LaToya Myles, Ph.D., is a leader, a scientist, a mentor, an Educational Partnership Program with Minority Serving Institutions (EPP/MSI) alumna, and a collector of quotes. One day, while relaxing with an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy,” a character said something that she jumped to add to her quote collection: “If you want someone to run a 4-minute mile, you don’t chase them, you don’t give them something to run from. You give them something to run to.” In just two sentences, this quote captured the essence of her leadership style.
Myles was recently promoted to the Director of the Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division (ATDD) of NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory, and looks forward to applying this leadership style, known as servant-leadership, to her work. “You have got to give people a vision, give people that something to run to. You have to be forward-focused and have people you are working with be able to see that vision and pursue it,” said Myles.
The vision that she brings to ATDD is one of interdisciplinary collaboration and robust communication. In particular, she looks forward to advancing the lab’s ongoing work to develop cutting-edge technology to help scientists better understand the atmospheric boundary layer — the lowest layer of the atmosphere that we all live in and breathe every day.
Myles also plans to promote mentorship of young scientists at ATDD, continuing the efforts she has made since first joining the division in 2001 as a fellow in EPP/MSI’s former Graduate Sciences Program. She said that it was particularly important to her to mentor students from groups that are underrepresented in atmospheric sciences. “As a Black woman ... I’m passionate about how to get interested individuals to pursue careers in the field. It is difficult to dream about a career if you don’t see someone doing it, particularly if you don’t see someone with the identity and characteristics that you have in the field.” One of the reasons that mentorship is so important to Myles is because she identifies past mentors as integral for finding success in her career.
One of her mentors introduced her to the EPP/MSI Graduate Sciences Program. The program is significant to Myles, as it was the first time she’d heard of NOAA and its work. The ability to travel and work with top scientists not only helped her develop research skills, but also broadened her horizons. “I had never been involved in a large-scale field study before. It was a special moment for me because it gave me a vision, that ‘run-to moment’ that I talk about,” she said, referencing the quote she collected from “Grey’s Anatomy.” Myles also holds significance for the EPP/MSI program — she was in the first class of Graduate Sciences Program fellows and was the first student supported by EPP/MSI to earn a Ph.D. Those two achievements were only the beginning of several “firsts” for Myles, who is also the first woman and the first Black person to serve as the Director of ATDD in the office’s 73-year history.
When asked what advice she could give to scientists just starting their careers, she drew on these nearly 20 years of experience to provide answers that may just make their way to someone else’s quote collection: “Be open to opportunities, but also seek out opportunities. Don’t be afraid to develop your own path. Early in my career, I realized that I couldn’t have it all, but I could have an abundance of the most important things,” said Myles, who was uncertain at the time between staying near family or moving for career opportunities. “I found a way to grow where I was planted instead of having to transplant myself somewhere else.” Above all, Myles encourages young scientists interested in her career to follow in her footsteps by finding their own path and walking it with confidence.
LaToya Myles, Ph.D. is the Director of the Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division (ATDD) of NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory, and is the first woman and the first Black person to hold this position in the office’s 73-year history.
Myles earned her Ph.D. through the NOAA Environmental Cooperative Science Center, now the Center for Coastal and Marine Ecosystems offsite link, at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida. She conducted research in collaboration with the NOAA Air Resources Laboratory for an interdisciplinary dissertation focusing on atmospheric deposition of pollutants and their impact on ecosystems. Her study had implications for both human and environmental health.
Myles has been recognized for her academic achievements with many scholarships, fellowships, and awards; including the NOAA EPP/MSI Graduate Sciences Program Fellowship and the EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Fellowship. She was recognized as a 2016 Technology All-Star at the 21st Women of Color STEM Conference. She is also a member of the American Geophysical Union and Earth Science Women’s Network.
Upon completion of her dissertation, Myles became a physical scientist in the NOAA ATDD. She was in this role for seven years before being promoted to a supervisory physical scientist for 12 years, and finally took on the role of Director in February 2021. Myles expanded her work on ammonia exchange between the atmosphere and the biosphere using new technology. She credits her training at the nexus of atmospheric and ecosystem science with preparing her to tackle tough environmental problems holistically and work with diverse collaborators who bring different perspectives to the table. Myles has served as a mentor for many NOAA supported students.