Trini engineer explores path for black women in STEM studies

Dr Malika Grayson is the second black woman to earn a doctorate in mechanical engineering at Cornell University. -
Dr Malika Grayson is the second black woman to earn a doctorate in mechanical engineering at Cornell University. -

The barriers to women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields in the US, in particular, are many. Hooded: A Black Girl’s Guide to the PhD by Trinidad-born engineer Dr Malika Grayson asks the question, “How do you survive graduate school when you're the only Black woman in a predominantly white space?”

The book explores the unexamined experiences of black women in higher education. From racism, navigating feelings of self-doubt, to confronting microaggressions, black women face an uphill battle as they earn advanced degrees in majority white institutions and departments. Having a voice means facing retaliation or dismissal, while staying silent becomes a heavy burden all its own.

In Hooded, Grayson offers an account of surviving and thriving as a doctoral candidate in STEM. Grayson, who currently resides in Virginia, left Trinidad at age 19 to attend Adelphi University where she got her undergraduate degree in physics. She then pursued her PhD studies at Cornell University where in 2016, she earned her PhD in mechanical engineering with a minor in environmental engineering. She was the second black woman in Cornell’s history to receive her PhD in that subject.

Grayson has been the recipient of many awards, including the Zellman Warhaft Commitment to Diversity Award, National Society of Black Engineers – Mike Shin Award for Distinguished Member of the Year, Adelphi University’s Top 10 Alumni Under 10 and BEYA STEM’s Modern Day Technology Leader. Her work in STEM led to her being named one of TT’s 40 Under 40 Youth Influencers by the country’s then Ministry of Youth and Sports Affairs.

Dr Malika Grayson with a copy of her book Hooded: A Black Girl's Guide to the PhD. - ..

She was also involved with the community while at Cornell, which led to her receiving the Hometown Hero Award. In a 2016 interview, Grayson told Newsday that the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) was an integral part of her growth at the university. Another programme which was a source of inspiration was the Diversity Programmes in Engineering (DPE), an office that works within the College of Engineering meant to promote diversity among faculty and students.

Grayson also founded Females of Culture United for Success (Focus) as an advocacy group for women of all cultures “to remove the ethnic barriers while creating awareness about diversity on campus. As an organisation, we hosted seminars that dealt with many topics including preparing women for success, stereotyping in the media, and women’s health.”

Speaking at the Women of Colour Conference addressing “Graduate Women of Colour in STEM” in 2015, Grayson stressed the importance of building a network, both with peers and professionals in the field.

“I also stressed that stepping out of your comfort zone and taking advantages of the opportunities that present themselves are beneficial to your overall confidence and growth. Being a double minority (black women) in STEM, women often suffer with imposter syndrome. Many feel alone and inadequate in situations like this when in actuality there are a number of students who feel this way. The attendees were reminded that they are at the level they are at by their own merit.”

Written for all those who have never seen themselves represented in their chosen career, Hooded provides practical survival strategies, mental health tips, and ideas for creating community and leaving a lasting legacy.

“With this essential resource, you won't feel quite as alone — and you might even become your own, unexpected hero.”

Hooded: A Black Girl’s Guide to the PhD is available on Amazon.


"Trini engineer explores path for black women in STEM studies"

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