Tell us about your current career position.
Presently, I am an associate professor and vice-chair of the Neurobiology Section of the Division of Biological Sciences at the University of California, San Diego, where I have run an active neuroscience research lab for approximately 12 years. During this time, I have trained several graduate students, postdocs and undergraduates. In addition, I am the Associate Director of the Neuroscience Graduate Program here at UC San Diego. I have also recently taken on a newly-established role as the Director of Mentorship and Diversity for the Division of Biological Sciences.
What are the key experiences and decisions you made that have helped you reach your current position?
Foremost, establishing fantastic mentor-mentee relationships with my graduate and post-graduate advisers were fundamental to my success as a neuroscientist. I gained my passion for science and learned how to think like a scientist in part through the relationships I had with my advisers and other mentors. Coming from a disadvantaged background as a youth, my decision to take advantage of the far and few opportunities that I was presented with turned out to be a crucial part of my trajectory in science.
How did you first become interested in science?
I had always had some interest in science and medicine during my adolescence. Unexpectedly, it would be a position washing dishware in a laboratory during my sophomore year at Berkeley that presented me with my first opportunity to do real science. I was always curious and willing to learn, so I quickly moved from a dish washer to an undergraduate research assistant. However, I knew that science was going to be a career for me after my undergraduate and master’s program at UC San Francisco, where I completely immersed myself in scientific research.
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?
Yes, indeed. I had a poor undergraduate academic record. However, the Research Training Program at UC San Francisco, a terminal master’s program to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in science, would be the turning point for me. After finishing my master’s program, I matriculated to Harvard University and was well on my way to the career I now have in science.
What advice would you give to young persons from under-represented backgrounds who want to pursue a career in science similar to yours?
Find your passion and be bold! Gain access to great mentors. Never be afraid to advocate for yourself.
What are your hobbies?
Deep sea fishing, snowboarding and DJing music.
What was the last book you read?
The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey.
Do you have any heroes, heroines, or role models? If so, describe how they have influenced you?
My mother. She had me at a very young age and died at a very young age, but she instilled in me a love and respect for learning and education.
What is it that keeps you working hard and studying science every day?
Science is like a treasure hunt. I love the fact that we are continuously learning new things every day. In many cases dismantling old thoughts and hypothesis because of the technological advances in science. Importantly, science is one of the few things that allows us to reach beyond ourselves and inspire others. I love training young scientists, and I love giving back to my community by sharing knowledge and giving inspiration to learn and grow.