From GED to Ph.D.: Spartan Researcher Achieves Success
Nkrumah Grant is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. He’s part of Michigan State University’s Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training, an experimental program dedicated to empowering graduate student trainees to develop professional skills and experiences.
Recently, reporters with WKAR News sat down with some of the BEST students to learn more about their inspiring life stories.
Watch the video to hear Grant’s story in his own words (or read below).
I’ve always been interested in science from the time I was a child. I remember I would pick up black widows and praying mantises. I would play with these things and take them home.
We grew up in the projects — Daniels Heights projects in Saginaw. My mom was a single parent. She would work third shift and come home to get us ready for school and rest while we were at school.
In middle school, I was inducted to the National Junior Honor Society. This was a program for people who were doing well in school. I went to the awards ceremony and she couldn’t be there, so I went by myself. I saw everybody there with their families, with their parents and people who were supporting them, and I just felt alone at the moment and I decided to walk home.
And there I was with this certificate and I just remember crumpling that thing up, throwing it in the river and saying, “Well, no one cares anyway. Why should I?”
I think immediately you could see my behavior drop and change in school. I became problematic. I think that carried on through high school the first couple of years, and I ended up dropping out.
I walked the streets a lot. I remember several times my mom driving 11 or 12 o’clock at night looking for me — then finding me and not even saying anything. I knew that red Ford Contour. She’d just stop, and I’d just open the car door and get in.
I know my mom said one time she feared one day she’d come home and see yellow tape around the house.
My mom would tell me to “at least get a GED.” I took that negatively and decided I would show her I could do more.
In my research, I use bacteria to study evolution in real time. We know that life first evolved in an environment where there was no oxygen, and by understanding how things are maintained or lost over time, we can start to design systems that, in the face of climate change or in the face of evolution, maintains its value to the organism.
I put myself through a lot of stress, did a lot of things that I probably wouldn’t have done had I known where I would be today. And I think that’s the beauty of life. There is an infinite number of outcomes.
MSU BEST seeks to enhance trainees’ ability to develop the confidence and competencies useful in navigating and choosing from diverse career opportunities. Learn more about becoming part of the BEST community.
Photos and video by Alec Gerstenberger