Murchtricia Jones: Faith, Fashion and My Journey into STEM
From being crowned Miss University of the Virgin Islands to pursuing a Ph.D. bioinformatics, Dr. Jones shares her story.
Dr. Murchtricia Jones is a Bioinformatician and Assistant Professor at Carolina University in Winston-Salem, NC. She is also the former Miss University of the Virgin Islands pageant Queen.
What are some of the earliest memories you have about being drawn to or having an aptitude for STEM?
My aptitude for science came much later in life than most think. I was always a “good” student, but my love for science began during my undergraduate career. I left high school with the hopes of becoming a lawyer. However, once I entered undergrad at the University of the Virgin Islands, I fell in love with math and switched my major to Mathematics.
Can you share a little about your faith journey and Christian testimony?
Sure! As a young child, my mom had us attend church. However, as we got older, that weaned off quite a bit. In undergrad I had many opportunities to attend church and join Christian organizations on campus, but I refused. I truly avoided the Lord. Upon entering graduate school I connected with another student from the Virgin Islands, and she invited me to her church, where I had a divine encounter with the Lord that changed my life.
I honestly can say that I have never had a personal conflict between science and faith. I have always believed that science was an explanation of the immense creativity of our Lord.
As a scientist, person of faith and new professor, how does your faith inform your science, and vice versa? Did you ever experience conflict?
I honestly can say that I have never had a personal conflict between science and faith. I have always believed that science was an explanation of the immense creativity of our Lord. The conflict more so came from working in a secular environment and being honest and open about my faith. This is a struggle that many of us at the interface of science and faith face.
It is my firm belief that being a Christian makes me a better professor. At Carolina University, I am in an environment that allows me to pray with students and encourage them to incorporate the Lord into their studies. I am able to speak both academically and theologically into their lives.
Can you tell us a little bit about your thesis project for your Ph.D. and the current work you hope to launch in your own research lab at Carolina University?
My work at the University of Michigan was focused on the incorporation of Machine Learning for drug development. More specifically, I created a software called ML-MATCH that predicts chemical attributes of small molecules in an effort to more efficiently and accurately optimize their preparation for computational based assays. This work will hopefully help streamline drug discovery and development.
Carolina University is largely a teaching institution, but I hope to launch a research lab. As I buildup the computational capabilities of my lab, my work will focus primarily on cheminformatics research, a quantitative approach to address chemistry related questions.
My experiences (in the pageant world) catapulted me into the woman I am today. I can take loss, receive criticism and get back up with ease due to these experiences. I can present my scientific research in a room of hundreds with charisma and passion. I am so grateful to God for my varied life experiences.
While you were a graduate student at the University of Michigan you worked tirelessly to increase diversity in STEM education. For this work, you were awarded the Scholar Activist Award and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Scientist Spotlight. Can you share some of the work you did in this area, and how you hope to continue this work now as a college professor?
While completing my Ph.D. I invested time into serving my surrounding community. One of the major projects I did was the creation of InnoWorks at the University of Michigan. InnoWorks is a student-led organization that serves middle school students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds by providing one-on-one scientific mentorship and a week-long summer camp which gave each student the opportunity to explore academia and complete hands-on projects. During my time as Executive Director, we raised over $40,000 and assisted more than 80 students.
I plan to implement two student-led organizations at Carolina University. The first is an organization very similar to InnoWorks. In Winston-Salem, NC, many families are low-income, and students do not have access to scientific research experience. It is my hope that this organization will become a staple in the community and that we will be able to expose many students to STEM research.
The second organization is “CU Women in STEM”. This organization would act as a support group for female STEM majors. Female student retention of STEM majors is a problem across the board. It is my hope that this organization will help us to retain these students and give them an environment conducive to success in the sciences.
You recently visited and spoke at your alma mater the University of the Virgin Islands. What was it like to be back? What did you talk about and share with the students?
Going back to the University of the Virgin Islands was a wonderful experience for me. I was able to reconnect with my professors and had the opportunity to thank them for their role in my success. I spoke to students about my journey from the Virgin Islands to becoming a professor, as well as my current research. I met one-on-one with students and provided guidance in applying to and selecting graduate programs.
During my visit I was asked by a student, “How did someone from here do that?” I answered: “My familial support, amazing mentors, and I grabbed every opportunity that came my way.”
Photo credit: Dale Morton
Outside of teaching or research, you are an avid fashionista. Your most recent foray has been into thrifting, sharing with others how you transform inexpensive items into stylish and chic looks and promoting body positive and inclusivity. Your interest in fashion started a while back, as during college you were crowned Miss University of the Virgin Islands. Where did your love of fashion come from? Any overlap between faith, fashion and science?
My love for fashion came from my big brother, Jamal Drummond. He is a fashion designer and pageant coach! I grew up in the pageant world and fashion industry. I always say you can control two things in this world. First, the way you respond to difficult situations, and second, your clothing choices. Everything else is up to the Lord and your faith in Him!
Whenever I speak about my science, I give my background in all areas, including pageantry. I always speak about how being a pageant Queen has made me a better scientist and person. My experiences on the stage catapulted me into the woman I am today. I can take loss, receive criticism and get back up with ease due to these experiences. I can present my scientific research in a room of hundreds with charisma and passion. I am so grateful to God for my varied life experiences.
Join the conversation on the BioLogos forum
At BioLogos, “gracious dialogue” means demonstrating the grace of Christ as we dialogue together about the tough issues of science and faith.
About the authors
If you enjoyed this article, we recommend you check out the following resources:
Emily Smith | Science & Neighborliness