Tainayah Thomas

Tainayah Thomas is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Health Behavior within the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Her research focuses on improving health care delivery and disease prevention for African Americans, Latinos, and other ethnically diverse populations.

Tainayah Thomasphoto by Megan May
April 17th, 2019

When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I’ve always been interested in science. My mother is an analytical chemist and instilled a joy of science in me from an early age. Right before I entered high school, “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” debuted, and I decided that I wanted to become a forensic pathologist.


“Lower your BG at UNC.”

Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose your field of study.

I attended the University of Miami for my undergraduate studies because they had a Health Science Pre-Forensics major that would prepare me to both apply for medical school and have a criminology background. The summer after my freshman year, I was fortunate enough to intern for a body transport company. We went to crime scenes to transport dead bodies to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation or to the morgue. Although witnessing an autopsy was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had, I soon realized that I did not have the personality to be around the deceased — and, in particular, victims of crimes — on a regular basis. When I returned to school, I met with my advisor to see what other degree options were available, and he suggested that, based on my credits in science and sociology, I should consider public health. I took my first public health course that semester and have never looked back.

Tainayah Thomas

Last summer, Thomas visited the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain.

Tell us about a time you encountered a tricky problem. How did you handle it and what did you learn from it?

For my dissertation, I applied for two different grants and was denied funding for both. I was concerned about how I would accomplish this research. But I used that as an opportunity to refine my research proposals and resubmit the grants — and both were funded! The experience showed me the value of the peer-review process and that perseverance is key.

What are your passions outside of research?

Traveling and finding time to connect with my family and friends. The world is such a beautiful place and traveling allows me to experience that beauty and connect with new cultures. I am also very fortunate to have close family and friends who support and encourage me, share in my successes, and help me problem-solve setbacks.

Women in Science Wednesday highlights UNC researchers at all levels of their careers across dozens of fields. From medicine to mathematics to sociology, women at Carolina excel in research, mentorship, and advocacy.