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BIPOC Voices: Interview with Raychelle Burks

Dr. Raychelle Burks is an associate professor of chemistry at American University in Washington, DC. In August 2020, Dr. Burks recently spoke with CAISE about her career path and how she uses an asset based approach to enhance science communication.

As a young person, Dr. Burks was impressed by the practical applications of forensic science, and followed that interest in a career in forensic work and academics. Dr. Burks shares the value and importance of a good work environment; her excitement about recent science innovations; and how she explains forensic science to non-scientists. For science communication with fans in pop culture conventions and for non-scientists, Dr. Burks explains how an asset-based model and collaborative approach is essential. Putting work into planning outreach events; letting audiences set their own learning goals; and having fun are all important aspects of good science communication.

Dr. Burks discusses public scholarship and the activism woven into the lives of scholars. She also reacts to systemic racism discussions and COVID-19 responses in the science field, and how the two areas are interlinked. She discusses the importance of framing joy in narratives of marginalized communities, including Black joy and how humor is an essential part of processing events in the Black community. Dr. Burks also speculates on interviewing white people on their accomplishments using the same framework that Black people are typically interviewed. She reflects that the hardest work of one’s life is unlearning the colonization that one is steeped in, and even chemistry and vector calculus is not as difficult.

We encourage you to read the interview to engage with Dr. Burks story in her own words.

Posted by Aya Rothwell