September 17, 2015

Exploring the World through Research

By Clara Castillejobecerra

By Luz Milbeth Cumba-García, MS

At the age of 16, I was admitted to the Universidad Metropolitana’s early admission program in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to study Cellular and Molecular Biology. From my early days as a college student, I had the opportunity to do summer internships abroad, conduct research in different laboratories in Puerto Rico, and attend countless national and international conferences. These experiences have led to great adventures in different countries where I not only learned about their culture, but also about their approach to research and science in general.

International experiences

My first research experience abroad was in 2010 when I investigated the response of T lymphocytes in a model of collagen-induced arthritis in the laboratory of Dr. Jaime Sancho López at the Institute of Parasitology and Biomedicine López Neyra in Granada, Spain. There, I learned the importance of networking and leaving the doors open for future opportunities since I returned to this institution in 2012 to obtain my master’s degree.

The following summer, I traveled to the German Cancer Research Center where I had the opportunity to fulfill one of my dreams of working with a Nobel Prize winner. Guided by the intellect of Dr. Harald zur Hausen (Nobel Prize 2008), I studied the isolation of multiple viral genotypes from the umbilical cord. It was a wonderful experience where I learned to believe in my capabilities and I found that through patience and perseverance, I could achieve my research goals.

My most recent internship experience was in the summer of 2012 at the "Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro" in Brazil where I investigated the reliability of using musculoskeletal protein α-actin as a marker for muscle damage in athletes, under the supervision of Dr. Luiz Claudio Cameron. Although it was a great experience, it was also the most challenging. As I conducted my research, I encountered many obstacles such as the shortages of materials and lack of supervision helping me to discover my weaknesses as well as strengths. To my surprise, I received a presentation award for my research confirming that hard work and dedication ultimately pays off.

In 2014, I traveled to Duyun, China where I matured professionally and honed my mentorship skills by teaching college students how to do research. Being in one of the poorest provinces in China, I also realized how fortunate I was for the opportunities I was given to travel around the globe and perform innovative research.

Lessons learned

The difficulties and challenges associated with doing research abroad have been many, I encountered differences in methods and scientific standards, lack of resources and mentoring, as well as cultural and language barriers. Through all of this, I have been pushed to my limits and learned to develop the skills necessary to adapt to any situation with resilience and courage. Each obstacle has become an opportunity for personal and professional growth; further affirming my belief that with patience and persistence, I can achieve any goal.

As I look back, I see that my opportunities and achievements have been many, but I have pursued each of them with humility and an open mind. By remembering my background, values, and life goals, my journey through the sciences has allowed me combine my passions for research and travel. To me, there is no other career path that will fulfill and inspire me in such a way.

paris1Luz in Paris during her 2012 winter break from her Master's degree

Currently, Luz is working with Dr. Aaron Johnson in the Immunology Department at Mayo Clinic as part of the NIH funded Post-baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP). She continues to expand her research experiences towards her goal of obtaining a PhD and making meaningful contributions to society.

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