Meet Dr. Liselle Joseph, the first woman from the Eastern Caribbean to earn a PhD in aerospace engineering

Features > The Caribbean

By STEM Caribbean | Posted on April 23, 2019

Dr. Liselle Joseph

“You should reflect on your true interests before making any career decisions.” These are words of wisdom shared by Dr. Liselle Joseph, the first woman from the eastern Caribbean to obtain a postdoctoral degree in aerospace engineering; a specialized mechanical engineering field. This type of engineering is arguably one of the most fascinating fields of engineering.

Like many other STEM professionals, Dr. Joseph has had a rewarding journey with challenges and adventures along the way. Her experiences range from leading projects to developing technologies for well-known American companies such as NASA, General Electric, the US Navy, Cummins, and the National Science Foundation. Let’s just say she’s lived the dreams of many budding American scientists and engineers. Although she is from a small island in the Caribbean, she’s made a name for herself globally with her postdoctoral research and making contributions to Fortune 500 companies.

For Dr. Joseph, it was not all about academics. In addition to completing internship programs with large American corporations, she was also a part of clubs and honour societies such as, the National Society of Black Engineers, Tau Beta Pi, Sigma Gamma Tau, and The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. In the midst of her busy schedule, she always found time for volunteering, and continues to do so. She finds great reward and joy in mentoring aspiring engineers, especially women and minority engineers.

As a young girl growing up in Mt. Carmel, then later Marquis, St. Andrew in Grenada, Dr.Joseph always knew she’d eventually pursue an education in the sciences. Excelling at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels in school, she embodied the qualities of an engineer: diligent with a curious mind. Following her passion and curiosity, she obtained bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in aerospace engineering at Virginia Tech. Her numerous awards including 11 CSEC distinctions, 4 CAPE distinctions, Island Scholar, and The Marryshow Cup Award, were all just part of a bigger puzzle. She believes that “essentially, it should never be about the title (degree or job or otherwise) but instead about what interests a person and sparks their curiosity.” Her goal in life is “… to work on exciting and innovative technologies.”

We are always delighted to hear the experiences of Caribbean STEM professionals and students. Below Dr. Joseph describes challenges, rewards, and how she went from being a student at the St. Joseph Convent, Grenville in Grenada, to working as an aerospace engineer for Pratt and Whitney.

When did you first decide that you wanted to become an engineer? What motivated you to make this decision?

Dr. Liselle Joseph

I didn’t decide on engineering until after TAMCC. I always knew I was going to further my education in sciences, in some field related to math and physics (I considered pure physics or math or something) but I hadn’t decided the exact field. Personally, I think that there is a lot of pressure on students to know exactly what they want to do at an early age, and there is subtle pressure to do something that sounds prestigious. Thankfully, being from a country school meant I was not well-known and there were more popular students who got more attention than I did. That meant that I could escape some of that pressure and really seek out what excited me. My philosophy in education (and life) is to follow my curiosity. I was curious about the mechanics of cars and aeroplanes and so I looked into Mechanical engineering and Aerospace engineering. After researching the topics I would learn about in each, I decided on Aerospace. I would love to say that this was some great calling, but it wasn’t. I did my research and went toward what I was interested in spending time learning. I think this approach is so important. Even today, I still follow my curiosity and seek out interesting and challenging problems, then I make decisions based on that. That is how I decided on my MS, PhD and eventually which job offer to accept. If I ever find that I am curious about something else and want to learn something new, then I will change careers. Essentially, it should never be about the title (degree or job or otherwise) but instead about what interests a person and sparks their curiosity. I also resist thetemptation to think about what other people will think about my decisions. For example, “if I quit my degree or change jobs will people think I was not smart enough to succeed? If I take 5 years to finish my degree instead of 3, will people think I am ‘dunce’ or that I am ‘playing bright’ ?” Thoughts like this only hold us back from being our best.

What was a rewarding and fulfilling experience you’ve had along your journey as a young student in Grenada to where you are now?

This is not a simple question. I have had several rewarding experiences in all aspects of my life, and all of these have guided my journey and the person I am today. Academically, I have been honored with several awards and scholarships. These are always nice. However, I most value my working experiences. In graduate school I have been privileged to lead projects for General Electric and other companies, NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Navy. Apart from the excitement I find in developing technologies for these companies and being able to work on very different problems, I feel truly blessed to be in a position where my expertise is very valued. Being a young, black, woman with a Grenadian accent and being in the position of heading teams of engineers from all over the world, is not common. Professionally, I have been privileged to receive mentoring from tenured professors, high level industry executives and multi-millionaire executives. I have found those relationships to be extremely rewarding. Personally, my most rewarding experience has been mentoring younger students, especially minority and women engineers. I have learned so much from so many people so helping younger engineers gives me much joy. I have helped others through graduate school and even find careers.

Women around the world are still a minority in the aerospace engineering field. Why did you choose this field of engineering? What were some of the challenges you’ve faced?

I chose engineering without thinking about these obstacles facing women in STEM. I simply followed my curiosity. I never paid much attention to people who said “girls don’t do this and that” (like one of my TAMCC professors), because I had always done well academically so I wasn’t worried. It wasn’t until after I was in the program that I realized the nuances and subtle challenges women in STEM fields face. Being a woman, but also black and an immigrant in the USA all comes together to make things difficult at times. My challenges have ranged from being assigned to book rooms for my senior design group despite having the highest GPA in the group, to people walking into a meeting and on seeing me assume that I work in HR when the truth is I have a PhD and I am actually the engineer leading the project. Today people make more of an effort to catch their prejudices before they affect me, but when things are said/done that can possibly affect my career and development, I speak up. For example, in that senior design group where I was supposed to just book rooms like a secretary, I ended up leading the aerodynamics team and getting us to a great A+ design. Even today at work, sometimes men talk over me or try to explain my own work to me, and in those cases I just recognize that this is unconscious bias and assert myself. I don’t think I would have gotten this far if I listened to voices other than my own, or if I kept silent.

What professional goals would you like to achieve?

If you asked me this 10 year ago, I would have said I wanted the highest of degrees and a great job in engineering. Today, my goal is just to work on exciting and innovative technologies. That is a bit abstract but that is my true goal. I don’t care about being a CEO or executive or any specific job title or working at a specific company/institution. My life goal is to continue to contribute to the fundamental understanding of aerodynamics in Aerospace Engineering, and shed light on the toughest problems we are facing. In this way, I am not limited, and I have no idea what challenging new technology I will be working on in 10 years, which is exciting!

What do you like to do in your free time?

Free time is limited right now. At the end of the day working at Pratt and Whitney, I work on extra research for Virginia Tech. This is enjoyable because it is really interesting problems. In the little free time I have left, I find outdoor activities for my dog (hiking, swimming etc.), I read non-fiction books on self-development, and I watch documentaries to learn from the experiences of others and from history. I also volunteer when I can and attend church activities. It might sound boring, but I find this lifestyle quite fulfilling because it allows me to develop myself and others. There is nothing more satisfying than becoming a better version of yourself.

How do you balance your career with your everyday life?

In a traditional sense, I do not balance career and everyday life. Since I am young and developing my career, I am investing as much of my time and energy into my career now. I work long hours and volunteer for any extra projects I can. My strategy is to have exponential learning early in my career and develop a good reputation. This way, if I eventually start a family, I will be a in position to slow things down without halting my career growth, which is a serious concern for women. In order to maintain this high paced, successful technical career without getting burned out, I do have a few life philosophies and strategies, some of which are:

1. I wake up very early – 5am or earlier. This gives me time to invest in taking care of myself and my dog before work, rather than having to rush from one thing to another. This, and the quiet of the morning hours, is important in managing stress and maintaining balance when one has a high-pressure career. Waking up early also gives me a head start at work – by the time everyone else arrives I have already done 2 hours of very productive work.

2. I do my best to be fully involved in whatever I am doing. Multi-tasking is good and necessary, but I do my best to focus on one thing at a time, which is important for me since I have so many things happening at once. So, when I am playing with or walking my dog, I focus on that alone. When I am at home, I try not to think about the problem I am working on at work.

3. I surround myself with a good support system, just few good people who share my beliefs and values. These people are honest with me and constantly help me improve myself. Most importantly, they are not the kind of people who engage in petty quarrels, criticize anyone, compare people, and they do not introduce drama into my life.

What advice would you give to young aspiring aerospace engineers from the Caribbean?

Make sure your voice is not drowned out by external “noise.” I have found this idea to be useful in many situations. It is good advice for everyone, but for aspiring engineers it means that:

1. You should reflect on your true interests before making any career decisions. Don’t let everyone’s opinion (“noise”) sway or pressure you into choosing a field of study that is not in linewith what you want (but still listen to sound advice!). In the end it is your career and life, and you are the one who needs to be fulfilled. Success is something you alone can define, because it is different for everyone. In the same way, failure is something you alone can define.

2. Listen to yourself when it comes to your well-being. If you start a program or career andfind that it is not right for you, don’t feel pressured to stay in order to “succeed”. As I said before,resist the temptation to consider what other people will think about your decisions and what the“gossip” will be. Take care of yourself physically and mentally before all else, and do not sacrifice your wellbeing to be “successful”. Give yourself permission to be imperfect and define success for yourself. Unfortunately, I have seen many promising colleagues give up on their careers because of the pressure they put on themselves to be perfect and do what everyone expects of them.

3. When anyone discourages or criticizes you (“noise”) during your studies or beyond, let yourvoice remind you of your purpose and capabilities. As a Caribbean person in a field dominated by Caucasians, you will be criticized or at the very least underestimated. Your voice will give you resilience and persistence in these times.

4. When you start your career, make your intellectual voice heard and be professionally assertive. Most engineers are incredibly intelligent and confident, and so quite a few think they are always right. This means that they can be very vocal when working in teams. Give your opinions and let your voice be heard with authority.

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53 thoughts on “Meet Dr. Liselle Joseph, the first woman from the Eastern Caribbean to earn a PhD in aerospace engineering”

  1. As a Caribbean male reading your story was quite inspirational..
    You determined at an early age your destiny is yours to discover…
    You were disciplined and focus …
    So proud of all your success and accomplishment..
    Keep shining, somewhere in a village in the Caribbean your story will be told..
    Many will be fallowing in your footsteps…
    You are true leader…
    God grace and blessings….

  2. Don’t know you personally but as a Grenadian I am exceedingly proud of you. Congratulations!

  3. Brenda Mauricette

    Congratulations Dr. Liselle Joseph for your achievement in a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering. You are indeed an inspiration to all…

    You heard the external noise, and sound advice, but listened to your heart, as only “you” know your capabilities and potential.

    As you turn the pages of the Great Book of Life, with humility, continue to listen, learn, and follow your instincts…be a beacon to those who come after.
    It has been said: ” if you ‘Love’ what you do, you will never work a day in your life.”

    1. Corine Clara

      Congratulations on your achievement,I am proud of you , this has brought memories of my son Richard who is also a MarryShow cup Winner,Island Scholar ,then went on to sturdy Electronics Engineering and pursued further sturdies along that line .May the Lord continue to bless you in your endeavors.

  4. Nichole Peters-Henriques

    I am so honored and proud to say that I have known Liselle personally and she is honestly sooo down to earth and just a genuinely good person! Keep doing your thing Jungie! ::inside joke:: 😉

    1. Alison Gray-Thomson

      My father was a Caucasian engineer with two PhDs at age 24. Your’s is a challenging , rewarding and all consuming profession. Certainly , your voice will be heard as your story stands out amongst the majority. God Bless you and Bon Chance.

  5. Dr. Jospeh, Grenada and the Eastern Caribbean are very proud of you and your accomplishments. Continue to shine bright and achieve all of your goals! You are an inspiration to many. Your story should be shared in all schools so that it can motivate children and young adults that it is possible if you take your studies seriously. Wishing you continued success.

  6. Congratulations Dr. Joseph. You have inspired me and I’m sure many others here at home to push harder. It helps many of us (who subconsciously are told different) to realise that it is possible!!!! Well done! Keep up the great winning attitude and hard work. May God continue to bless you.

  7. Dr. Dereck Skeete

    Congratulations Dr. Joseph on all that you have accomplished thus far. Your determination, sense of self, dedication and resilience got you this far. Continue to be a bright star in a Caucasian male dominated field. Your village is surely proud of you; we know that this is only the beginning, and the best is yet to come.

  8. Paul R. Graham

    Congratulations Dr. Joseph! At one stage I thought Virginia Tech was hidden in one of the most remote corners of the US. But, I know for sure that the quality of education is second to none; great choice! You have made Grenadians, SJC Grenville and St. Andrews very proud. PRG/VPI&SU – 91

  9. Congratulations, Dr. Joseph! I am sure that God is using your story to inspire and motivate others especially young Grenadian and Caribbean students.

  10. Well done my child you make Grenada look great let us hope there are more God bless from Texas bs

  11. Congrats, Dr. Liselle Joseph

    Kudos to her secondary school teachers and university professors. However, a child’s education does not start there; it starts at home and in kindergarten. A solid foundation creates the platform for students to take off from – as they make the sky the limit.

    I know some very bright children from Mt. Carmel and Marquis so this news brings me joy, but it’s not surprising.
    It does not take rocket science to produce high achieving students like this scientist. The key to success has a lot to do with the support and encouragement children get at an early age.

    The answer to these questions pretty much determined the fate of our hero: What support did she get from home? How involved were her parents and her other folks in helping to nurture her as a child? Where was she first schooled? Who were her first teachers: kindergarten, primary and junior?

  12. Dr. Cheryl Bernabe Bishop

    Congratulations. You are an inspiration to Grenadians . Continue to build capacity . Be lead by God in all your do. His grace is sufficient to carry you through. Stay blessed.

  13. Congratulations Dr. Joseph on your many accomplishments. You’ve made us proud. Continue to be a shining example to people everywhere, especially to the marginalized and disenfranchised. You’ve made your impact with such grace. God’s favor continue to rest on you.

  14. Dr. Winston Phillips

    Dr. Joseph – my Congratulations! Your achievements (and) comments reflect hard work, dedication, and some of the breeze that flows across the sea into LaBaye and surroundings. I look forward to hear about your continued successes. Congratulations also to your parents and family; to SJC (Grenville); to TAMCC; and the other institutions that shaped you. With you Grenada continues to show the fruits of its labor to the Rest of the World.

    1. Congratulation Dr. Joseph your accomplishments have been very inspiring to other young women who might be looking at a similar career. As a Grenadian you make us every proud and show the talent we can produce. God bless you and continue good luck.

  15. Congratulations Dr Joseph. What a blessing you are to this country. Continue to grow ; feeding your curiosity; making this world a better place. I know your parents are proud of you.

  16. Jocelyn Mcsween

    So proud of you Dr Joseph one for being a Grenadian from one of our prestigious schools and for your determination and focus knowing who you are and where your strengths come from I wish you God’s continued blessings as you endeavour to seek what’s best for you and continue to be a beacon to young entrepreneurs trying to find themselves
    Bless to your family who may have inspired you.

  17. Thorne Roberts

    Feeling very proud of Dr. Joseph especially as a Grenadian. Congratulation for such an awesome achievement. Job well done and keep up the good works with God’s blessings.

  18. I am proud of you Phenomenal Woman an example of live and achieve your goals on your own terms. Your curiosity breeds new curiosities- many seeking knowledge of Grenada.

  19. Wendy Crawford-Daniel

    Congrats Doc, so proud of you and thanks for the inspiration. You’re amazing. You make Grenada the the entire Caribbean proud.

  20. Congratulations Dr Joseph, many thanks for making yourself, your parents, and of course Grenada proud, keep up the great works . The sky is the limit.

  21. Glynis Roberts (Senator)

    Dr Joseph. A Convent girl is a Convent girl. I can relate to your journey. Thank you for having such a perspective on life and sharing it. You are a Beacon. Keep on shining. I am a Proud Convent girl from St George’s. Together we can all continue to leave our mark on life’s path. But most lacks that boldness you posess. Keep in shining.

  22. Congratulations, Dr. You are an international star. More poignantly though, you have showcased the Caribbean, blacks everywhere, women everywhere, our little rock, Grenada, La Bay and your family. I am shamefully disappointed though, that there are not more plaudits from my gender.


  23. Oyinda. Ojofeitimi

    My sister called me saying! have you read the article about the Aero Space Engineer from home.Not yet i said. Dr Joseph you are an inspiration to every young woman to follow their dreams. Being from such a small caribbean island has given us an edge. Trust in God and he will continue to bring it to pass. You are so humble, i truly admire you. Blessings.

  24. Congrats to you my lady I see you well into aeronautics. I feel proud of you as a lady and a Caribbean lady at that. As I have been proud of Dr. Been Carson the first black man to separate Siamese twins so I am proud of you as a Kittitian woman. Keep God in the midst always. You are beautiful . Much love from St. Kitts.

  25. Congratulations Dr Joseph I am very proud of your achievements but I am not surprised .I was your chemistry teacher at SJ C Grenville and I knew then that you were destined to do great things.Continue pursuing your goals .God’s blessings and guidance.

  26. Very proud of your achievements, your insite and your eloquence. As a grenadian I gush with pride for you. The example you show and the message you convey is powerful. Continued success

  27. Congratulations to you, Dr. Joseph. I had the pleasure of meeting you a few years ago during your studies to greatness and feel proud of your accomplishments. As a Grenadian and a St. Joseph Convent, Grenville Alumni, I have to express how elated I am of your honored achievements. You are a great example to many, especially Grenada and by extension the Caribbean.
    After reading this article, I can conclude that you have defined the words excellence, professionalism and humility. Continued success.

  28. Happy to see that a determined Grenadian worked hard and earned this prestigious award. Many sons and daughters of Grenada will follow in your footsteps.
    Congratulations Dr. Joseph.Grenada is proud of this achievement. Continue to inspire others.

    1. Dr. Joseph, congratulations on your sterling accomplishments! Hats off to your parents as well. As a teacher and principal, you remind me of the fact that our words and actions affect children for life! Don’t forget to thank the teachers who helped to spark your curiosity and cheered you on! Keep pursuing your path to excellence, deep fulfillment and joy and to the improvement and dignity of the human race. Remain humble but assertive and stay grounded in the values which have helped you to grow and develop into such a remarkable and interesting young woman. May God continue to bless, guide and empower you.
      I’m truly happy and proud of you!

  29. I don’t know this young lady, but I’m proud of her, based on her story, her foundations have been a bedrock for her accomplishments and advancement. According to her, she was not well known but she was well taught and that is a great tribute to the teachers and their due diligence which should be taken into account in the struggle that they are now involved in. Hats off to the teachers, I have been personally involved with them and I know firsthand that the greater majority of teachers in Grenada are focused on the general development of the child rather than just academics. Dr. Joseph I applaud you and my prayer for you is that with Gods help you continue on the path that you are destined to take and fulfill your reason for being on this planet. God bless

  30. As impressive as her contributions have been thus far, I know Dr. Joseph has only begun to impact the world with her designs and her caring. I know we will be hearing her name associated with great discoveries. She is making the world a better place!

  31. ShermaBartholomew

    I am rather impressed and yet humble by reading this inspiration and advice from this young lady. I applause you and your tremendous effort and sacrifice. As a Grenadian myself I am so proud of you. God’s blessings and guidance on this journey of life. I wish one day you will start a family of your own. I know you will be a dedicated wife and Mom.

  32. Cynthia Dumont Blackman

    Wonderful.!!! Congratulations.!!!! Continue to be Focused .What an inspiration to young ones.!!!! .Hope they’ll all take heed and learn from the advice you have given

  33. Utmost respect on your achievements and all the best as you progress in life. Always proud to have a fellow Grenadian making a name for herself.

  34. I am extremely proud of the achievement of this young lady although I am not surprised. C
    ongratulations to her and both parents. Her brother should be smiling. Congratulations to her Alma mater St. Joseph’s Convent Grenville.

    1. As a student of the st Andrew r c I was the only sister of four that didn’t go to the st Joseph. Convent because of my own prejudices I choose to go the st Andrew Anglican secondary because I was curious about knowing the opposite sex. My mother always knew I would have been more academically enclined . I say this to make the point that it is never to late to make goals. You are an inspiration sister Joseph I feel I know you: god bless you and continue your dreams.

    2. Wonderful I feel honered to have attended the same school many years before you did. Well done you should be an inspiration to the youth of Grenada. Congratulations

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