Journey to Science
While Alicia, a second-generation Mexican-American, grew up in a largely low-income agricultural community, she was inspired to ‘break the mold’ and pursue biotech after a high school AP biology class trip to the Long Beach Aquarium. Alicia was involved in experiments on the water, taking samples from different depth levels outside the Aquarium and testing the oxygen at each level. The experience left her inspired, and knowing that research was going to be part of her future.
This first-generation college student, with sights on a Ph.D. in immunology or systems biology, also wants to go back to her hometown where many people have no formal education, in hopes of encouraging first-generation Mexican-Americans to get involved in the sciences.
Academic and Professional Ambitions
Why did you apply to the Amgen Scholars Program?
“Growing up in Oxnard, which is very close to Amgen, I had a great awareness about the company. My family has friends who work there, and I met some people through the lab I worked in at Oxnard College who were from Amgen. The company has a great reputation in the area and is very involved in the community, so naturally, I applied for the program. I’ve been wanting to do summer research for quite some time, and the Amgen Scholars Program is my first summer research experience.”
What did you work on in the lab?
“My research contributed to a gut microbiome project. We developed a method to help us see interactions between genetic elements among cells in the gut and help understand the mechanism for antibiotic-resistant species. It helps in the world of personalized medicine to target what drugs you can use on a patient so they won’t end up generating microbiome species that will make them sicker later.”
What’s the larger significance of your Amgen Scholars research? What’s your ultimate career goal?
“I definitely want to get my Ph.D. and hope to work on a project that I enjoy. My summer research will contribute to a gut microbiome project and also benefit probiotics. Instead of treating people with chemicals and drugs, I would rather treat people by altering microbiomes. I think this will be a huge trend in the future.”
What’s been the most rewarding part of your experience?
“I’ve gained a lot of insights through talking with my peers, and I’ve become more confident in myself as a result. When people ask questions like, ‘What do you want to do?’ or when people talk at graduate admissions panels, I’ve learned there is no set path that says what success is, as long as you’re doing something you love and not giving up. As you have so much doubt as an undergrad just knowing that people really do understand and care about you is really helpful.”