Student Spotlight: Talyia Griffin

Talyia Griffin, hailing from Albany, is a junior biology major. She serves as president of both the Velma Fudge Grant Honors Program and the Anime and Geek Organization. Griffin has also volunteered with the Flint RiverQuarium.

She attended the Summer Research Program in Biology (BSG-MSRP-Bio) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  Griffin was also accepted into the Evolutionary Medicine Program at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) which will take place in summer 2022.

Due to Griffin’s participation in the program, she will be provided a tuition-free graduate school fellowship for any UCLA graduate program for both the master’s and the doctoral program after graduation from ASU. Talyia Griffin

How did it feel being accepted into the MIT Summer research program?
When I opened my acceptance letter for MSRP-Bio, I have never felt prouder of myself. I always knew that I was brilliant, but I often felt intimidated by other students in STEM who had access to more technology and experiences than I did. Despite my resume being less illustrious than other applicants, MIT still saw my potential. MSRP-Bio receives thousands of applications, and I was deemed as one of the most qualified. I was overjoyed that I would be able to represent myself and demonstrate the talent that we have here at Albany State University.

What were a few of the key takeaways from the experience?
The two key takeaways from the experience are science is 95% failure, and that I should always keep sight on the “big picture”. Over the summer, some of my experiments may not have gone as planned or simply failed, and it was frustrating. However, that is just how science works sometimes. Part of being a good scientist is accepting that failure and thinking of better ways to run an experiment is what gets results. During this process of replicates, it was so easy to get lost in the technical details of my work. I was so focused on the ‘how’ and not on the ‘why’. Knowing ‘why’ you’re doing an experiment and being able to analyze your results to communicate them to others is imperative to science, and I definitely have a newfound thoughtfulness when it comes to research.

How did this internship prepare you for the future?
Aside from an updated skillset and recommendation letter, MSRP-Bio gave me my first real glimpse of what graduate school would be like. The program exposed me to the many retreats, seminars, meetings, and research schedules that a graduate student would have to be prepared for. Additionally, MIT showed me how important I was in the graduate school application. My personal statement and character are essential to being accepted to any program. I was able to receive feedback on my personal statement in order to give the reader a better idea of who I am and why I wanted to be there. I felt the need to be more honest about these things, and I will now make sure to highlight myself instead of only focusing on my lab proficiencies. I will make sure that everyone that I work and interact with gets to know me and not just my resume.

What was your favorite memory from the experience?
My favorite memory from MSRP-Bio would be my lab meeting presentation. Giving a talk to your host lab members was a requirement, and I was really scared at first. Being in the spotlight to present my work in front of graduate students, Post-Doctoral Fellows, and my PI was stressful to think about. However, as I got to know each member individually, I felt less afraid. They weren’t mean or heavily critical people. When it was time to give my lab meeting, I was still nervous, but I was well-prepared for whatever questions they might have asked about my research. I rehearsed a dozen times for that moment, so I knew that I was going to present my data clearly. Of course, they still had questions; the questions were refined to the research area, but I was still able to address them. After the lab meeting, my mentor, as well as my other lab members, expressed how proud she was of me. It made me really happy knowing that they were so interested in what I had been working on all summer.

Why did you choose Albany State University?
I chose Albany State University because I wanted to attend an HBCU where I could have access to faculty that were interested in my individual success. The professors remember me by name, and the community on campus is so welcoming and inviting. I feel like I get to experience different extensions of the culture through each individual student here. We all conglomerate our experiences, music, dance, and other facets associated with the black identity, and it makes me think of Albany State University as a second home.

What motivated you to major in biology?
As a high school senior, I enrolled in an AP Biology course. I have always had a natural aptitude for the sciences, so it was recommended that I take this course to have a more challenging curriculum. As I progressed through the year, I maintained the highest average at each grading period. I enjoyed the labs, and I was passionate about the work that was presented there. When I thought about my future, I could always see being a scientist as one of the best routes to take. Since I had clearly found my niche, I wanted to pursue the study of biology as an undergraduate student.

Who has made the biggest impact on you at Albany State?
Dr. Florence Lyons has truly made the biggest impact on me at Albany State. Dr. Lyons has been bringing the best out of me since I joined the Honors Program. She has encouraged me to do many different things to expand my repertoire and to boost my confidence. I have begun to come out of my shell more and more each year, and I would like to thank her, for the constant attention to my growth as a student. Dr. Lyons is the person who initially introduced graduate school to me. I had never considered it before, so I looked further into what graduate school was. Without her support, I would have never seen where my potential could take me, and I would have never looked for the MSRP-Bio program.

What are your goals in life?
My goal in life is to become an agricultural microbiologist. I aspire to make a difference in food accessibility and quality in areas where there are limited resources. In order to address these issues, I want to pursue a Ph.D. in biology and be employed by the United States Department of Agriculture. I hope to attend UCLA, MIT, Cornell, or Harvard for graduate school in order to make the biggest impact that I can in regards to food availability.

What advice would you give other students to pursue their dreams?
I would say that there is more than one path to get to where you want to be. Progress is not always linear; you may have setbacks, or you could go into a completely different direction to get to the end goal. If you wanted to get into graduate school, but you were rejected, you can always be a lab technician and transition into a graduate student later. You may have gone slightly off track or hit a wall, but progress is still possible. Things do not always work out well the first time, much like science, so you must be innovative and resilient to achieve what you set out to do.