PSA Postdoc Spotlight: Amber M. Davis

This profile originally appeared on the Postdoctoral Scholar Association website.

Amber M. Davis, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral scholar at the UC Davis MIND Institute/Psychiatry department. She is a graduate of Howard University’s Ph.D. Social Work program and started her postdoctoral position at UC Davis in 2019. 

What is your area of professional focus and how important is it? 

Intersectionality with respect to ‘race’ and ‘disability’ captures the scope of my research focus with specific attention given to the impact of these dual factors on health and mental health outcomes. My research prioritization is African Americans who experience disability, with a special emphasis on individuals and families impacted by autism and other related neurodevelopmental disabilities. 

I aim to build knowledge on the colliding and potentially cumulative experiences of racial discrimination and disability-related discrimination in African American young adults' lives and across the adult life course continuum. This is a population that has been traditionally neglected in the field of disability research, including in the field of autism research. I am a staunch critic of the perpetuity of legacies of racism and eugenics in research, and I take ownership of my role in the collective pursuit of undoing the priorities, practices, and ideologies that perpetuate devaluation of minorities across the continuum of research. I am excited to imagine having a hand in increasing the pipeline of minority researchers who are more conscientious about conducting more equitable research across racial-ethnic lines as a priority. The historic times we are in is fuel to my research passion to bear truth and knowledge through the mechanism of research with historically marginalized groups. I anticipate blazing a trail of health/mental health equity promotion through research. My career goal is to conduct innovative research that informs the transformation of policies and practices towards being more socially just. 

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? 

I’m pretty socially motivated so in my spare time. I enjoy keeping in touch with family and friends. I’m inclined to be on the phone with someone I really connect with for 1-2 hours at a time just chopping it up. I also like to explore new areas and explore domestically and internationally. 

During the pandemic I have been spending a lot more time leaning into the history of African Americans to honor the legacy of the quest for liberation. I find it very important to never forget the victories, obstacles and voices of my ancestors. 

I also launched a racial justice book club last year, and it has been powerful to hold space collectively with a multicultural group with the inaugural book being Caste by Isabel Wilkerson and currently we are discussing My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem. 

Why the decision to be a postdoc at UC Davis? 

I decided to move from the East Coast to N. California to become a postdoc at the UC Davis MIND Institute because I am a relatively brave person, and I like to take advantage of new opportunities that may never come way again. I have always wanted to live in California for a stretch, so it was a bit serendipitous to land a postdoc position at UC Davis. I imagined that as a graduate of Howard University I would bring diversity of thought to UC Davis. I also really looked forward to having new experiences for personal growth by being around new people, diversifying my learning experiences and building new collaboration/relationships, all of which were happening according to plan and then [suddenly] COVID-19 hit about 6 months into my 1st year of being a postdoc. Now that was interesting.. to say the least. 

You were inducted into the Yale University Edward Bouchet Honor Society in 2019. Do you want to share your thought about that achievement?

I always feel a deep sense of accomplishment when I reflect on being inducted into the Yale University Edward Bouchet Honor Society in 2019. It was a nice culmination for the last year in my doctoral program and allowed me to see that all my hard work was not in vain and that institutions surely notice those who reflect outstanding scholarly achievement. While I do consider myself to be a tad bit unassuming I think it’s the butterfly in me who goes through all of its iterations of evolution to be the perfect embodiment it is supposed to be.

I resonate with the achievement because the Edward Bouchet Honor Society is a container for African Americans and other inducted scholars to continue the legacy of Black excellence in scholarship, research, leadership, character, service and advocacy. It was especially meaningful since Dr. Edward Bouchet, to whom the society is named in honor of, is recognized as the first African American doctoral recipient in the U.S. (1876).  

What is your ambition for future? 

My next step is to land a tenure-track research scientist position at a R1 university in order to further my career as a minority researcher. I plan to continue to diversify the research agendas within disability research and scholarship. I draw strength from the momentum of the present revolution that begs for reckoning with the atrocities of injustice that have plagued the nation for way too long and look forward to playing my role in the quest for better. 

Do you have any advice or wisdom you would like to share with the graduate and/or undergraduate students? 

Take out sufficient time to discover who you are on a soul level and how to interweave the innate dimensions of yourself that prefer not to be starved such as your natural curiosities and passions. 

It is also a mighty feat to become as competent as possible, early on as a student, in the ability to drown out the noise of others (such as peers, instructors, advisors, etc.). I say this especially because people usually do not take the time [out] to fully understand who you are or what you bring to the world, so don't even expect it is another gem worth sharing. Trust the fire deep within, and if you find yourself lacking a fire from within, do all you can to ignite/reignite the fire within you!

I also believe it is important to cultivate being okay with change. Here is a quote for reflection that can help with that: “One reason people resist change is because they focus on what they have to give up instead of what they have to gain”. -Rick Godwin

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