Nyeema Harris first went to Africa when she was a young teenager. She traveled with the Philadelphia Zoo to an animal rehabilitation center in Kenya. While she had extreme enthusiasm for animals, she wasn’t aware of her possible career options; she thought she could only choose between being a zookeeper or a veterinarian. All Nyeema had to go on was her desire to “spend as much time learning about wildlife, viewing them in the wild, and helping to make sure nature places existed for them in the future.” And her willingness to jump in and get her hands dirty.

… she thought she could only choose between being a zookeeper or a veterinarian.

During her first trip to Africa Nyeema determined it wouldn’t be her last. She set a goal to return to Africa to conduct field studies and to make sure that Africa was always a part of her life. Nyeema boasts, “

[t]his trip was the most influential experience in laying out my career and confirmed that I could really do something big with all this passion. My eyes widened and now I had a purpose. I no longer felt weird or trapped by being a city girl from Philadelphia or being the only person I knew who had an interest in animals beyond having pets.”

“… I could really do something big with all this passion.”

“Even before the age of 10, I remember looking for frogs and catching lighting bugs, requesting to keep any injured animal I found, watching animal shows and only wanting Zoobooks (or wildlife fact files). Nyeema was also largely inspired and encouraged by her biology teacher mom who would bring home frogs for Nyeema to dissect. Nyeema was also considered one of the “cool kids” at her school; she knew the lyrics to all of the latest rap songs, could “spit” the stats for her favorite sports team or player (hers was Michael Jordan) and could jump double dutch.

Nyeema had some incredible opportunities as a middle school student that helped define her path in biology. Stay tuned for more stories of scientists when they were in middle school.

Nyeema Harris is a Postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research combines biogeography, parasitology, demography, conservation and ecology and she is currently studying the parasites of lemurs in Madagascar and mammal ecology in West Africa. She’s on her way to a new position as the Hoffman Postdoctoral Fellow funded by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Switzerland.