Who are you?
Before college, I went my whole life to school in Mexico. This was a decision taken by my parents, as they wanted me to be bilingual in English and Spanish, and also understand both Mexican and American culture which are both parts of my heritage. This an experience I highly value and will forever be part of my identity. I first started my undergraduate studies as a Mass Communication major at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV). I wanted to become a journalist, as I was intrigued by the idea of doing research, meeting experts in different fields and pursue the answer to unanswered questions. Yet, my decision to enroll in general biology classes rekindled my childhood love for science prompting me to change my major to Biology with a minor in Biochemistry.
As an undergrad I was introduced to scientific inquiry by working in a research project focusing in mitochondrial structural dynamics at my home institution and by participating in the Undergraduate Research Program hosted by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. After these experiences I decided to continue my scientific training and started my PhD in Molecular & Integrative Physiology at the University of Michigan. This has been a perfect fit as the faculty and students in the department are an invaluable support network, here I am both encouraged and challenged every day to become an independent scientist and scholar.
What was the biggest thing you learned in 2017?
The biggest thing that I learned in 2017 is that making decisions is hard. I started my PhD right after finishing my undergrad and moved away from home for the first time in my life (and many miles away from it!). Although my program was extremely supportive and I enjoyed the collaborative environment, missing my family was a big challenge. Yet my family understands my love for research, through prayer and their unconditional love and support I have made it through my first year of grad school, becoming a PhD candidate this summer.
As the time came to choose a thesis lab, I faced another decision making process. I joined a lab because I respected and admired the work of the Principal Investigator and thought I wanted to pursue a “classical” training in biochemistry and molecular biology. Yet, not long after joining I realized it wasn’t a good fit. 6 months after making a decision, I realized I craved for other scientific perspectives I had been exposed to during my rotations, in which computational modeling was used along with the study of biochemistry to integrate complex problems and put the Physiology “big picture” together. As I respected and esteemed my lab’s Principal Investigator this was a difficult reality to face. After taking counsel and thoughtful consideration, I eventually decided to switch labs. I was graciously welcomed to the Daniel Beard lab, which will provide the infrastructure and direction required to pursue my thesis work combining both classical biochemistry techniques with computational modeling. My thesis will focus in understanding the metabolic and mechanic aspects of heart failure in a physiological context, and potentially yield new therapeutic targets associated with the mechanical/metabolic axis in this disease!
What is your dream?
Eventually, I plan to go back to my RGV community, and train the next generation of scientists. It is my wish to create an environment in which future generations of scientists regardless of their gender or cultural background feel welcome to discover the exciting world of STEM fields, providing the support and infrastructure they need for their development. I aim to become an active contributor to science, bringing new light in the understanding of biological molecular mechanisms while integrating them in the “big picture” perspective of physiology. I want to encourage future generations to continue the pursuit of objective scientific inquiry combining my love for science, research, and serving others.
What do you advise someone in their 20's?
Well I started my PhD just before turning 22 and a year later it’s still pretty early in my 20’s, so I will try my best and sincerely wish this advice is useful to other young women: Yes, you are young and you may not have as much experience as others more advanced in your career path. And yet, cherish and protect as much as you can the joy in you, the passion that has carried you to choose your path. I feel science and business alike are known as “survival of the fittest” career paths where kindness and compassion are often underestimated. I decided I didn’t want to only “survive”, I wanted to thrive. For us to thrive we need to be in an environment where yes, you can learn from the experts but also encourages growth, where you can be yourself! Decision making is hard and if you decide to change your mind, that’s ok because now you’ve acquired valuable experience: It’s the only way to learn!
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