ADI Spotlight: Seraya Jones

Sept. 6, 2022
 Seraya Jones with the Princeton Tiger mascot

Seraya Jones (She/Hers)

Department: Molecular Biology

Program Year: G2

Undergraduate Institution: Grambling State University

Hometown: Roseau, Dominica

ADI Affiliations:

  • Diversity Fellow (current)
  • P3 Participant
  • GSP Mentee (former)
  • Graduate Women of Color Caucus (GWCC) President
  • Black Graduate Caucus (BGC) Board Member

Tell us about your background.

I grew up in the Caribbean islands, specifically Dominica – almost always confused with the Dominican Republic. Very beautiful actually – check it out on Google – the nature island of the Caribbean. My journey to graduate school was definitely not linear. What you see today is the culmination of hard work, a lot of tears, setbacks – way too many setbacks, two different gap year periods – yes 2 – before ultimately getting to graduate school.

The second gap year was intentional – I wanted to ensure I presented a strong graduate school application because a lot was riding on this. The first gap year though- not so much!

Not me getting off-topic! Anyway! Once I completed high school, the logical thing to do was to enroll in the only 2-year community college on the island – which I did.

Then, the dreaded first gap year. Even at a young age, my goal was always to attain higher education. I graduated from the 2-year community college and spent the next few years successfully applying to various undergraduate universities in the US, but here’s the thing – there was no way I could afford it. Eventually, I was awarded a scholarship by my government, then went on to pursue my undergraduate degree. Fast forward to today – I am at a top University, in an environment designed to give me the best scientific training. Not too bad – for a first-gen, small island girl.

The support of my close-knit family and husband has kept me grounded and motivates me to continue my academic pursuits.

My non-linear path has shaped my journey into what it is becoming, and I am thankful for all my lived experiences.

What are your research interests?  What excites you about it?

During undergrad, I realized how much proteins interest me. After graduating, during my gap year, I conducted research in a structural biology lab, needless to say, I was hooked, and the rest is history. That experience ultimately solidified my love for working on the structural basis of proteins. In my current research, I use structural and biophysical techniques, including cryo-electron microscopy and tomography, to study protein dynamics. I hope by the end of my PhD, I solve a protein structure – fingers crossed!

What does your family think you do in grad school?

Oh Boy! They think that I am in school for a very long time, 'studying' all the time with no breaks in between. My mom does not grasp the concept that I get paid to be in school and think I am always in class!

How has ADI programming impacted you? 

I have told this story so many times.

When I began to pursue my PhD, I fully intended to focus on classes and rotations - at least for the first year and NOTHING more. Boy was I wrong. During my first few weeks at Princeton, I attended a few events hosted by the Access, Diversity, and Inclusion team, where I found my tribe and never missed an event since!

ADI helped me find a community, especially through the GSP program in my first year. ADI programming plays an important role in my experience here at Princeton. The events are always fun, impactful, and foster a sense of community. The pinnacle event for me this past year was the Inclusive Academy (IA) Symposium. If you missed it – you missed a life-changing, mindset-altering event. It is not often I attend a symposium and leave feeling as if I went through deep introspection, which gave me a fresh perspective about myself and future aspirations.

Whoops almost forgot – P3/MolBio Scholars, which focuses on engaging scholars from underrepresented groups. That was my first introduction to Princeton. Let me tell you – ADI/Princeton takes care of you - I was sold! Even though it was a virtual event in my year, I felt so welcomed, and the programming allowed me to connect with faculty and students in MOL whose work interested me.

What advice would you give prospective, incoming, and/or first year underrepresented Princeton graduate students?

I would advise you to be unapologetically you. You may have some preconceived notion of what a PhD student should be – throw that out the window. I promise in doing so, you will enjoy the full immersive PhD student experience for yourself and as yourself. Plus, who does not want to show up as their full self?

What's been most helpful to you in acclimating to Princeton?

The sense of community that the ADI events create gave me some level of comfort, knowing that I can always show up to an event and see familiar faces, most times that person being, Amari Tankard. Amari is so full of joy and her presence in a room simply changes the dynamic.

Lastly, every single person on the ADI team! I feel how much they care about us as students and how much they want to make our experience at Princeton memorable. One thing about the ADI team is they’re going to take care of you!

What activities do you engage in beyond research?

Beyond research, I am very active on LinkedIn and have posted every day of the year for 2022. Yes - big flex! Don’t listen to me – it’s more like a lot of time and dedication. There is a reason I post – I promise! My goal is to help demystify the graduate school application process and provide resources and application guidance for people from marginalized backgrounds and underrepresented groups. I simply got up one day and decided that I want to make an impact – this is my avenue to do so. It has been very humbling to see my mentees successfully get into their various PhD programs. Knowing that I helped in a small part of their journey is motivation enough to continue posting on LinkedIn daily.

I am also a Professional Development Associate with GradFUTURES, where I help develop and implement initiatives and activities which cater to professional and academic development for graduate students in the Natural Sciences. Not done yet, there’s more.

I am also a Diversity Fellow with the ADI team – so hyped about this, you have no idea. In this role, I will help plan events that helps foster collaborative relationships between grad students from all backgrounds and identities. I am also the President of the Graduate Women of Color Caucus (GWCC), where we help support graduate women of color from all backgrounds.

Oh and I almost forgot – I co-founded the New Jersey Graduate Students Association (NJGSA) to help foster relationships amongst graduate students from all universities across New Jersey. Not too bad for my first year of graduate school.

How would your friends describe you? 

I laughed out loud at some of these responses because my friends are too much. They mentioned fearless, 100% focused energy, honest to a fault – what? Headstrong, outgoing, and ambitious. They said other nice things too, but those stood out to me!

What should the ADI community know about you?

I enjoy hiking, traveling, and going to the beach! Recently, I got into camping, and it has been such a refreshing experience, to be completely off-the-grid, and surrounded by nature. Seriously – everyone should try camping – highly recommend!

That I enjoy coming to events and receiving free swag – just queuing that in because who doesn’t love some free swag!

What do you know now that you wish you'd known before?

It is okay to give myself grace and spend additional time working on myself. I used to think that I need to continuously be doing something – but burnout is real. So, I take things a day at a time, with relevant breaks in between.

What’s your perfect day?

When my experiments are successful. Yes, that is where I am right now in my life. I also love a nice beach day with perfect weather.

What is, or would be, your superpower?

My would-be superpower would probably be to teleport, so that I can go home for my mom’s “cocoa tea” or some “bakes and saltfish” – don’t get me started on Caribbean cuisine.

What’s your side hustle?

Too busy for a side hustle right now but, I am very into Venture Capital and hope to spend the next year working on my start-up. Shhhhh, I can’t tell you what it is just yet!