When she was watching episodes of Bill Nye and Magic School Bus as a kid, Eugenia Duodu had no idea that she was taking the first steps towards a career in science. She is now the CEO of Visions of Science Network for Learning, a non-profit that brings free STEM educational programming to low-income communities, but for many years she found it hard to picture herself as a scientist. “There weren’t people in my community lining up to go be scientists,” Duodu said in her 2017 TedxYouth talk, “I wasn’t really seeing myself, or who I wanted to be, portrayed in my textbooks or television”.
Growing up with a single mother in Toronto Community Housing, Duodu saw science as a hobby, not as a serious career prospect. When her mother pushed her to take advanced science courses in high school, Duodu wasn’t sure that she was up for the challenge, even though she had excellent grades and a passion for the subject. That all changed when she was given the opportunity to participate in a summer mentorship program at the University of Toronto, designed to bring students of African and Indigenous descent into labs and clinics to learn from researchers. The program sparked the idea in her mind that she could pursue a career in science.
Duodu enrolled in the University of Toronto, studying chemistry and biology. Despite the fact that she was pursuing her passion, she still struggled to believe that she belonged in the field. Throughout her undergraduate degree, she suffered from major imposter syndrome. When a friend asked her if she was planning on pursuing a PhD after she graduated, she laughed it off, but her friend responded seriously, telling her “I think you can do it, so you should”. Duodu went on to earn a PhD in chemistry from the University of Toronto, researching cancer diagnostic tools. During her PhD, she began volunteering with Visions of Science and realized that she could combine her interest in science with her desire to work in community building.
After her PhD, she decided to commit herself full-time to the organization. She wanted to help others overcome the kind of systemic barriers that she had faced when trying to access a STEM education. Looking forward, she is excited for the youth that she serves, but also for the industry that they are going to enter. “None of the narratives around who a scientist could be fit in with who I was”, Duodu said, looking back on her own decision to pursue science, but her perspective changed: “I realized that science needed me…science needed everything that I am”. Now, she’s inspired to help youth who are underrepresented in STEM make space for themselves because, she says, “What you bring to the table will change the field that you’re in”.