Celebrating Black History Month 2019

23rd Oct 2019

We’re celebrating Black History Month 2019 with an interview with neuroscientist Dr Chi Udeh-Momoh.

We know how important it is to hear personal stories of inspiration and overcoming obstacles. Chi is not only inspirational, she’s given us some vital insight into what more we need to do, and need to keep doing, to ensure diversity and equality can grow across neuroscience.


Thank you for agreeing to give us some of your time, Chi! Firstly, what or who first inspired you to think about neuroscience as a potential career?

Rene Descartes of course – with his phenomenal phrase – I think therefore I am! therefore I am!

I have always been fascinated by the brain (incidentally, this is also my husband’s name ????), and, for as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to understand how we think, learn and remember.

I would say that my late father, one of the first computer engineers in Nigeria where I am from, initially fostered my love for science, and encouraged my curiosity to discover more about the brain. I initially planned to study medicine and major in neurology at the University of Manchester (my dad’s alma mater), and when I found out about their highly competitive Masters in Neuroscience programme, it was a no-brainer to apply for this, and I am so thankful that I was successful as that was the start of a very exciting journey.

Did you have any black role models to inspire you about a future in neuroscience?

Absolutely, Benjamin Carson was a big inspiration, and in fact after reading his book, 'Think Big', I realised that I could pursue and succeed in a neuroscience career too, and though I may face prejudice and obstacles because of my colour, I could definitely succeed. I have to also say that this mindset was largely encouraged further by my dad.

Were there any obstacles you’ve personally faced that might be helpful to highlight?

I don’t think there are many black individuals in Western society who have not faced challenges, especially in their career.

Being a woman is quite tough in a male-dominated career like scientific research, where ‘who you know’ is equally as important as ‘what you know’.

I have had to prove my competence over and over; working twice as hard to get a fraction of the acknowledgement or remuneration that a man/ non-coloured person in the same position would get. I am a Christian and must acknowledge that having God on my side has been my strength and backbone through quite significant trying times.

What do you think we can do as a community to encourage and inspire more black students into neuroscience?

I think that there should be more mentoring and support networks available for black students. For example, the neuroscience community could try to establish a quota of internships for these students, who more often than not are from less-privileged backgrounds, and may not have the know-how/resources to obtain one. We also need to do more to promote non-biased access to studentships.

Can you expand on why diversity in neuroscience is personally important to you?

I have been fortunate to attend and present my work at quite a number of conferences and large scientific meetings during my career as a neuroscientist. More often than not, I am usually the only black person, even at international conferences, with thousands of scientists. I would like to see more minority-ethnic scientists at these meetings.

Next, when you look at promotions even within academia, you’d be hard-pressed to find black people with faculty positions. The gender-equality issue is being addressed, but it is also important to acknowledge and address the racial bias as this is also evident.

Finally, who are the black role models – across any field – that you find personally inspiring and why?

There are lots of black scientists, male and even incredible women like Valerie Thomas, Betty Harris, Patricia Bath; and even those from my country, Nigeria like Philip Emeagwali, who have made numerous discoveries, in spite of significant racial bias; some of whom have not been accredited with these discoveries.

I make every effort to mirror their dedication and commitment to creating a better world, and they inspire me on my journey to learn and discover.


About Dr Chi Udeh-Momoh

Dr Chi Udeh-Momoh is a Neuroscientist with affiliations at Imperial College London and University of Bristol. She is co-Investigator and Programme Manager of a large-scale dementia-prevention preclinical cohort study (The Chariot:PRO study) that will follow-up an estimated 1,200 pre-symptomatic-for–AD individuals (up to 4 years), with extensive fluid and imaging biomarkers, neurocognitive and functional explorations.

Having completed a competitive CASE PhD studentship in Neuroscience and Neuroendocrinology at the Translational Brain Sciences department and MRC Centre for Synaptic Plasticity at the University of Bristol, her current research focuses on the brain-immune-endocrine system interplay in the aetiology and pathophysiology of neurocognitive disorders, particularly Alzheimer’s disease. She uses translational research methodologies to address gaps in current understanding of underlying factors involved in manifestation of pathology and resultant presentation of clinical symptoms, primarily in the context of brain and cognitive reserve-related mechanisms.

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