After graduating summa cum laude with a B.S. in biology from Alabama A&M University, Tyesha Farmer came to UAB’s Interdisciplinary Genetics Graduate Program. When asked what made her choose UAB for graduate studies, Tyesha explained, “In 1998, I participated in a summer research internship program at UAB for high school students from rural Alabama. This experience introduced me to the human genome project, led to my first publication, and was the spark in my unwavering curiosity for human genetics. When I began to look into graduate programs in 2003, my mentor from my summer internship, Dr. Susan Sell, informed me about the development of a new graduate program in Genetics at UAB, which would be a product of the merger between the Department of Genetics and the Department of Genomics and Pathobiology. Based on my previous summer internship, I knew that UAB would offer a dynamic experience in an environment that would foster and encourage interdisciplinary research. With the development of a new Genetics Department and graduate program, I knew it was an exciting time to be a part of the UAB research community. Although UAB is a relatively young institution, it is one of the top NIH-funded institutions in a time when funding is at an all time low.  The fact that UAB is only a 1.5 hour drive from my hometown was also a plus.”
Tyesha’s research involves breast cancer. She says that although Caucasian-American women have a higher incidence of breast cancer overall, African-American women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 50. She adds, “Breast cancer in African-American women also tends to be more aggressive and as a consequence, African-American women have had historically poorer outcomes due to this disease.  These disparities persist when controlling for environmental confounders. My project seeks to identify genomic markers of aggressive breast cancer by analyzing the spectrum of genomic aberrations (gains and deletions) in breast tumors from young African-American and Caucasian-American women.  Identification of these candidate loci may lead to a better understanding of the genetic links to ethnic/racial health disparities in breast cancer.”
The following is a list of the many awards and honors Tyesha has received:
-NIH National Research Service Award Predoctoral Fellowship
-Charles Barkley Young Investigator Award
-Minority Trainee Research Forum “Acres of Diamonds” Award
-Cancer Prevention and Control Training Program Fellowship
-Amgen Minority and Indigenous Fellow Award
-American Association for Cancer Research Minority Scholar Award (2006 and 2007)
            -Comprehensive Minority Faculty-Student Development Fellowship Award
-National Science Foundation Science and Engineering Fellowship Honorable Mention

Remaining motivated while in graduate school can be difficult, but Tyesha receives support from her family. “My motivation, outside of a general curiosity for understanding the unknown, is my family. I grew up in one of the poorest counties in the United States, and my family was even poorer still. My dad never finished high school, but he taught me how to read when I was only 2 years old.  Instead of allowing it to be a limitation, I learned at an early age to use circumstance as a driving force to pursue my dreams. My family is so supportive of what I am doing even though they don’t quite understand what kind of “doctor” I’m studying to become. Their support is what has kept me motivated to work hard and continue toward my goals despite adversity.”
Her motivation also comes from her primary advisor, Dr. Theresa Strong. “She has been a firm but understanding and supportive mentor.  Her door is always open to impromptu questions and conversations.  She is actively involved in and genuinely concerned about my graduate training and development.  Most importantly, Theresa is very good at helping me to keep things in perspective, whether in regards to my dissertation project or my career aspirations.  Her mentoring style has also helped me to refine my own.”
After her expected graduation in Fall 2008, Tyesha plans to pursue post-doctoral research training, specifically exploring opportunities at the National Institutes of Health. Her plans for the future include leading a research lab that focuses on understanding the role of genetics and the environment in cancer health disparities. She also wants to become involved in the development of government policies aimed at eradicating health disparities in the U.S.
Tyesha’s advice for other graduate students:
“Set small benchmarks for yourself so that you don’t become overwhelmed by the big picture.”