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Meet Verónica I. Morales Colón, a Medical Student at the University of Puerto Rico

Please introduce yourself:

My name is Verónica I. Morales Colón and I graduated this year (2020) from the University of Puerto Rico at Cayey as a Biology major. I am currently a first-year medical student at the University of Puerto Rico, Medical Sciences Campus, and a member of the graduating class of 2024.

Why did you choose to join a research lab and what has the research, benchwork, or specific techniques taught you about a career in science?

I chose to join a research lab out of an interest to learn more about the world of graduate studies and research professions. I was also very interested in participating in developmental biology research since I am passionate about the subject of prematurity and congenital diseases. The research and benchwork taught me that careers in science can be hard and challenging, but also very rewarding. I learned that accepting setbacks and unexpected results with patience and optimism are important mindsets to have when doing biomedical research. I also learned that there is no better way to learn detailed, specific information about biology than through basic scientific research.

What have you learned from the lab and how has your role contributed to the field of research?

Through my experience in the lab, I was able to learn a wide range of research techniques. During my summer internship, I worked directly with mice and mice embryos, extracting encephalic tissue, and subsequently working with neuronal cell cultures. In addition to practical and technical knowledge, I was also able to learn about important molecular and neuronal pathways relevant to the process of brain development. This insight into the basic science behind the benchwork allowed me to truly learn and comprehend, not only the reasoning behind our experiments but also the relevance and potential impact of the information we hoped to obtain. I believe my role contributed to the field of research by increasing the representation of students interested in graduate studies. Being a young Hispanic woman, joining a lab at a world-renowned research institution can be an intimidating process, made more daunting by a scarce representation of Hispanic scholars in such a setting. I believe that creating diverse workplace environments where minority students can envision themselves as being a part of, is essential for the growth and advancement of graduate and research institutions.

What are your career goals and how has your undergrad research experience helped with this?

My career goals are to become a neonatologist and participate in clinical research regarding congenital diseases and the etiology of spontaneous premature birth. Through this undergrad research experience, I was able to learn the techniques that are commonly used in developmental and neonatal research. Although the focus of my work was on developmental neuroscience, I believe the techniques, scientific methods and vocabulary that I was able to master will serve as a strong foundation of knowledge that will be very useful in the future research projects that I hope to participate in. Through this wonderful opportunity of joining the faculty and students at The Scripps Research Institute, I was also able to see how diverse careers and health professions can all contribute to the advancement of research and scientific knowledge, which motivated me to pursue a medical degree that would enable me to contribute to this endeavor from multiple fronts.

What is the most exciting aspect of the lab you are in?

The most exciting aspect of working in the lab I was in was the fact that I was given the opportunity to carry out my own experiments, in a way that contributed to larger, long-term research projects that the lab was working on. During my time at the lab I worked with mice, embryos, neurons, and cell cultures; all of these techniques I had never done before. The work I carried out during my internship would then be used to create sensors of developmental delay that could be widely used to study how different molecules and non-coding transcripts affect and drive developmental milestones. Working with neurons and the nervous system is really cool and interesting. Specifically, doing confocal microscopy and imaging with neurons is fascinating and something that anyone can appreciate and find interesting.

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