Office Hours: Ti'Air Riggins

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Ti'Air Riggins @ti_enjoli

Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. Student at Purdue University


What inspired you to attend grad school?

Ever since I was 8, I always wanted to invent something to cure some disease or improve the quality of life, so I decided I wanted to be a research doctor.


Tell me about your proudest grad school moment. Why was it special for you?

It was probably passing my qualifiers or getting my first author publication or even switching labs, because they were all milestones of achievement telling me that I was on the right path and that I was doing translational work that might save a life one day.


What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten while in grad school?

Go to therapy. Seriously.


If you had to describe your Black grad experience with one song, which one would it be?

"Fighter" x Christina Aguilera


What has been your biggest obstacle in grad school? What strategies have you used to try to overcome it?

My first semester at Purdue, I was sexually assaulted and I had to deal with the PTSD that came from it.  That same year, I won the title of Miss Indiana United States 2015 and became a spokesperson for RAINN (Rape and Incest National Network).  My mother was also laid off that year, became sick and needed surgery, so I drove home every weekend for a month and a half to take care of her.  That summer I also had to switch labs and find a new lab, and was even placed on “disciplinary probation” for my participation of the #BlackAtPurdue social media protest.  My first year was an emotional whirlwind for sure, but my best strategies was literally going to counseling and never giving up. As long as you fight, people will notice and a tribe will form around you.  If you find the right people in your corner, link up with them and establish important mentor relationships.  As long as you’re with the right people and don’t give up on yourself, you will always succeed.


What has this experience (pursuing a graduate degree) taught you about yourself?

That I’m more resilient than I give myself credit for.


If you could go back to the first day of grad school, what advice would you give to yourself?

To avoid certain people, and try and switch labs as soon as the semester start.


How do you think your identities have informed your graduate experience?

I believe so because I’m certainly more readily identifiable in a crowd or my cohort, but there are key things that have happened that may not would have happened or played out in that way had I not been a black woman in engineering or neuroscience.


How do you intend to use your degree in the future?

I want to do independent research and do my own start up that is based off of my lab research and teach.  I am hoping to continue doing translational research, so I can be able to see my treatment on the market or given to patients.


What’s something that you would tell someone who is interested in pursuing a similar path?

Find your tribe. Network, get mentors, join professional societies, form study groups and collaborations. It takes a village.

Feel free to reach out to Ti'Air:

Twitter: @ti_enjoli, Facebook: Ti’ Riggins