When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I wanted to be a teacher. I would spend hours playing school with my dolls and stuffed animals. When I was 9, I saw a TV show about teenage runaway girls that made me worry about where they would live and what would keep them safe. I drew a model care program in a two-story building where the teens could have a safe place to live upstairs and then downstairs was a restaurant with an arcade where the teens could work during the day. I always knew I wanted to help women.
Describe your research in five words.
“Helping women and children thrive.”
Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose research as a career path.
My mother taught in a classroom where she helped children with special needs. On days I did not have school, I volunteered there. Seeing children who had disabilities as a result of prenatal exposure to violence and toxins made me want to understand how I could help moms be healthier during pregnancy, and how I could help the children live up to their full potential. I learned about the scientific method in Montessori school and realized that there were ways to pose and answer questions in a systematic way that could help people.
What’s an interesting thing that’s happened during your research?
When I was a newly minted faculty member at Johns Hopkins University, I worked with a young woman who was pregnant and continuing to inject heroin in spite of her opioid treatment medication. When I spoke to her about her continued use of heroin she said: “Dr. Jones, I don’t even feel the heroin, but I have to inject because my boyfriend won’t inject alone.” I realized that if I could get their partners into treatment, I could, in turn, improve the drug abstinence and overall well-being of these women.
I had another encounter with a pregnant woman who was in treatment for cocaine use disorder. She asked: “Dr. Jones, why does everyone see everything I am doing wrong, but nobody except you sees the things I am doing right?” That moment told me I needed to examine the role of positive reinforcement in initiating and sustaining drug abstinence and other recovery behaviors.
What advice would you give to up-and-coming female researchers in your field?
Take calculated risks that stretch you out of your comfort zone. Don’t give up no matter what people say to you or about you. What distinguishes the good from the great is often the extent that one is willing to persevere and stand up for an idea and themselves. People may forget what you say but they will remember how you make them feel. Thus, when you have to have critical and uncomfortable conversations, create emotional safety first before launching into the issue to be resolved. A focus on gratitude and daily positive affirmations leads to amazing feelings of happiness and radiates in all dimensions in your life. For example, every day I challenge you to look I the mirror and tell yourself with conviction, “I am enough.” One day you will believe it because you are!