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#STEMStories: Ester, PhD in Cancer Biology, USA

#STEMStories: Ester, PhD in Cancer Biology, USA

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

My name is Ester Alvarez-Benedicto and I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Obtained my BS in Chemistry from the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras in 2018. I am currently living in Dallas while I get my PhD in Cancer Biology at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

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

I graduated High School without knowing what a PhD was and without any idea science could be a career, let alone that I could be a scientist. I was never exposed to research until my junior year in undergrad. I took the Organic Chemistry course as a sophomore and it was life changing. After this class, I applied to my very first summer research internship and got rejected for lack of experience. So I decided to reach out to as many faculty as I could and got involved in research at my institution during my junior year. The next summer I re-applied for several internships and I got most of them! It was those experiences that convinced me that science could be a career and that I could be a scientist if I was willing to put in the work.

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

It really helps to remind myself that I have the potential to make today better than yesterday, I just have to get up and keep trying.

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

I try to spend some time outside of the lab with my friends, either on a hike, a yoga class or at a restaurant (we are scientists, but also foodies). Sometimes all I need is an afternoon and a chat with a friend to give you perspective and remind you that you are so much more than your doubts.” And I should say: “give me perspective and remind me that I am so much more than my doubts.”

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

My undergraduate mentor, Christian Morales Guzman PhD. He was the graduate student that taught me everything I know, encouraged me to consider a career as a scientist, and believed that I could accomplish anything I wanted.

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

Don’t let fear prevent you from taking a chance. Don’t be afraid of rejections and making mistakes. Apply to all the summer programs, research programs, fellowships, and graduate schools you have in mind and then some more. And more importantly, enjoy every minute of it; it’s the journey not the destination.

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

  1. Get involved in research as soon as you can, either at your home institution or at summer programs.
  2. Present your work at national conferences. It's a great opportunity to learn about science and many universities/companies recruit students/employees.
  3. Apply to anything and everything. It will only increase your chances of getting acceptances and you will gain a lot of experience from the rejections.

8. How do you measure your success?

This one is tricky. I try to compare me to myself from a few months before. It also helps to make a realistic list of goals to accomplish per week, month and semester. I absolutely recommend not comparing yourself to fellow students. It's not a very accurate method since each student and project are completely different. More importantly, it can be very slippery slope into stress and anxiety.

9. Where can we find out more about your work?

The lab I am part of has a website that anyone can check out. I also have a twitter account.

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

Not a social butterfly but definitely approachable! You can contact me through my twitter account or through Linkedin.