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#STEMStories: Carla, PhD in Cancer Biology, USA

#STEMStories: Carla, PhD in Cancer Biology, USA

1. Introduce yourself, who are you and what do you do?

I am Carla S. Rodriguez-Tirado. I am originally from Puerto Rico, but I currently live in Dallas where I am working on getting my PhD in Cancer Biology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. My research involves finding ways that cancer develops resistance to current therapies available. I spend most of my time in lab running experiments.

2. How did you arrive at this career (or point in your life/work)? Was it always something you know you wanted to do?

Research is not something I always wanted to do. Honestly, I did not really understand what research entailed until my junior year in undergrad. Where I grew up you don’t get exposure to research careers, I thought that if I was interested in science then Med school was the only option for me. It wasn’t until I took the cell biology course in my junior year that I started to become aware of my curiosity towards how cells work and how complex they are. I had a great professor who taught us how different techniques work and that we have so much left to discover. At this point I had already started participating in research in a lab in my undergrad institution, not necessarily because I wanted to do research, but because I thought it would look good on the application for Med school. Through people in the lab I worked in, I learned that there are summer research programs where you would get assigned your own project and work on it full time for 10 weeks. I decided I wanted to try it out and keep my options open. That is how I ended up at NYU for the summer in a great lab and by the end of the summer I was sure I wanted to do research. There are so many unknowns, so much unpredictability that it challenged my intellectual ability way beyond just memorizing stuff for a test. I was lucky that at my undergrad institution (University of Puerto Rico) there were programs that would fund for me to do research and be able to work on my project (the program was Maximizing Access to Research Careers), funded by the NIH. After the experience in the lab back home and another summer program at UTSW I was ready to apply for grad school. I really had no idea that doing research is something I would fall in love with.

3. What about you job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings?

I guess it really depends on the morning. Sometimes I am excited about the experiments that I have planned for the day. Sometimes it’s seeing my lab mates and interacting with them. There are times that I do not feel like working, it might be because I am tired or because I am not feeling motivated. I know it is totally normal to feel this way because sometimes experiments don’t work. I find that taking a moment to yourself and disconnecting from the work is important to feel motivated again. I have to say that I am surrounded by great people who make it easy to stay motivated even in dark days.

4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise you spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a Story?

I always remember to make time for myself and to do stuff that has nothing to do with research. I have recently taken up hiking and meditating and it has really helped with reducing anxiety and stress levels. It used to be going to the beach, but I do not have access to that in Dallas, so I took up hiking to get away from the city. Taking breaks is something that I cannot emphasize enough, it keeps me going and fills me with energy.

5. Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this?

I don’t really have a role model in mind. What I usually recognize in people that I admire is confidence, security, intelligence, independence, being upfront and honest. I am a goal oriented and self-motivated kind of person, so I admire and look up to people who are the same.

6. What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time?

If you don’t do it, it will not happen. You must put in the work, no one will do it for you. Seek advice if you need it, but opportunities most of the time do not fall in your lap you have to go looking for them.

7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM?

Start looking for opportunities to get involved in STEM related fields, you might be surprised at what you find. If you live in an area where there are no opportunities do not despair, it is never too late to start (I started getting involved in research in my junior year of undergrad and I made it to grad school). Participate in summer programs in the area that you are interested, these are great experiences to get a feel for what you want to do. Ask a lot of questions, never stop asking questions and ask for help. This is a demanding career it is important to have people to turn to.

8. How do you measure your success?

This is a really tough question and the honest answer is that I am still figuring it out. The one thing I can say is do not compare yourself to others, everyone is different.

9. Where can we find more about your work?

I am not the most active person on social media, but if you would like to know more feel free to contact me through twitter (CarlaRo95).

10. Are you social? Will you share your twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile or Facebook so that young women can connect with you?

My twitter is CarlaRo95 and you can find me on LinkedIn as Carla Rodriguez Tirado. Please do feel free to reach out. (I do have a facebook, but I do not use it).