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July Research Spotlight on Alex Paradez, Ph.D.

Alex ParadezTell us about your current career position.
I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Washington.

What are the key experiences and decisions you made that have helped you reach your current position?
It is a little embarrassing to admit, but I have always taken baby steps.  I have an A.S., B.S., M.S., and a Ph.D.  I started my education at the College of the Sequoias, a community college.  I had the privilege to have had several great instructors; each saw something unique in me and encouraged me to pursue my interests.  After my community college experience, I transferred to UCSD and ended up in an integrated B.S./M.S. program with Raffi Aroian as my advisor.  Initially, I wanted to go to medical school, but my experience in Raffi’s lab led me to apply for graduate school instead of medical school.

How did you first become interested in science?
I have always been curious and, for as long as I can remember, I have been interested in science. As a kid, I took things apart to see how they worked. This resulted in breaking stuff that was working well, very much like a forward genetic screen. 

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 tried to get a paid position in a lab washing dishes and making basic solutions, but I failed the interview when I could not explain how to make a buffer.  Even though I think it is a great interview question, I never ask others this due to my failure to answer it correctly. Instead, it is the first thing I teach undergraduates.  Eventually, I bribed my genetics professor with a six-pack of homebrew and he gave me an undergraduate project to pursue in his lab.

What advice would you give to young persons from under-represented backgrounds who want to pursue a career in science similar to yours?
While students coming from under-represented backgrounds are less likely to be familiar with the scientific community and what is involved in related careers, there are many opportunities that provide exposure.  One’s motivation is most important, along with having some sense of one’s interests, and performing well in related coursework.  If you don’t do well in math and science, it is unlikely anyone will take you seriously, since there are plenty of others who will have put in the time and effort.  Seek out opportunities and persevere until you land something.

What are your hobbies?
Every researcher has had the experience of working for weeks with nothing to show for their efforts.  My hobbies are all very practical and have to do with making things I can consume or share with friends.  A scientific background is also very useful for this; I make wine, smoked sausage, and I brew beer.  I am most involved in winemaking.  Half of my two-car garage is filled with equipment. I consistently produce over 1,000 bottles of wine per year. 

What was the last book you read?
I am a huge fan of fantasy, and the last book I read was Patrick Rothfuss’s The Wise Man's Fear

Do you have any heroes, heroines, or role models? If so, describe how they have influenced you?
I have a great deal of respect for my Ph.D. advisor Chris Somerville and my postdoctoral advisor Zac Cande.  In their own way, they each make running successful research labs look easy.  I am not there yet!

What is it that keeps you working hard and studying science every day?
I am addicted to discovery.  In the course of experiments, there is this moment when you discover something that nobody else in the world knows but you.  How cool is that!     

To learn more about Dr. Paradez, go to: www.biology.washington.edu/users/aparedez