Sankofa: Looking Back, Moving Forward

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In 2012 I got my first (only) tattoo. At the age of 28. One of my closest friends got the same tattoo, in the same place, on the same day. The decision to get our first tattoos together was a bit impulsive, as the idea arose as we were driving by a tattoo spot with a bunch of our other close girlfriends during a weekend getaway in Charlotte, NC. Initially we had no idea what tattoo to get, or where to put it, but intended to get something that was meaningful to both of us and symbolized our journey as friends (especially through the enormous torture known as graduate school).

After a few minutes of flipping through my mental rolodex, I suggested we get the Adinkra symbol for Sankofa, meaning “go back and get it”. The proverb “se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenki” (“it is not taboo for you to go back and get what you forgot”) is represented by a bird reaching back on its body for an egg. It’s thought to mean you reclaim or take the good of your past to move forward. I also suggested the heart-shaped version of Sankofa be placed on the inside of our wrists – as the hands/arms are physically used to reach back.

For me, the Sankofa symbol/concept was the only one worth permanently etching on my body. I lived Sankofa. My past is an important part of my future. Through the soul-draining challenges I experienced in grad school, I became painfully aware of myself. Where I’d come from. Who I was and who/what shaped me. Who I wanted to be. Where I wanted to go. And the revelations were liberating.

As I look back on 2013, I acknowledge what a good year this has been for me. Things weren’t perfect, but I have no regrets. I will enter 2014 on a high note.

2013 Highlights

  • My first full year living in Portland!! Not easy to make friends when you’re in an adult, living in a city that is NOT diverse. But I met some great people and I’ve been some cool places. I love it here.
  • Witnessing my best friend in the whole world marry the love of her life and standing as her maid of honor.
  • Being hooded and conferred for my PhD during graduation! Man, what a sense of accomplishment. My 2012 defense was traumatic and painful and I didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy my shiny new PhD. But graduation almost a year later made it all feel real, and deserved.
  • Turning 30! And taking an impromptu 36hr trip to San Diego to spend my birthday with my family.
  • Surprising my best friend in the whole world for her 30th birthday in Vegas.
  • Learning to read, write, and speak Farsi. And asking a Persian restaurant owner where the bathroom is in Farsi (“Bebakhshid, dast shooyi kojast?” ببخشید، دست شویی کجاست؟).
  • Having my chapter on ADHD published in a book. Huge accomplishment after only 18 months of my postdoctoral training.
  • Spending Thanksgiving at home in San Diego for the first time since I graduated high school. With the love of my life by my side.
  • Every moment the love of my life was physically by my side.
  • Being appointed to a nonprofit organization’s Board of Directors. Truly an honor and I’m so excited to serve on my first board. Ready to learn and grow.

I have a lot to look forward to in 2014. And since I am a strong proponent for resolutions (be they in January or July) I have a few things I’d like to resolve/accomplish (and I hope my readers are willing to hold me accountable!).

2014 To Do List

  • Lose 15lbs before 31. I’m starting the New Year on an extreme cleanse (Why? Why not? Go hard or go home, right?) and joining the last cycle of #SexyShred starting January 9. Time to get back to better nutrition and fitness. Whether or not I can keep the weight off past July 7 is another resolution…
  • F*ck b*tches, get money.
  • Run a 10k. Because #fitness.
  • Get my mile down to 10 or less. I am pretty slow but now that I’ve gotten comfortable with running more than 2 miles, I’m ready to kick it up a notch.
  • Reduce my cc debt by 50%. This will require committed budgeting and lots of prayer.
  • Incorporate more prayer and bible study into my daily/weekly routine. Prayer calls with me girls, bible study with Habibi, daily meditation. All things that make me feel better and closer to God but I don’t do hardly enough.
  • Take 3 “fun” trips. Due to various circumstances, trips outside of SD and DC weren’t very feasible. But I want to make more attempts to travel and see friends/new sights.
  • Blog once a month about my “progress.” Be it progress about my work, fitness, nutrition, spiritual journey – I need to hold myself accountable and reflect on my progress (or lack thereof).
  • Make more lists. I am pretty forgetful and absent-minded. I do much better when I make myself lists and post them where I cannot avoid them. I must do this more. My ability to function in this world personally and professionally depends on this.
  • Spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve (for 2015) with the love of my life. Fate has not allowed us to have either of these holidays together, unfortunately, but I won’t stand for another year under these conditions!!
  • Live out “Partition” – the lyrics or video, either or.

My list is a bit long but very doable. I resolve to accomplish them all!!! I’ve gathered many things, great and small, from 2013 that will enable me to have a great 2014. What are some of your highlights from 2013? Do you have any new year’s resolutions or things you want to accomplish in 2014?

-Gem the Go [Back] Getter

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Two Degrees of Separation

Happy Friday peeps! It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? But, that should be expected by now. I’m good for falling of on blog updates. *sigh* You still love me doe, right? :)

A few months ago some one approached me here at TWGS asking to interview me about being a Black woman with a PhD in STEM (science, tech, engineering, math). As vain as I pretend to be, I actually really hate talking about myself lol. But I am a strong advocate for mentoring and inspiring young people (omg, yeah, I’m officially old *facepalm*) and it is an honor for some one to think highly enough of me to want to tell my story. So I make myself get over the awkwardness and allow myself to be on display, so to speak.

So I had the opportunity to talk with Anjuan Simmons, a tech master and public speaker, via skype for his 2° Show. I’d seen a few of his other episodes with other people, and I really appreciated this platform he’d created to highly some really cool people doing great things with their craft. He even highlighted one of my friends/mentors from my college days, Tokiwa Smith, who started a non-profit organization for exposing students to STEM opportunities. To my surprise, my interview with Anjuan was less like an interview and more like a conversation – even though I did most of the talking lol (which may or may not be how most conversations with me go anyway).

I haven’t watched the “final product” and I probably won’t watch it. It’s weird to hear/see myself recorded – to me I sound funny and awkward and I always think “OMG did I say that? I didn’t mean to say it like that”. I don’t even like watching the Sh*t Diva Dudes Say to Bougie Black Girls YouTube video. The few times it’s been played in front of me (by some one else) I watch it cringing and rocking back and forth. This is the problem with being a person who overthinks EVERYTHING.

Nonetheless, I appreciate having the opportunity to be featured on the 2° Show. Sometimes I don’t give myself enough credit for having finished my PhD and being part of an elite group in this country (omg I am the 1% – dammit). So while I don’t always think of myself as some one noteworthy, there are others who do, and remind me that the path I’ve traveled is no small feat. And for that I am truly grateful.  Much of my work is to inspire others to set their goals high and help them with the fools to reach them – because I certainly did, thanks to countless teachers, mentors, friends, and family.

Sooooo check me out!

Role modeling like a boss,
~Dr. Gem

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Le. F&ck!ng. Sigh.

simply tired

I feel… numb?  Though numbness is supposed to be the deprivation of physical sensation, it still feels uncomfortable. Numbness may prevent the feeling of pain, but you can still be aware that injury has occurred.

That’s just one way to describe how I feel. It’s like I’ve been slapped across the pain and yet I am unable to respond. I know the slap happened, I feel a range of emotions and thoughts because of it, yet I am unable to speak, act or move in response. Everything is internal. The struggle and feedback isn’t making it’s way to the outside.

I also just feel tired. Tired of being angry and disappointed in this society, in *the* system, in human kind. I’m tired of having to feel helpless and ignored. I’m tired of convincing White America they should care about my people. I’m tired of being tired. When will the relief come?

For the first time today, I made a somewhat coherent statement about the George Zimmerman verdict on Facebook. So many people have said so many articulate and heart felt comments about it, and I just listen/read and nod in agreement. Sometimes I feel sad and cry, sometimes I feel rage and shake my head with disgust. I haven’t had a conversation with anyone about how I feel or what I think because I don’t know how to process it. It’s like I feel so much without feeling much at all – almost as if it were a dream or an outer body experience. But for all the reactions that I completely understand and agree with, there are many others I don’t understand and don’t agree with. From the people in the media space to people I know in real life, I have seen so many comments that say “I feel bad for Zimmerman” or “race aside…” or “Zimmerman had the right to defend himself” – not once acknowledging that an unarmed teenager, walking in a neighborhood he did belong in, was killed because of how he looked or acknowledging that this unarmed teenager also had the right to defend himself when being stalked by a man unfamiliar and unidentified. And I felt compelled to speak out against it.

its been almost a week since the verdict was announced and i am still unable to process my feelings. im still angry, sad, disappointed, and tired simultaneously. i have so many thoughts and opinions that i dont know how to articulate. im at a loss. not over the verdict itself – the law failed Trayvon Martin and other Black boys like him long before George Zimmerman was found not guilty by a jury of his “peers” – but over the response by many people in this country, many of whom i know. it truly offends and frightens me that people are so dismissive of many people’s reactions and feelings surrounding this case. Black people cant be outraged and disappointed that once again the justice system has worked to protect those who are not people of color. Black people cant be outraged because “this wasnt about race”. Black people cant be outraged because others are afraid the outraged will riot. this whole post racial/color blind/we-are-all-one-race-the-human-race kumbaya attitude is not IMPROVING our society or erasing the systematic and institutionalized racism (or sexism, heterosexism, and other isms for that matter) in this country. ignoring racism and racial injustice isnt going to make race/racism go away. telling Black people to relax and “stop playing the race card” because they are constantly being unacknowledged isnt going to make race/racism go away.

I’m tired of people saying “well are you surprised?” or “I can’t believe you’re surprised” – as if it’s unreasonable of me to have hope that justice just might prevail, and a Black person won’t go unacknowledged. No, I’m not surprised, but that doesn’t make the disappointment and hurt any less real and present. Again, the verdict is just one small sting in a long line of injustice and inequality against Trayvon and others like him. But the weight that this message holds is so great, it’s devastating that this goes on record to say “it’s OK to shoot Black teens because by nature they are suspicious, up to no good by default. They are animals to be hunted and stopped.” And for anyone who thinks that sentiment is a too strong and unfair – EAT ME.

I could go on and on, but I’m tired. I don’t want to. I can’t focus on work, I am not motivated to be “busy”. All I want to do is ponder, read about and listen to discussions about this case and try to make sense of the situation. I want to go to rallies, protests, and be part of something. Because I’m tired of living in a world that shows time and time again, that unless you are a straight White land-owning male, you don’t matter because this country wasn’t built for you. You can raise this country, build this country, make money for this country, fight for this country, but this country is not for you. And there is little going on today that would have me believe otherwise.

Wishing you the peace of Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin,
~The Sick & Tired of Being Sick & Tired


The Dirty 30 Is Here!!


ITS MY BIRTHDAY!! Dirty 30 is FINALLY HERE!! Ahhh it feels good.

I’m thankful to wake up to another day and another year on this earth. Life hasn’t always been sunshine and roses, but all the obstacles, pains, and challenges led to triumphs and growth. I thank God for showing me how to take the good with the bad, and happy with the sad, knowing all things were for my good in the end. I thank the Lord for the wisdom my experiences have taught me. Thirty marks the start of a new decade that I am ready and happy to conquer.

As I said yesterday, 30 is a special birthday – it’s the “really grown up” age. And I made it!!! There’s so much that I’ve accomplished in this time, so many things I’ve experienced (good, bad and ugly). My high school self would have never predicted where I would be and the kind of person I would be at 30. I’m pleasantly surprised at the 30 year old me that exists as I do now. I think I’ve done a damn good job up to this point. And though I don’t always acknowledge it (to myself or others), I am proud of myself for who I am and what I’ve accomplished.

I am super thankful to be home, with my family on this day. Moms came through and helped me buy a last minute ticket to Cali. My brother and nephews also happened to be here. I had planned to spend my birthday in Portland, alone, pampering myself and preparing for my upcoming trip to DC. But there was something better in store for me. Though this trip is uber short (less than 48hrs), I get to spend it with some of the people I love most in this world (including my bestie, her wife, and their son, my godson). And in another 2 days, I’ll be with the love of my life, celebrating even more. Yep, I’m winning at 30 already!!


Thanks to everyone who’s been following my #30forDirty30 posts. Thank you for reading, thank you for commenting, thank you for sharing with others. I appreciate all the feedback I’ve gotten and honestly, I feel really good about myself and some of the posts I’ve been able to crank out. I like to think that I’m a good writer, but these past few weeks have renewed my confidence in myself and it’s all thanks to those of you who have been reading and giving me feedback. Thank you thank you thank you! I have a few more posts to complete before the “challenge” is over, but I had to gives thanks before the end.

Again I’ll say FELIZ CUMPLEANOS to me!!! I hope everyone enjoys my day :)


With maturity and wisdom (and still full of youth),
~Gem the 30yo



The Eve of 3D

I meant to have this post up yesterday but work life was hectic and I was preparing for my great escape home – a last minute travel plan to spend my 30th with my family.

As 30 comes within my grasp, I can’t help but make a mental check list of all the things I’ve done or haven’t done up to this point. I wonder how my life would have turned out had I done things differently or set different priorities. Admittedly, I have looked at friends my age who have accomplished and attained things I wanted.

Not that I wish my life was different or think some one else’s life is better, it just causes me to reflect and access my life goals. Am I happy with what I have now? Have I done all I could do up until now? Is my life going in the direction is should?

I don’t know what it is about 30 that makes it such a celebrated or dreaded age, but I feel totally caught up in it. Maybe it’s the roundness and evenness of the number, or the fact that it marks the beginning if a new decade. Being a 20 something seems like an age of the young, not fully matured, frivolous. The 30s seems to mark true maturity and sensibility. While 30 somethings may continue to be young at heart and have a youthful exuberance, they put away childish ways and plan for the future rather than try to keep up with the past. No longer are they searching for who they are but are marveling in who they have become. To me, 30 is an age of acceptance and understanding.

While I’m not completely satisfied with all aspects of my life, I am happy and fulfilled. I am comfortable with the woman I’ve become and feel a sense of pride for all that I have accomplished and have yet to still do.

I welcome 3D, the big 3-0, dirty/flirty 30 and I’m happy to bask in all the beauty that this round, even number brings.


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Happy 4th of July


Happy Independence Day, America!!

While my relationship with my country is definitely complicated, and I come from a line of people who have a very troubled past with this country who damn sure didn’t know “freedom” until arguably a few decades ago (or last week for some), I won’t go there today.

Today I will celebrate my Americanness. Ish is complicated but I love my country and I want what is best for her. So today I wear my red swim suit, red tank, and blue shorts and am heading to the river to go tubing! I get to relax, float down a river and enjoy this beautiful day with my PDX buddies.

I also celebrate that today marks THREE DAYS TO THIRTY!! And I just bought a last minute ticket home to Cali to ring in 30 with my parents and brother and nephews who are visiting out of town. Can’t beat that :-) happy happy day!!

Again, happy 4th to all my countrymen! Have a safe and happy celebration!


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The Bitch Factor


Yesterday Luvvie published a post entitled, “I’m Digging Nicki Minaj Lately and It’s Not For Her Music.” The post was in response to a video from a few years ago where Nicki Minaj – a female rap/pop star – talks about misogyny, sexism, and double standards in hip hop. In this clip, Nicki bluntly shares the frustrations women around the world deal with day to day.

When I am assertive I’m a bitch; when a man is assertive he’s a boss. He bossed up. No negative connotations behind bossed up but lots of negative connotation behind being a bitch… When you’re a girl, you have to be everything. You have to be dope at what you do but you have to be super sweet, and you have to be sexy, and you have to be this and you have to be that and you have to be nice and you have to – it’s like, I can’t be all those things at once.

Say word, my sista! I can’t be all those things at once either, and I shouldn’t have to be. And like Luvvie, I am here for this.

This idea that women get negatively labeled by exhibiting the same tenacity and drive as their male counterparts who receive no such backlash is not new. It’s been addressed over and over in every space imaginable. And yet women are still having to deal with this! It’s still an issue! And don’t be a Black woman who is assertive and commanding because that would make you an angry bitch.

One thing my PhD mentor – a very successful brown (Iranian) female scientist – always emphasized to me the importance of standing my ground (no Florida) as a woman in science. She taught me not to let being labeled a “bitch” to prevent me from demanding respect and my proper due in the male-dominated field that I’m in. I’ve heard senior male administrator from another university refer to my advisor – to me! – as “difficult” and “hard to work with” (in an attempt to persuade me not to work with her) despite having never met her in person. And when I told her this, she simply responded [paraphrased], “I’m a woman who doesn’t take sh*t from men so that makes me difficult.” And from that moment forward I knew I was working with the right woman. She constantly reinforces to young female researcher their need to be assertive in our careers, because “you won’t get anything done being a wuss.” Being labeled negatively never seemed to bother her, like she wore the labels with a badge of honor. As she so eloquently posted on my Facebook feed a few weeks ago, “Seriously, strong women are “called” many things but as a wise (male) mentor once told me, who cares what you are called as long as you get what you want.” BOOM. There it is. The truth from another true G. #Gladiator

I respect the hell out of any woman who isn’t afraid to be called a bitch in order to handle business. I respect women who teach younger women to not be afraid to go after what they want and need to succeed, for fear that they will be met with name calling. Many women get paid lower wages because they are afraid to ask for the wage they deserve, or that’s comparable to their male counterparts. I won’t be that woman! I can’t and won’t be super sweet, sexy (Do female scientists need to be sexy? According to one idiot professor, the answer is YES), and nice all the time to avoid being the angry bitch. I won’t dumb down my drive and desire to get ish done to make men (and even women) feel comfortable that I’m in my quiet, docile woman’s place. Back down for what? Angela Davis didn’t do it, Margaret Thatcher didn’t do it, Michelle Obama didn’t do it, Bita Moghaddam (my advisor) didn’t do it. Why should I? Call me what you want, but bet I get what I’m entitled.

How do you feel about the double standard between men and women when it comes to assertiveness? For the ladies – does it bother you to be called a “bitch” for playing the same game as your male counterparts? For the fellas – do you stick up for women who are labeled “bitch” for being assertive?


Bitches Get What They Want,
~Gem, G in Training

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