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Chemistry student takes unlikely path to Ph.D.

Alan Flurry

Five years ago, Brianna Garcia was getting up at 3 a.m. to report to her job as a corrections officer at a women’s county jail in California. Today she’s several thousand miles away and getting up later while writing her dissertation in chemistry.

The distance between the two experiences is not as wide as one might think, according to Garcia, who will graduate with a Ph.D. in May.

“I don’t think anyone who has known my past would ever think that this is what I would be doing, but it’s been fantastic,” she said. “You don’t have to fit a mold or be a certain type of person to be a scientist.”

From an early age, Garcia was interested in law enforcement. Growing up in La Verne, California, her uncle was deputy chief for the nearby Pasadena police department, and she had family members in the military. She also shared her mother’s love of true crime, which led to a fascination with forensics. During high school she joined the L.A. County Sheriff’s Explorers program, volunteering on weekends at the local sheriff’s station.

At the same time, Garcia was excelling in school, graduating at 16 and enrolling at a junior college. She wanted to pursue an undergraduate degree in chemistry—preparing for a potential career in forensics—but didn’t qualify for financial aid. So she turned to law enforcement, becoming a corrections officer at Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood, a women’s facility in the L.A. County system.

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Image: Brianna Garcia (Photo by Amy Ware)

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