Dr. Termara Parker

Dr. Termara Parker

Dr. Termara Parker (ΦΒΚ, Howard University) is the Grants & Contracts Administrator at the Lieber Institute. She earned a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Yale and her B.S. in Biology (Honors) from Howard University. She has received many prestigious awards, including induction into the National Bouchet Graduate Honors Society. She is committed to outreach and mentorship of underrepresented communities in the sciences as the former Graduate Director of the Yale BBS Diversity and Inclusion Collective.


As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? 

I am not one of those people who knew right away that I was into the sciences. As a child, I envisioned myself as a fashion designer, eagerly sketching designs and imagining presenting them in a boardroom setting. However, my trajectory shifted when I discovered a passion for brain research during Harvard's HPREP program in 10th grade. While my childhood dreams of fashion design nurtured my creativity, they eventually evolved into a deeper fascination with science and discovery. I did not know what it meant to have a doctoral degree, so I thought my passion for brain research meant I needed to become a neurologist. Despite the change in direction, my early aspirations instilled in me the value of creativity and presentation skills, shaping my journey towards a career where I could still envision myself confidently sharing ideas in professional settings.

What was the most transformative course from your undergraduate education?

The course that had the most significant impact on my undergraduate education was "Brain and Behavior." At Howard University, where I pursued my undergraduate studies, there wasn't a dedicated neuroscience major available. Therefore, I opted to take psychology classes instead. Among these courses, "Brain and Behavior" served as a crucial psychology elective, offering the closest exposure to neuroscience. Through this course, I gained a foundational understanding of physiological and psychological research, with a critical examination of clinical and experimental approaches to understanding human brain-behavior relations. It also explored the structural and functional organization of the brain and addressed diverse topics such as gender, race/ethnicity, religion, and age, within the context of biopsychosocial and spiritual factors. This course provided invaluable insights into the complex interplay of factors influencing brain function, contributing significantly to my academic journey. 

You pursued a doctoral degree in neuroscience at Yale University. What did your research focus on, and what drew you to that area of study?

Growing up with a sister diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) profoundly impacted my journey, highlighting the critical need for scientific education and advocacy within my Haitian heritage. This inspired my pursuit of neuroscience at Yale University, aiming to uncover the neural and cognitive mechanisms underlying ASD and mental disorders. Through undergraduate research at Howard University, I honed skills in neurophysiology and cognitive neuroscience. However, a pivotal moment occurred when I applied to a particular program, only to have the interview panel recognize my potential for a different opportunity. While I initially pursued one path, the interview process led to the realization that my skills and aspirations aligned more closely with the MIT Summer Research Program in Neuroscience. It was during this transition that I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Mohamed Chouikha in the Electrical Engineering program, whose mentorship led me to two summer research programs at MIT. This experience ignited my interest in pursuing a doctoral program, underscoring the importance of embracing unexpected opportunities and nurturing potential under the guidance of supportive mentors.

You currently serve as the Grants and Contracts Administrator at Lieber Institute for Brain Development. What types of projects do you work on in this position?

As the Grants and Contracts Administrator at Lieber Institute for Brain Development, I oversee a range of projects aimed at securing funding and managing grants efficiently. While I have a deep passion for research, I sought to make a broader impact beyond the lab environment. In this role, I collaborate on successful R, K, and F award applications with Principal Investigators and administrative teams, ensuring compliance with funding agency requirements. I also coordinate budget development, proposals, and secure internal approvals, resulting in a high rate of timely submissions. Managing end-to-end grant processes is another key aspect of my role, where I oversee the Grant Team and optimize collaboration with subrecipients, contributing to a streamlined and efficient workflow. Additionally, I have developed and facilitated Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to improve organizational processes and meet tight deadlines effectively.

What role has your liberal arts education played in the development of your career? Why do you think a well-rounded arts and sciences education are important in today’s society?

My liberal arts education at Howard University profoundly influenced my career trajectory and underscored the significance of diversity and mentorship in academia. Interacting with role models and peers from similar backgrounds provided invaluable support and guidance as a minority student. Engaging in service activities, such as teaching underprivileged children during spring breaks, offered firsthand insight into the challenges within public education and allowed me to contribute to improving classroom practices. These experiences ignited my passion for teaching and mentoring future black neuroscientists, shaping my aspiration to teach at a historically black college or university (HBCU).

Furthermore, my involvement in advising underrepresented undergraduate students through programs like the NIH-funded Blueprint for Enhancing Neuroscience Diversity in Undergraduate Research Experiences (BP-ENDURE) strengthened my commitment to fostering diversity and inclusion in science. By actively participating in initiatives aimed at increasing representation in neuroscience, I contribute to cultivating a more diverse and equitable scientific community.  In today's society, a comprehensive arts and sciences education is essential for fostering innovation, critical thinking, and empathy. Exposure to diverse perspectives and experiences enhances problem-solving abilities and promotes understanding across cultural, social, and economic divides. By embracing interdisciplinary learning and promoting diversity in education and research, we can equip individuals with the skills and knowledge needed to address complex challenges and drive positive change in society.

Phi Beta Kappas motto is the love of learning is the guide of life,and we are dedicated to life-long learning. What do you want to learn next?

I am committed to lifelong learning and continuous self-improvement. Currently, I am eager to enhance my skills as a mentor, particularly in the realm of guiding aspiring scientists. In addition to my role as the Grants and Contracts Administrator, I am honored to serve as a research mentor for Polygence, an innovative platform connecting students with mentors for personalized research projects. This opportunity allows me to actively engage with students and support their academic and professional growth. By participating in this mentoring role, I am constantly learning and adapting to become a more effective mentor, tailoring my guidance to meet the unique needs of each student. My passion for mentoring the next generation of black scientists drives me to seek opportunities for personal and professional development in mentorship, ensuring that I can make a meaningful impact in fostering diverse talent and nurturing future leaders in the scientific community.

What was the best advice you were ever given and who gave it to you? 

The best advice I ever received was to "forge your own path." This guidance came from multiple sources, as I encountered numerous suggestions to pursue a postdoctoral position after graduating. However, I opted to deviate from the status quo, driven by a clear vision of the direction I wanted to take. I sought a career where I could utilize both my programmatic and research skills while also fulfilling my passion for mentorship. Ultimately, my dream is to serve as a program director, where I can contribute to improving clinical research practices and fostering stronger collaborations with HBCUs and government agencies to make science more impactful. Additionally, I am committed to mitigating health disparities in people with intellectual disabilities, ensuring equitable access to healthcare and research opportunities for all communities. This advice has been instrumental in guiding my decisions and shaping my career trajectory, emphasizing the importance of following my own path rather than conforming to conventional expectations.

What book(s) are you reading right now? Are you listening to any podcasts or watching any shows? Anything you'd recommend? 

I am currently reading Breaking the Cycle by Dr. Mariel Buqué. This insightful book serves as a holistic guide to healing, exploring the complexities of overcoming intergenerational trauma, and fostering a legacy of abundance and peace. As a social neuroscientist, I find particular value in its exploration of how both genetics and environmental factors shape our behaviors and identities. Recognizing this interplay is vital for discerning which behaviors we wish to pass on to future generations and which ones we need to leave behind. Personally, as a recent graduate, I've come to realize the depth of trauma I've endured amid the demands of academic life. Breaking the Cycle has played a pivotal role in my journey of self-discovery and healing, making it a highly recommended read for anyone navigating similar challenges.

In addition to reading Dr. Buqué’s book, I am a devoted fan of The Real Housewives of Potomac. Fortunately, I have had the wonderful chance to meet Wendy, Karen, and Ashley in person, and they were very kind. These encounters further solidified my fondness for the show, and I eagerly anticipate meeting more of the housewives in the future. I highly suggest finding a show that offers a welcome escape from life's challenges.

Published on April 9, 2024