Tangie Thomas, MPH, is vice president of Clinical Trials Operations at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. St. Jude develops more clinical research trials for pediatric cancer than any other children’s hospital and has more than 160 clinical trials in various stages. Thomas oversees the vital clinical trial infrastructure that supports clinical research at St. Jude and its affiliates and collaborators in multi-site clinical research studies.

Thomas—a Black woman—shares how important it was to her as a student to see other Black women in leadership positions, and reflects on the importance of having a trustworthy mentor. This is part of an ongoing series.

Was there a key person who played a key role in your decision to pursue your career?

I attended Vanderbilt University for my undergraduate degree in engineering. During the time that I attended Vanderbilt, there weren’t many African American students enrolled, especially not in engineering. So, the environment was a little challenging, to say the least. One of the best things that happened to me at Vanderbilt was meeting Dr. Carolyn R. Williams, Assistant Dean for Minority Affairs in the School of Engineering. If I remember correctly, she was hired during my sophomore year. Dr. Williams is African American – it was important for me to see and interact with someone like her in a leadership position. She became my mentor, champion, friend, and encourager. Dr. Williams provided the support that I needed at that time and has remained a constant presence in my life for more than 30 years. I can still rely on her for advice as I make career and life decisions.

What have you learned in the last year that helps your work and personal life?

As I’ve spent most of my time working from home during the past year, I have realized again the value of building a strong network that you can rely on when things are difficult. My family and a great network of friends have sustained me. I don’t think that I can ever express how impactful it’s been over the last year during the pandemic and throughout my life.

What do you know now that you wish you had known as a student or early in your career?

There are so many things that I wish I had known as a student or early in my career! Primarily, I wish that I had known how important it is to have a mentor and a champion/advocate. A mentor will help you to navigate career decisions but it’s so important to have a champion or an advocate speak up for you to provide access to opportunities. There have been so many times when someone has championed work that I did in a room to a senior leader and that has led me to a new opportunity.