Above: Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon stands beside Carmel Annette Martin-Fairey, who is doing some exceptional research in the neuroscience world.
By Deborah M. Walker
Carmel Annette Martin-Fairey, Behavioral Neuroscience research student at Michigan State University, always knew she wanted to be a Veterinarian what she didn’t know was her love for animals would lead to new advances in neuroscience research and development.
Martin-Fairey got her start in the south she says. Deciding to combine a great college experience with a historical appeal Martin-Fairey chose to start her college career at the prestigious Tuskegee University.
“Initially I wanted to be a veterinarian so Tuskegee was at that time one of the only historically black universities that had a vet school in house,” Martin-Fairey said.
Tuskegee was an amazing experience says Martin-Fairey. According to Martin Fairey being in a predominantly African American environment was not a challenge, however the differences between the North and South was a major culture shock.
“My mom passed when I was 16 and so I ended up moving to [Washington] D.C and I finished out high school in D.C. I was used to being around a lot of African Americans but never the North, South thing that was huge for me,” Martin-Fairey said.
Pursuing her love for animals Martin-Fairey pursued Animal and Poultry science while at Tuskegee University in Alabama. After her studies were completed Martin-Fairey still knew she wanted to be a veterinarian although she wanted to be specific as to the type of veterinarian she wanted to become.
Veterinarian school was very competitive so it was important to start out knowing which field to pursue informed Martin-Fairey. Being specific can lead to more scholarships etc.
Because of this Martin-Fairey decided to take a year off veterinarian school. According to Martin-Fairey she was able to land a job as a plant manager for Carrols’s Food, a huge company that owned many farms.
Martin-Fairey says the job at Carrols’s Food was a great opportunity for her. There was a huge demand for industrial animal veterinarians and Carrols’s Food was a chance to try it out first hand. Unfortunately the job was not a perfect match.
“I was very unhappy with it,” said Martin-Fairey. “It was something where I felt like I learned everything I would need to know in 10 years in the first 6 months. And so I felt like I don’t want to do this over and over again. I want something more challenging, more exciting, less mundane.”
After her year long experience at Carrols’s Food Martin-Fairey says she got a job teaching high school at East and West Columbus High School in North Carolina for one semester. Martin-Fairy smiled as she remembered her teaching experience. According to Martin-Fairey she enjoyed the career change but decided working with animals was her first love. Martin-Fairey decided not to return to teaching. While looking for employment Martin-Fairey found a new calling.
“Here I was actually very happy teaching and realized if I didn’t leave to pursue my dream I would probably have regrets, but felt I could do this the rest of my life, teach. In retrospect it’s what I will be doing,” said Martin-Fairey.
“In the process of looking for jobs I found a job at North Carolina State University (NCSU) where I could be a research technician. I could use all of the skills that I had learned from undergrad animal husbandry and build on those skills and further the techniques,” said Martin-Fairey.
Martin-Fairey says she loved the challenges she faced while working for NCSU as a research technician. According to Martin-Fairey there were always new questions and this kept her intrigued.
Martin-Fairey says she was approached by her boss at NCSU, Dr. Brenda Alston-Mills. She told her to think about getting a graduate degree recalls Martin-Fairey. Martin-Fairey followed her advice and applied for graduate school.
“Graduate students were coming in and out of the lab that I was working in, getting degrees, and I thought yeah I guess so… this is essentially the same thing there’s just no class work,” Martin-Fairey said.
Martin-Fairey says to stay persistent. The first time she applied to graduate school she was denied but she did not give up. A year later she applied again and was accepted into two programs, Nutrition and Zoology.
She took an educational leave from her job at NCSU to pursue a Master’s degree at NCSU. Martin-Fairey kept busy during her time off she stated. While studying for the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) Martin-Fairey obtained a co-op from Glaxo Smith Kline as an intern scientist.
“I was actually able to take my classes and get grades that made me competitive for a lot of external types of funding,” said Martin-Fairey.
While pursuing her Master’s degree Martin-Fairey made a discovery that would alter the course of her career. Martin-Fairey began to look at milk protein and how it affected mammary glands she informed.
“What we found was the milk protein actually changed the development of the mammary gland. So if you give it [milk protein] between weaning, right after the pup comes off the mother up until the time they should be going into puberty, you can actually change the morphology of the mammary gland,” said Martin-Fairey.
Martin-Fairy was excited as she thought back to that monumental moment. Martin-Fairey began to question how the protein was affecting different organs in the body. According to Martin-Fairey animals who received the protein were prematurely sexually active.
“It made me not so much think of the body and it’s physiology but now I’m thinking about the brain and this diet changing behavior,” said Martin-Fairey.
Martin-Fairey says she began to wonder if this same concept could be applied to young girls.
“If we could change the diet of young girls then they would be less susceptible to breast cancer. That’s something that’s free that’s not high cost medication it’s not something over processed. Everyone could have access to this,” said Martin-Fairey.
According to Martin-Fairey this discovery led Martin-Fairey to ask more questions about the brain and the way it develops. After talking to advisors, fellow students and people on her committee Martin-Fairey says she realized neuroscience was the answer.
Martin-Fairey says she did not know a lot about the brain at the time. More classes would be needed if neuroscience was to be pursued.
“Neuroscience had never been a thought,” said Martin-Fairey. I thought it was cool, the brain is cool, but it wasn’t anything that I had a direct link. But now that we had made this change in the brains of these animals then I wanted to investigate.”
Martin-Fairey graduated from NCSU with a Master’s degree in Zoology. From there she went on to pursue a Ph.D. in Behavioral Neuroscience from Michigan State University (MSU) informed Martin-Fairey.
Martin-Fairey has now established candidacy at MSU; that is she completed the necessary program requirements to present her dissertation says Martin-Fairey. Martin-Fairey will defend her dissertation on August 1, 2014.
Preparing for the dissertation was less stressful thanks to the King Chavez Parks Dissertation Completion Scholarship Martin-Fairey says. The scholarship is a state-wide competition and Martin-Fairey is happy to have won she adds.
“I got a dissertation completion fellowship that paid for everything this year so I don’t have to teach in order to pay for anything. I can just focus in on writing my dissertation and finishing my dissertation work,” said Martin-Fairey.
Those who receive the scholarship are bound contractually to teach at a university says Martin-Fairey. She has now been offered three post-doctoral positions to establish her own line of research at the Sophie Davis School for Biomedical Education, The City College of New York department of Physiology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience and Georgia Regents University she informed. Martin-Fairey says she will chose from one of the positions which she plans on working for two years.
After working her post-doctoral position Martin-Fairey plans to obtain a tenure track position at a research intensive university. This position will put her on tract to a tenure position where she will be a professor and have a research lab informed Martin-Fairey.
Martin-Fairey says she is eager to make a difference in the neuroscience world. According to Martin-Fairey’s her research is a hot topic amongst neuroscientists. Martin-Fairey was made an honorary neuroscholar fellow for the Society of Neuroscience. Martin-Fairey says she is excited about her achievements.
Not only has Martin-Fairey given to the science world she has given back to her community as well she adds.
“My mom has always impressed upon me to be a part of every community you’re a part of,” said Martin-Fairey.
Since her husband Donta Fairey was a Mason, Martin-Fairey decided to join his sister organization Order of the Eastern star informed Martin-Fairey. She also joined Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) and Daughter of Isis.
“All of these organizations, Order of the Eastern Star, Daughter of Isis and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated all give back to the community in various levels and different ways,” said Martin-Fairey.
Martin-Fairey says she has done volunteer work on her own but working as part of a group is more fulfilling. The support and sisterhood she receives from these organization are well worth the time and effort she puts in.
“Being involved in the community has always been very important to me as far as not only giving to the needy and things like that but mentorship, tutoring and giving back to people I don’t see every day on campus,” said Martin-Fairey.
“If I’m ever feeling disillusioned or if it’s too much today I have 40 or 50 women very easily who would yank me by the shoulder and tell me no that’s not the case you can do it today was just a hard day,” said Martin Fairey.
Martin-Fairey says these organizations are always hosting events that highlight positivity in the community. This year the AKA’s will be hosting ‘Senior Salute’ which honors graduating seniors in the area informed Martin-Fairey.
“You hear on the news all of the bad things that are happening to our youth but you rarely get a chance to have the youth that are really doing things get showcased,” said Martin-Fairey.
“You wouldn’t think that the children in Lansing are striving but they are,” says Martin-Fairey.
Anyone can achieve their dreams says Martin-Fairey. Hardwork and determination are the first steps to getting there she adds. There may be limitations but a good support system can help clear the path. Stay focused and don’t give up Martin-Fairey advises.
“Finding a good support system is very important rather they are in the field you want to be in or not. Being persistent is important because if I would have given up when they first denied me I’d never be in a PH.D position,” said Martin Fairey.
This was originally printed in the July 27, 2014 - August 9, 2014