BE Modern Man is an integrative program that honors the essence, image, and accomplishments of today’s man of color. With features of today’s leaders, executives, creatives, students, politicians, entrepreneurs, professionals, and agents of change—these men share the common thread of creating a new normal while setting the bar in tech, art, philanthropy, business, and beyond. The BE Modern Man is making a positive impact, his way, and has a story to tell.
BE MODERN MAN AVERY D. POSEY Jr.
Name: Avery D. Posey Jr.
Profession: Cancer Immunotherapy Researcher
One Word that Describes you: Dedicated
What does being one of the BEMM 100 Men of Distinction mean to you?
It is an honor to be named one of the BEMM 100 Men of Distinction. To me, that honor means I am appreciated for making a path as a black man in a field where few have historically been. I hope that I am able to wield influence and have an impact in the field of cancer therapy and that my example is followed by others like me.
What are some examples of how you have turned struggle into success?
Scientific funding is always a challenge. There are so many great ideas worth testing, but government and foundation money for research is limited and usually goes to those who are more senior and usually already have funding. However, one of the unwritten criteria for advancing to scientific independence for scientific trainees is the ability to acquire funding. I applied to and won a fellowship from the United Negro College Fund that paid part of my salary as a postdoc and gave me the opportunity to travel to an international meeting. There, I met future collaborators in glycobiology, a very niche scientific field, with whom I have since established great research projects.
This initial funding and research helped to secure other grants and collaborations and the experience has helped me gain expertise in the cancer glycobiology field. In fact, I now consult for a couple companies due to this expertise.
What is an important quality you look for in your relationships with others?
I appreciate people who can speak openly about their thoughts and feelings because that quality projects as genuineness. The alternative, those people that seem guarded or emotionless, can project as shady or untrustworthy. When genuine and creative people interact in brainstorming moments, true synergy and innovation can happen.
What are some immediate projects you are working on?
I am currently working with a pharmaceutical company to develop a Phase I clinical trial for certain cancers based on a cell therapy I developed a few years ago. This type of therapy is based on genetic engineering of cells from a patient’s own immune system—a way to re-train our cells to fight cancer. It is a unique experience to observe how laboratory discoveries make their way into human trials and I think this experience will help in designing future experiences.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
“Find out what’s on the back of the envelope.” I was the first member of my family to obtain a Ph.D. and the first researcher in the family (although my paternal grandfather was a high school science teacher). When I was training to become a scientist in graduate school, I found it difficult to connect personally with the faculty because we seemingly didn’t share much in common. As a result, I thought I had no one to help me navigate a path forward for an academic science career and I did not know what I did not know. When I expressed this vulnerability to a trusted adviser, he told me that I was not having the “back of the envelope” conversations, which I learned referred to talk between people with the inside scoop of a field or company. So to address this, I started to ask one question at a time to those superior to my position, learning how they navigated their way. In doing so, I learned the details that were written on the back of the envelope, what was required for the next promotion, and how to negotiate. I’ve also learned how to leverage scientific innovation and become an entrepreneur.
What advice you have for other men who want to make a difference?
For me, education (I obtained a Ph.D., the terminal degree in most fields) and training (I performed a five-year postdoctoral fellowship) was what I needed to acquire to get to a point of scientific independence. This required four years of college, six years of graduate school, five years of postdoctoral work, and additional years of an in-between academic status. At many points in the last 17 years, I considered alternative careers that may have paid more, asked for less, or provided some job security. However, taking any of those opportunities would have been selling out on my dreams and settling for careers I know would not have made me happy. If you know where you want to make a difference, do the work to make yourself the best that you can so that you can thrive when you get the opportunity.
What is your “Extraordinary Impact”?
I care about increasing the representation of people of color in professions that have an impact on our lives and it is a commitment I made as Meyerhoff Scholar at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). I hope to see more black and brown people in my profession with seats at the table and at the laboratory bench. We need scientists of color who are developing, designing, and investigating new therapeutics and contributing their uniqueness to the field. Currently, about 2% of faculty at medical schools in the United States are black or African American and the frequencies of non-physician scientists are even lower. I have attended many scientific meetings domestically and internationally where I was the only black scientist or even the only person of color. As I have run my own laboratory, I have noticed a natural gravitation of students and other trainees of color. At one point this year, scientists with ethnicities that are considered underrepresented in scientific fields made up 66% of the staff in my laboratory. I am proud to provide an enriching and encouraging environment for all scientists and I hope the extraordinary impact I have is helping the representation of scientists of color expand.
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