Michelle Juarez, Ph.D.

Michelle JuarezTell us about your current career position.
I am an Assistant Medical Professor at the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education at City College of New York.  My research on genetic mechanisms of wound repair in the model system Drosophila is supported by the Research Centers at Minority Institutions (RCMI), a grant from the NIH – NIMHD and NCRR.  My teaching responsibilities include courses in Microbiology for B.S., M.D., and Physician Assistant programs.  

What are the key experiences and decisions you made that have helped you reach your current position?
My postdoctoral training in the Institutional Research and Career Development Award (IRACDA), a unique program sponsored by NIH – NIGMS, was instrumental to cultivate my skills in research and teaching.  In addition, attending scientific conferences and professional development workshops helped expand my network of mentors and provided a supportive community.  Exposure to a broad range of professionals with unique career paths was helpful for me to establish my own plan and build the confidence necessary to begin my research career. 

How did you first become interested in science?
Throughout my life, tactile learning methods and problem solving helped me understand my courses.  My learning style was most constructive in Quantitative subjects.  During my undergraduate studies, I was on track to double major in Mathematics and Biology.  However, I was more interested in my science classes because several professors used their specific research topics to introduce concepts in the lecture and lab courses.  

Were there times when you failed at something you felt was critical to your path?  If so, how did you regroup and get back on track?
I have faced academic challenges several times during my career.  Failing an exam or a course was not the end of my scientific career; it gave me perspective on my strengths and weaknesses.  It is tough in a community of perfectionists to admit you are not #1 and ask for help.  But every time I faced a set-back, I maintained my focus and kept my eyes on the prize. My strategy for success combines unrelenting persistence with problem solving skills. 

What advice would you give to young persons from under-represented backgrounds who want to pursue a career in science similar to yours?
It is tough to enter a major that none of your friends are pursuing, but finding a topic that provides you with interesting questions can introduce you to a new world of friends.  It is lonely to leave your family and enter the isolated world of graduate school, but it is also exciting to be given access to the larger scientific community.  Learning how to deal with all situations (the good, the bad, and the ugly) will enable you to build strength beyond your imagination.  If you learn from your mistakes then your future will maintain a positive course.

What are your hobbies?
Walking - give me a liter of water and a good pair of shoes, I will climb any mountain or descend any canyon.  My new home in Manhattan provides a few challenges to my treks, but I am learning to avoid the traffic.  

What was the last book you read?
Black Apollo of Science: The Life of Ernest Everett Just by Kenneth R. Manning.  Learning more about the paths of great scientists helps me appreciate all the opportunities I have been given throughout my career.  Understanding the historical context of research and education in America provides an important perspective from which to continue improving the path for future generations.

Do you have any heroes, heroines, or role models? If so, describe how they have influenced you?
My first scientific role model was my high school Biology teacher. Her enthusiasm for science opened my eyes to the Scientific Method.  She brought a special energy into her classroom and I appreciated her dedication to teaching.  Her specific advice about college and the problems I would face in a large university helped me succeed in a challenging environment.   

What is it that keeps you working hard and studying science every day?
My goal continues to be breaking down complex biological problems into basic questions of gene regulation.  I think of my experiments as pieces of a large puzzle, and I have to use logic to determine how the pieces fit together.  My job as a scientist is a product of the many years of training and support from countless people.  It is a privilege to have the opportunity to work in a profession which fosters a sense of discovery in students and provides them tools for success in their future career. 

For more information about Dr. Juarez or to contact her, go to: http://rcmi.ccny.cuny.edu/dr-juarez/