(BS ’12 Winston-Salem State, MS ’15 LSU and PhD ’17 LSU)
Specialty Beauty Scientist, Neostrata, Princeton, NJ
Ashley Taylor was born in Queens, New York. Her parents studied computer engineering (father) and nursing (mother). When Ashley was 10 years old, they moved to Piscataway, New Jersey, for her father’s job with Colgate R&D. Growing up, Ashley and her brother were introduced to science fairs, science museums, science books, computer programs and virtually anything science related. Looking back, Ashley says, “I really thought I would become an astronomer and a chemist in a beauty lab.” With her parents’ vocational focus, they figured she would become a healthcare professional or an engineer. She came to realize that “astronomy was more than pretty pictures,” but through twists and turns has recently achieved her ambition of being a scientist in the beauty field.
Math wasn’t Ashley’s favorite subject in high school and a less-than-supportive chemistry teacher told Mrs Taylor that her daughter wouldn’t make a strong science student. Hurt, because she loved chemistry, and determined, Ashley applied to colleges as a chemistry major. During her junior year in high school she became acquainted with the New Horizons program through Mr Morris Lucky and Mrs Pamela Travis. With their support, she went on a tour of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the south. Winston-Salem State University, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, became her top choice. During her freshman year at Winston-Salem, Ashley had a work-study job in the chemistry office. One day, an assistant professor asked her why she wasn’t working in a research lab and began recruiting her to help him start his research group. That young faculty member was Sayo Fakayode (LSU postdoc, Warner Group, 2004-07, now Professor of Chemistry and Head of the Department of Physical Sciences at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith). Ashley recalls that “as a research student in his group, he supported me at every step.” She graduated with her bachelors degree in May 2012.
In considering the next step in her education, Ashley says that “Professor Warner came to Winston-Salem State University to recruit me …I was in awe of his story and could not decline this opportunity.” She began the PhD program at LSU in August of 2012. In Spring 2013 she joined Dr Donghui Zhang’s group and inherited a project on which she foundered, not able to make things work. She became disheartened and lost confidence. In the summer of 2014, in a frank conversation with Zhang, they both admitted that things weren’t working out. At some point, Ashley realized that she wasn’t really interested or suited to the work in biopolymers but that if she changed areas, she might once again become a productive and successful researcher. Dr Zhang explained that there were lots of options and encouraged her to complete an MS degree. Remembering the Fall of 2014, Ashley says, “Although devastated and confused about my next steps, I hustled by interviewing other research advisors, applying to jobs, and completed my master’s degree in a single semester.” She earned her MS degree and recommenced the PhD program under the direction of Dr Jayne Garno. This turning point made Ashley feel like “the informal spokesperson for [changing research groups/gears successfully] because everyone was wondering how I did it!”
Progress toward her PhD remained challenging. “I had to fight hard to ensure that I was still on task to graduate by developing my own projects and collaborations. Graduate school was hard mentally and physically.” Along the way, she acknowledges support from a number of faculty other than her formal mentors – Isiah Warner, Carol Taylor, Zakiya Wilson, Gloria Thomas, Kenya Messer and Dereck Rovaris. She is also thankful to Kenneth Miles and Brandon Smith. She says of this group, “they really understood how much it meant to me to obtain my doctoral degree and did everything they could do to support my goals.” Peer support is also very important and Ashley is appreciative of her “Tiger family and colleagues” - Jessica Simpson, Rashanique Quarels, Kristina Lacey, Tyrslai Williams and Neepa Kuruppu. “They played a big role in making sure I took care of myself mentally and physically. My extracurricular organizations such as the LSU chapter of NOBCChE and the LSU chapter of BGPSA were definitely a big help in confirming that I was at LSU for a reason.” Personal relationships are tested during tough times; Ashley reports that her fiancé, Michael Jackson, is an “honorary” LSU graduate because “he was there every step of the way.” Michael was her study buddy when it came to exams and presentations.
In 2016-7, in lieu of TA duties, Ashley worked with Carol Taylor, to interview alumni (specifically PhD graduates) and draft the early profiles that you see her on this spotlight page. One of the research collaborations that Ashley initiated was between Professors Garno and Vicente, enabling her to publish a paper and write her dissertation titled, “Nanopatterns of zinc phthalocyanines, gold nanoparticles, and porphyrins prepared using particle lithography: characterization of patterning steps with scanning probe microscopy.” She successfully defended her dissertation and graduated in December 2017. If she had her time at LSU again, she says she would have started out in a research area that was better suited to her interests and talents. In terms of advice to current graduate students, she urges them to have conversations with prospective research advisors about “REAL LIFE questions as they apply to your livelihood and YOUR FUTURE.” You’re going to be in the graduate program for about five years, “so I would advise you to make it one that allows you to contribute to science and stimulate your mind.” She survived several trials and tribulations and says she has learned how to face and resolve difficult situations in a productive way.
Following graduation, Ashley concludes that, “your next step is determined based on experience, skill sets, and who you know.” She did not land a permanent position directly out of graduate school. She began with Neostrata as a lab technician contractor. Neostrata is a division of Johnson & Johnson that specializes in the development of skincare formulas, including Exuviance, and RoC. She worked on some projects and got some formulas approved. She must have done something right because she is now a bonafide, full time Specialty Beauty Scientist with the company. On a day-to-day basis, she works on formulations for production, establishing manufacturing procedures, from the lab to pilot scale. Her job involves liaising with other scientists, including microbiologists, and staff in departments that deal with clinical and regulatory affairs to others concerned with packaging, marketing and technology transfer.