have been transforming Black in Microbiology into a movement and a hub of resources for scientists like them. “The feedback from our organizers and participants in the event was, ‘I feel like I have a home in science now,’” says Kozik. “The hope is that for the next generation, we can say, ‘Yes, you do belong here.’"