by Yaminah Muhammad
Rare: (of a thing) not found in large numbers and consequently of interest or value.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only about two percent of the U.S. population have obtained a doctoral degree. Thus, making it one of the rarest degrees in higher education to attain. Nonetheless, despite its rarity, the now Dr. Brianna X Alexander attained said degree— graduating in the class of 2023 with a Ph.D. in Biomedical Science with a focus on congenital heart disease from Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey.
Prior to joining the Astrof Lab at Rutgers University, Dr. Brianna conducted research at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. There, she investigated the role of various developmental pathways in the differentiation of spheroids in culture.
During her time at Monell, her interest in stem cells and developmental biology was solidified. This led her to eagerly begin her research and studies at Rutgers University after earning her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Pennsylvania State University in 2016.
Now in 2023, after seven years of uphill academic struggle, the graduate credits her motivation to sustain the Cell Biology, Neuroscience and Physiology (CBNP) track of the Rutgers Biomedical Sciences graduate program, to her will to serve her Nation. According to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease and defects are the leading cause of death amongst Black people in America.
Armed with this knowledge, Dr. Brianna pushed herself to finish her studies toward the development of translational research in congenital heart defects. During her graduate research, she investigated the mechanisms of arch artery formation during cardiovascular development, with a focus on the contribution of neural crest cells.
“It also is a reminder to me of my duty and giving back and sharing everything that I know for the betterment of us as a people, as a Nation. However, I can contribute whatever small way I can contribute. I thank Allah (God) that has always been my motivation. I wasn’t motivated by vain desires. I have been motivated by the willingness to help others and the willingness to be an asset to my Nation,” she said.
Dr. Brianna spoke of her deep-rooted willingness to help her Nation as a result of following the Teachings of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad as taught by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. “Being in the Teachings really helped me to find purpose and have a shift in mindset from singular to plural. It’s not just about me, it’s about what I can do for my community,” she said.
“We’re taught to do for self. So, we have to be able to accumulate the skills, knowledge and know-how and have the passion to give back to our communities. Thinking of the Minister’s demonstration of love as being duty, I asked myself how I could demonstrate that love? I can do that by giving my skills back— working with people to develop science curriculums, teaching about the heart, learning about developments, and teaching other people what I know,” she continued.
Despite her passion, the road to graduation did not come with ease. Dr. Brianna reflected on the many trials and tribulations she endured throughout her time in graduate school, from tiresome all-nighters to a whirlwind of emotions. However, of the many, her most preeminent trial was that of her having one hand.
While many would consider missing a limb to be a disability, Dr. Brianna chose not to. Instead, for her, it served as another testament to her ability to endure the process until she accomplishes the goal for which God brought her out of her mother’s womb and gave her life.
“I think it starts very early with how you nourish a child. Even when there are differences, you can influence a lot of the ways that they perceive their abilities. My mother, whom I thank Allah (God) for, was very instrumental with the mindset I have because she would always push me, she would always encourage me, and she never made me feel like I couldn’t do something because I had one hand. I think that was really important for my mindset even in grad school,” she said.
The scholar recalled a time in grade school when she amazed her gym teachers by wrapping a jump rope around her wrist to innovatively jump rope along with the other children. Thus, she drew a parallel between her ability to adapt as a child in gym and how she adapted as a graduate student when working in the lab with one hand.
Consequently, just as she amazed her gym teachers, she amazed her professors, classmates and supervisors. “It was not only a transformative experience for me, but also for the people that I was working with,” Dr. Brianna said.
While accumulating all of her research, accolades and achievements, Dr. Brianna X Alexander hopes to be a humble inspiration to others. With Black Muslim women ranking low in representation within the field of biomedical sciences, she wants the Junior M.G.T. and Vanguard of the Nation of Islam to know that they can be scientists, too.
Her key piece of advice: To envision success and remember that Allah (God) allows everything to happen for a reason and He makes no mistakes. Put in the work and continue faith in Him and yourself and you can do it.
Dr. Brianna successfully completed and defended her dissertation while also serving in the secretary department of Muhammad Mosque No. 25 in Newark, New Jersey. “I’m really grateful to be a scientist, but most importantly to be a Muslim scientist,” she said, thanking Allah (God) for it all.
Dr. Brianna is an active member of the Ministry of Science and Technology for the Nation of Islam. She also gives back to her community by periodically conducting free science classes for the Nation’s local youth. Professionally, she works as a medical writer in the New York City area.