Jeremy Brown: Mentors make a difference

As a fifth-year Ph.D. student in geophysics at Stanford University, Jeremy Brown is pretty convinced of his career path. It’s not academia, he said, but the private sector, likely an oil or gas company where he could do energy exploration.

Stanford Ph.D. student Jeremy Brown (Photo by John Todd)

Stanford University Ph.D. student Jeremy Brown (Photo by John Todd)

“I’ve been really happy doing the Ph.D. It’s good to develop a research base, to tackle problems for a long period of time,” the 26-year-old Colorado native said.

He added that his research adviser has been helpful by sharing with Brown his experiences in both academia and the private sector. “Nobody has dissuaded me from entering academia,” said Brown. “It is just my personal preference.”

Of the 82 Ph.D. students in the Department of Geophysics, Brown is the only African American and one of two underrepresented minority students. There are 18 faculty members in the department; one is from an underrepresented minority group.

Brown is a fourth-generation college student whose great-grandfather, born in 1900, went to Tuskegee University in Alabama. For his undergraduate degree, Brown went to the Colorado School of Mines, where he said he pursued science and “energy-heavy research” as a way of “finding the answers to many questions I had growing up, like how things got the way they are, and why things work the way they do.”

Despite deciding to follow in the footsteps of Stanford alums working in the oil industry, Brown said that, if in the past he’d had more minority teachers and mentors “to give me direction as an undergrad, or even as a high school student, to point me toward becoming a professor, or if I’d seen someone in the academic profession earlier in life, it would have made a big difference.”

A young, underrepresented minority professor, “in his 30s,” Brown suggested, also could have helped him at a younger age to “wrap my head around the long-term academic commitment of a Ph.D. program, which can last five to six years. That’s half a decade in school. Preparing myself for that with someone’s help would have lessened my anxiety; things wouldn’t have been so tense for me” as a doctoral student.

Brown said he feels encouraged by efforts at the Stanford School of Earth Sciences, which is home to his department, and by his university’s participation in the new California Alliance, to focus on the need for more underrepresented minority Ph.D. students and faculty members. “It’s definitely a big problem,” he said, “but I can see changes starting to occur.”