Nikea Pittman – Graduate/Professional/Postdoc Diversity Award
Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics
School of Medicine
Nikea Pittman, PhD, is a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Seeding Postdoctoral Innovators in Research and Education (SPIRE) fellowship program. She completed her undergraduate and graduate training at the University of Florida, earning a B.S. in Animal Science, M.S. in Translational Biotechnology, and Ph.D. in Biomedical Science. Currently, her research in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics captures snapshots of proteins that are produced by bacteria like Escherichia coli – a common cause of food poisoning. She utilizes cryo-electron microscopy to collect thousands of images at a time and visualize the three-dimensional shape (or structure) of a given protein. In addition, Dr. Pittman uses these images to initiate conversations with early-career college students and encourage them to pursue science careers. Through effective mentoring and teaching practices, she empowers students to overcome barriers that would leave otherwise marginalized groups on the outskirts of academia.
Dr. Pittman’s personal goals include combining her roles as a researcher and educator to advocate for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color within science professions. For these efforts, she has been highlighted at the national and international level, including an invited interview for Nature that outlines actionable goals for scientists to pursue anti-racism in academia.
This year Dr. Pittman launched and led a task force at UNC-Chapel Hill which established an anti-racism curriculum for 120 incoming PhD students in the Biological and Biomedical Science Program. SPACE: Scientists Promoting Anti-Racist Conversations and Equity – encourages students and faculty to discuss intersections between science, race, and racism. As the first of its kind, this three-part course provided an avenue for graduate students to amplify their voices and demonstrate the importance of expanding this training for future cohorts. Ph.D. students also collaborated to build a database that highlighted >100 scientists of color and their achievements.
In parallel, Dr. Pittman joined forces with a group of ~30 scientists from multiple institutions to launch Black In Microbiology week. The inaugural virtual conference hosted invited speakers and panelists from all sub-disciplines of microbiology, attracting more than 2,500 participants across 49 different countries. To expand upon this success, Dr. Pittman joined the executive board for the Black Microbiologists Association (BMA), a rising non-profit organization committed to amplifying Black microbiologists around the globe. As a culmination of these efforts, Black in Microbiology/BMA is featured in multiple publications (such as The New York Times and Lancet Microbe).
Overall, Dr. Pittman’s service to the University and the community spans across multiple levels, including the Diversity & Inclusion Council of the School of Medicine, the Biochemistry & Biophysics department Diversity Committee, the Dismantling Racism in Academia Journal Club, and mentorship of undergraduate students.