February 2012

Research Spotlight: Alberto I. Roca

Tell us about your current career position. 

During my postdoctoral training as a biochemist, I started volunteer activities to help underrepresented postdocs. My activities began at conferences of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science. While I saw that there were many support systems for minority students, there was none specifically for postdocs. I founded the SACNAS Postdoc Committee and co-founded the Diversity Committee of the National Postdoctoral Association with Dr. Arti Patel. In 2004, a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation allowed me to organize the Minority Postdoc Summit and to create the Web portal MinorityPostdoc.org. Since 2010, I have been working full time as a diversity consultant, helping graduate students transition to postdoc training and helping grads (and) postdocs find professional positions. I am eliminating the inertial barrier of “we do not know where to find them” that search committees express when faced with the challenge of diversifying a candidate pool.

Alberto Roca

What are the key experiences and decisions that have helped you reach your current position? 

I maintained my diversity volunteer work at a high level in case it would be my backup career if a faculty position did not pan out. I did interview for an assistant professor position at California State University, Fullerton; but, the search committee did not hire anyone that year. Briefly, I took a position as a diversity administrator in the graduate division at the University of California, Irvine. However, I realized that the responsibilities were too limiting and would inhibit my work on the national problem of disenfranchised postdocs. Being on my own gives me the freedom to work with any constituents who want to help the most underserved stage of the Ph.D. training pipeline. Since my wife was also searching for faculty positions, I decided that pursuing a portable career would better support our priorities in raising children and staying close to extended family. My effort in creating end products from my volunteer activities has now paid off, since I can show clients my website, articles and events as accomplishments that can safeguard their investment.  

How did you first become interested in science?  

Growing up, I made dinosaur picture books and explored the bayou forests of my hometown Houston, Texas. In high school, I was captivated by biology, especially biomolecules like protein and DNA. As the son of a physician and nurse, I was exposed to biomedical careers. However, a college summer research experience at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson (Cancer Center) with Professor Edwin Murphy exposed me to the idea of graduate school for Ph.D. training.


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