Austin Gray has to wait until May to start running his own laboratory, but he already knows what it’s like to lead. Gray, an aquatic toxicologist, received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at The Citadel, a military institution in Charleston, South Carolina, where students march with rifles in the courtyard, submit to regular uniform inspections and salute officers.
Gray found his scientific calling in The Citadel’s labs. Outside the lab, he quickly rose through the ranks. By his final year as an undergraduate in 2012, he was named company commander, a position that put him in charge of 105 fellow students. At an institution with deep roots in the US Confederacy, and where the Confederate flag is still on display in the chapel, his rise was both a personal challenge and a sign of change. “I was the second Black company commander in the school’s history,” says Gray, who until last month held a postdoctoral position at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.