This past May, Brooke Russell became the first Black woman to earn her doctorate in physics at Yale University. Now at Berkeley Lab, she studies the nuclear structure of exotic isotopes. Russell shares her journey in a recent article for Physics Today.
“This past May I earned my doctorate in physics, becoming the first Black woman to do so at Yale University. There are very few Black women with doctorates in physics. Approximately 100 Black women have received a PhD in a physics-related field in the US.
Brooke Russell is the first Black woman to receive a doctorate in physics from Yale University. Credit: Photo courtesy of Brooke Russell
With such a dearth in numbers, at times I experience a sense of loneliness and isolation in physics. Some people are taken aback by my presence in research settings. On a number of occasions, I have been mistaken for janitorial staff within physics departments, in national laboratories, and at conferences. This is a common experience among my Black physics colleagues. Anecdotally, the anonymity of email and conference calls smooths over some of the stilted behavior I otherwise experience working with new colleagues face-to-face. An initial encounter may be awkward, but in time, as new colleagues become familiar with my physics acumen, preconceived notions fade away.”