Jacob Barrett, a second-year Ph.D. student in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department, shares a little bit about his upbringing, his research, and lessons we can all learn from his mentor, Batman. Jacob, a native of Los Angeles, earned a B.A. in Chemistry with distinction from Sonoma State University. He grew up with his mother, Tranita Barrett, his father, Barry Katz, and Renee Green, his older sister.
Is there any particular event(s) that had a big impact or influence on you?
A particular event I wouldn't say, but I really love museums. One of them in particular is the La Brea Tar Pits, which I try to go to every time I am in Los Angeles. It's an exhibit of extinct mammals that have been dug up from bitumen, which is a natural asphalt pit. I was excited to go there. I thought that one day I was going to be a paleontologist, but it also sort of contributed to my interest in animal life and earth's natural cycles.
Tell us a little about your research and what you plan to achieve with that.
Basically, what I try and do is use a catalyst to convert wood into chemicals. Traditionally, these chemicals are derived from petroleum. The overarching goal of my research is to replace specific petrochemicals. The ones that I look at are high-value aromatic compounds. I would like to found a company based on garbage collection and utilization. Instead of throwing our waste into a landfill, we can find different ways to transform it into something useful. Specifically, I want to take green waste and make it into fuels and chemicals instead of just composting it, which is what most garbage collection agencies do now.
What do you wish you had known before you started grad school?
I wish I had known how easily you can burn out. I understand now that your mental and emotional health is so important for your success in grad school.
What has been a source of motivation for you in graduate studies?
The way it was explained to me by my undergraduate advisor Dr. Carmen Works, she really had a good impression on me, was that "you get to choose what you do." I really liked that aspect of it. The more education you get, the more freedom you have in what you do with the rest of you life. I kind of liked that, and that's what really drew me towards coming to graduate school versus going and working as a lab technician.
What keeps you going now that you are in graduate school?
Well, definitely the friends that I have made here keep me going. I mean the first person I got to know well was Emre Discekici, a fellow grad student. My girlfriend Sabrina is immensely important to me. And my roommate Jordan is also really important. I live with a group of people, Michael and Sam, who are also in the Chemistry Department and we can just unwind together and we are not all stressed all the time.
Who are your hero(oes) and/or mentors and why?
He probably does not know who I am because he only met me once, Harry Gray is a professor at Cal Tech. I met him during a poster session for a conference. He was talking to me about my research, and I was answering his questions and discussing different experiments that he thought I should try. Basically, he was like "so you are going to apply to grad school, right?" I told him I was thinking about it, but I didn't have the grades for that. He told me that I should apply to grad school, for sure. Coming from the keynote speaker of a conference, that was just really inspiring, and so I feel like he is one of my heroes.
I would really like to be like my undergrad advisor because she was such a good mentor. We do have a professional relationship, but she also has been good at managing a friendship with me. So, I really try to emulate her as a mentor with students that I work with.
You do know that my other hero is Batman? Well, Batman has completely dedicated himself to an idea, and, especially in some of the comics, he comes to a point where he realizes that what he was working on was not enough and he take it a step further. Basically, Batman's dedication is what inspires me about him the most. Batman does not let physical or mental boundaries affect him, and I wish I was capable of that.
Name an accomplishment you are most proud of and why.
When I was in undergrad, I was part of Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation(LSAMP). Sonoma State does not have a very large minority population, so I ended up being one of the first students selected to go on one of the study abroad programs. It was a CSU-wide thing, and I went to Costa Rica for a summer project. After I graduated, I found out that they had nominated me for the PROUD Award, which is a CSU-wide award. You get selected from the different CSU campuses to be in this program. It was really cool. Still talking to Dr. Sam Brannen, my scholarship advisor from LSAMP, and talking to my academic advisor as well, it's crazy to see just how much they appreciated what I was doing and really I was appreciating them for giving me all these opportunities. It was a really nice symbiotic relationship between us.
What do you do to relax? Favorite places?
I really like going to the beach and looking out at the ocean. I enjoy walking in nature. Going on hikes. I enjoy playing sports. Noodle City is by far my favorite place here. I really like Wildcat.
What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
Most people don't know that I had a Bar Mitzvah and that I am Jewish. My mother is Creole and my father is an all-American Jewish man. To appreciate what's it like to be Black and Jewish, see video below.
What do you hope to be doing 5 or 10 years out of graduate school?
In five years, I hope to be running my own garbage and recycling company. Ten years from now? I am not sure. I really do enjoy teaching, so it might be nice at some point to be a professor. I definitely want to own a home and maybe have some kids.
Do you have any advice for current graduate students?
You can find research that you like, but do you get along with your advisor and do you get along with the people in your group? If you can't do those things, then you are going to have a miserable time.