Tell us about your current career position.
I’m currently an Assistant Research Professor at the College of Pharmacy at Washington State University (WSU) in Spokane, Washington. At WSU, I conduct research related to drug metabolism. Specifically, I evaluate potential herb-drug interactions in vitro, with the aim to predict and prevent dangerous and undesired interactions. In addition to my interests in science, I also enjoy mentoring graduate students and being an advocate and a resource for my postdoc colleagues. Those interests led me to explore other leadership opportunities, resulting in a role as a co-founder and co-chair of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) Minority Postdoc Alliance and co-chair of the UNC-CH postdoctoral association. Both opportunities have allowed me to represent our institution at the National Postdoctoral Association meetings for two consecutive years. I also represent the university and these groups at various local professional associations.
What are the key experiences and decisions you made that have helped you reach your current position?
The first key experience that helped me reach my current position was conducting undergraduate research at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras campus. This early experience, sponsored by the Louis Stoke Alliances for Minority Participation (LS-AMP) program, helped me discover my passion for science and developing the basic skills needed for conducting research. The second experience was joining a post-baccalaureate program at the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. The post-baccalaureate program helped me explore my potential as a young investigator and expand my horizons as an individual and as a scientist in a different environment. Both of these experiences allowed me to strengthen my technical skills and become a more experienced candidate before pursuing a doctoral degree in biomedical research. My training as a graduate student and postdoc helped me refine my approach to answering scientific questions, become more independent, and develop critical thinking, all of which allowed me to earn my doctoral degree and grow as a scientist. Altogether, these experiences taught me to define my career goals, become more flexible towards different scientific fields, and to expand my horizons in science.
How did you first become interested in science?
I was a very curious child. I spent much of my childhood asking questions about how things worked, where they came from, or seeking the answers to my questions. It was no surprise that once I was introduced to science in school, I sought to understand the complexity of living organisms, how they work, and what science could do to improve human health. Fortunately, I’m still as curious and as hungry for knowledge as when I was a child!
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 encountered many challenges through my graduate training which caused me to doubt my ability to become a scientist and progress in my professional career. The first step I took to “overcome” those difficult times was to learn to recognize that I needed help. Admitting the need for extra help was difficult and a let’s say a “hit to my pride,” but it allowed me learn about my weaknesses and focus on improving these weaknesses to become a better scientist. That experience also helped me recognize that no one path is the same as every other. I realized that my challenges were not a sign of failure but a path to success. Recognizing my desire to complete my training and re-establishing my priorities helped me find the strength and focus that I needed to complete my work in the best way possible.
What advice would you give to young persons from under-represented backgrounds who want to pursue a career in science similar to yours?
I would advise them to seek mentorship from different people. This will help them build a support network and receive guidance at different stages of their training. I would also advise them to believe in their talent, strengths, creativity, and to keep focused on their goals and dreams. These are the thoughts and desires that are going to help them succeed regardless of the challenges they may face.
What are your hobbies?
I enjoy a variety of hobbies which help me stay balanced and focused. My hobbies often remind me that I am more than a scientist. Among my hobbies are working out a couple of times a week, dancing, reading, cooking, and even knitting. Having different things or projects to work on in your personal time can give you purpose outside of your professional environment and some time to enjoy yourself, which ultimately can help you balance your weekly routine.
What was the last book you read?
The Last Lecture by Randy Paush. It’s a great book with a great message about pursuing your dreams and believing in yourself. I highly recommend it!
Do you have any heroes, heroines, or role models? If so, describe how they have influenced you?
Among the role models that have been crucial influences on the person I am today are my grandmothers and my mother. In their own respective ways, they have taught me to be strong, independent, humble, giving, respectful, kind, funny, polite, disciplined, generous, friendly, diplomatic, and most of all to be myself. Other role models include my female scientist friends and colleagues, with whom I have had the opportunity to share my growth and challenging journey as a scientist. Thanks to their never-ending support and great advice, I have become a more confident scientist.
What is it that keeps you working hard and studying science every day?
I believe it is my curiosity for knowledge and the need for being intellectually challenged. Also, the satisfaction of conquering and finally understanding a new problem or scientific puzzle is a great motivator to work hard.
To learn more about Vanessa Gonzalez-Perez, go to: www.pharmacy.wsu.edu/facultystaff/bios/gonzalezperez.v.html