Field: Systems Biology
Job/position: Doctoral Student
How long have you been working in this field? 2 years
What kind of story would you like to share? Life struggle story
Please share your story here:
I'm a first generation American and scientist in my family. I'm also the eldest as well as a female, which put a lot of pressure on me to be perfect. I grew up in an area where I was a minority of many sorts and quickly found myself unintentionally marginalized for it.
On the bright side, the marginalization led me to be focused on my identity and intellect rather than more superficial matters. I graduated from high school as one of the top students in my class, complete with whatever awards one could get. I graduated undergraduate studies with three degrees under a full scholarship in four years while working several jobs including a "Research Assistant".
Until graduate studies, working in the lab was my version of meditation. I found it therapeutic. However, I began to notice how I received harsher criticisms from my advisor in comparison to my male colleagues. Out of the eight people in our lab, we were the only women and I was the only person of color. I was harassed by one of the colleagues and when went I to my advisor to ask for assistance, I was told something along the lines of, "You're being too sensitive. These things happen all the time. They don't mean any harm." I was one of five individuals I knew in our department who had been harassed by this fellow graduate student. I went as far as inquiring anonymously with Human Resources but there were no results at the time.
At first, I felt like a complete failure... If it weren't for a few key mentors I had gained during my undergraduate studies, who truly made me believe in my own self-worth, I definitely would've quit science altogether. Starting over was tough. I am happy to say I have more opportunities than ever before at my new institution with my new advisor, lab, and colleagues. One may say I am a stronger person now, less "sensitive". However, my take home isn't, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger", though that may be true. Instead, my goal as a scientist is to be one who excels at both the scientific method and social justice.
What do you wish you had known earlier during your career in science?
In short, if you're interested in science, know that good relationships are everything. Whatever adversity you face, having a strong network of friends (big or small) inside or outside of science will keep your blood flowing.
Any final comments or advice for young scientists:
My advice would be not to take the advice that contrasts your goals. Science is all about achieving the impossible, the unfathomable. It requires creativity. Do what you (ethically) need to do to achieve your aspirations, even if it means standing alone sometimes. The worst case scenario is that you fail, which usually ends up being a success anyhow. I'd also like to advise more established scientists to be more receptive to feedback as leaders.