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Scientist dreams of curing terrible diseases

Mario, a biotechnology research laboratory assistant explains how he dreams of transitioning from food safety research to doing important medical research and curing diseases.

What is your job title?
Biotechnology Research Laboratory Assistant

Would you describe what you do on a typical day?
I work as an assistant in a biotechnology research lab. It may sound pretty interesting, but on a daily basis I don’t think most people would find it that exciting, because it is a very repetitive job. Mostly, I work with mammal cell lines which means spending some hours in a very cold lab, maintaining the cells and also doing some experiments on them. These cells are used by other researchers, so I don’t get to know what they are for. The rest of my day I work as a teaching assistant in a tissue culture lab for undergraduates. I enjoy this part of my job a lot more because I get to know a lot of students and I enjoy answering their questions. I prepare the cells that the students are going to use, and I also do some of their experiments myself when they are just too difficult for the students to perform.

What is your ethnicity? What kinds of discrimination have you experienced?
I am white. Sometimes I experience discrimination when visiting poor or crime-ridden parts of my city. In Latin America, there is a great gap between socioeconomic sectors, leading to a lack of politeness (sometimes even rudeness) between groups. In these cases I have only received rude or insulting comments. I have not experienced it in my job.

If you’ve experienced discrimination, in what ways have you responded and what response worked best?
Mostly I respond by ignoring people, as in my example, I think that responding in any other way might cause aggressiveness from the individual.

Where you work, how well does your company do ‘equal opportunity’? Is management white and male? How are minorities perceived and treated?
I do think the lab complies with equal opportunity guidelines. Management is run by white and Latin origin people, and I perceive an equal number of male and female individuals occupying high ranking jobs. People from minorities are treated with respect by everyone as they are hired from other countries because of their experience and capability.

What did you learn the hard way in this job and how did that happen?
I learned two things the hard way in this job. First, sometimes you will feel the time and effort you spend on the job were not wort it. There can be many reasons for this, but I think this feeling comes mainly when you can’t see how your work matters or if it has any significant impact that would cause somebody else to notice it. Second, when I exercise a lot of patience to get a job done the right way, and nevertheless it doesn’t come out as expected, seeking help from others is the best move you can make, because sometimes the answer isn’t just in patience and carefulness. Sometimes, the answer lies in the “tricks” that only experienced people know.

What don’t they teach in school that would’ve been helpful to you?
Problem solving strategies that are not based just on logic and math would have been useful to learn in school.

How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
A professor of mine during my bachelors worked at this company, and I wanted to gain experience in lab research. If I had it to do over, I would have tried harder to work in health related research, because I ended in food technology related research, which I don’t enjoy as much.

On a good day, when things are going well, can you give an example of something that really makes you feel good?
Meeting somebody new and having a good conversation that goes beyond the usual job talk is very enjoyable. I also like helping people in their work and knowing it really helped.

When nothing seems to go right, what kind of snafus do you handle and what do you dislike the most?
When I’m having a bad day, I may be failing to get an experiment done, or getting bad results over and over again. The ones I dislike the most are those little mistakes that can ruin a whole day’s work, just because of a sudden lack of patience.

How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?
I wouldn’t define it as stressful. I live a comfortable work-life balance, mainly because the job is pretty much flexible in terms of time requirements as compared to other jobs I think.

On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction?What would it take to increase that rating?
I would rate my satisfaction as a 7. It would take me being in charge of a part of the research, not just doing the experiments, to raise my satisfaction. In other words, I would like to take part in the planning and decision making of the research project. Also a higher salary would help.

What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough considering your responsibilities?
$500 per month.

What’s the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced in this position? Of all the things you’ve done at work, what are you most proud of?
Being consulted by other, higher ranking researchers made me feel I had the potential to someday be at the same competitive level as the people that I respect and admire. I am most proud of gaining the respect and interest of undergrad students.

What’s the most challenging moment you’ve experienced? What would you prefer to forget?
Admitting to making constant mistakes is very challenging. It is one thing to accept a couple of mistakes, but when you find yourself messing up again and again you might feel the need to reject what’s happening and just cover up the results and move on. But I hold on to my sense of responsibility, admitted it and kept trying.

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
Biology, biochemistry, chemistry and medicine related studies are required. Also, laboratory working skills are needed as well as knowledge about bio-safety procedures. To succeed I would say you should go on with masters or PhD degree. It is also important to have experience with searching scientific literature and the interpretation of those materials.

What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
I would say that it is very important to define exactly what area of biotechnology is he or she most interested in. The problem is that the term biotechnology is very broad and some applications and research trends don’t have anything to do with others.

How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
3 weeks. Yes it is enough.

Are there any common myths you want to correct about what you do?
Not all biotechnology research is related to GMO’s, cloning or other subjects prone to deal with ethical issues. Misinformation about the results and objectives of these kind of studies have made most people think that this kind of research (and all biotech research) is conducted by crazy scientists that pursue selfish and nonsense dreams which are more close to sci-fi movies than reality. Although there might be examples of scientists and companies that have forgotten their sense of responsibility towards humanity (to produce valuable knowledge and non harmful technology for the world), I believe that the real danger does not lie in research itself, but in the misinformation of society. A well informed society has both the power to drive research with the potential to make a better world, or to stop that which is believed to do the opposite.

Does this job move your heart? If not, what does?
Yes it does. Not necessarily because of what I do right now… it makes me dream about what I will be able to do one day, contributing to cure terrible diseases, and that feels just great to me.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
Conducting my own research project. Finishing or have finished my PhD. Looking for an important health research center to work for.

Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?
I have just finished my undergrad studies. I had this job while studying so that’s why I was paid such a low wage. It is very hard for someone without a masters or PhD to be able to contribute even slightly to research, and considering the hard work I put into it, I felt very disappointed sometimes. Nevertheless, I had the chance to share my knowledge and help people around me to reach their goals and I think that’s the first thing a real scientist should do before attempting greater things.

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  • I understand how it can be difficult to stay engaged in a highly repetitive job. It can be difficult to see the change you are making on other people’s lives, which affects how you view your daily tasks. I recall a time when I worked as a clinic technician. At first, I loved my job, because it was so new. However, after a couple of years doing the same thing over again, I lost focus and didn’t feel like I was engaging with human health like I originally wanted to. This led me to pursue a slightly different field, where I can always grow and the work is always changing. I changed from being a clinic technician to a public health researcher.

  • I feel like I can relate to this story

    I love reading, learning and using science to further achieve my dreams of being a vertebrate paleontologist.
    When I work in a group I like to contribute to it in anyway possible. When I feel like can’t do that I feel useless and I question myself and my skills before blaming others.

    Helping others is one of the best feelings to have as a person. I am always willing to help because I want to see them grow into something more than before. Evan when something is bigger than me I don’t let it stop me from asking and most of all trying because I might surprise them and myself in the process.

    I am a person who yearns to learn patience. I can follow many different ways of doing and getting things done. But I can be too prideful and ambitious and that can lead to a disaster.

    But as scientist I believe in trying many different solutions, experiments just to answer one problem. Because as long your alive there will always be better ways to do things. But its not about the destination, its about how much your willing too put in the journey.

  • I feel like I can relate to this very beautiful experience.

    I enjoy reading, learning and using science to further my dreams of becoming a vertebrate paleontologist. But one of my many joys is helping others anyway I can even when something is bigger than me.

    At times what I struggle to face the most comes from the inside rather than the outside. I am a very prideful and ambitious person, that serves to be a blessing but also a terrible curse. Whenever I fail to achieve or understand something I block myself from others and find my own ways rather than asking for help and getting help.

    I love to work with others and helping them reach new heights. I love to be a part of the most complex things because I want the challenge and when I don’t get to be apart of it I feel useless.

  • As a blonde female, I do too experience discrimination. Many people do not think white people encounter discrimination, but we do. Blondes still carry a stigma of not being as smart as others. I have people joke with me at work saying they think I am not smart because I am blonde. Workers also tend to think I cannot be smart in science due to being a female and science in fact is my strong suit. I have experience as a research assistant and I can count multiple times where students took me less seriously due to either being young, a woman, or based on my appearance. Students were the participants and I could tell they did not take it as serious when I instructed the procedure compared to when my male professor did. Participants felt more comfortable talking out loud, looking at their phones, and finishing the procedure more quickly. I try to let these discriminatory acts go and continue my work professionally, but deep down inside it does bother me. I would love to live in a world where equality exists, but it will take a lot more time and effort from every single person before we can accomplish that as a whole.

  • Mario has an interesting story because I think it is very typical of a lot of job places today. The organization has an official policy that prevents discrimination, but often times there are comments by ignorant co-workers or even bosses that either unknowingly or carelessly make hurtful comments. This story also interests me because I too am dreaming of getting into a career field in medical science where I can help others. I have applied and been accepted to Harvard Medical School, but am financially not capable of attending the program. As a veteran and Jewish American, most people are very supportive of my dreams, but every once in a while I encounter someone who makes careless, hurtful comments. It is important for us to see how diversity actually makes our team stronger. We need to realize that having different perspectives helps us see the whole picture and gives us better solutions. This is something that is actually well understood in the Army and has helped me realize by exposing me to people of all races, nationalities and sexual orientations.

  • I am a Hispanic female and I can relate to the discrimination felt by Mario. I don’t feel appreciated by my employer and I always have to compete with the other workers to get my employer’s attention.

    I really do admire Mario’s positive attitude and how he deals with personal issues. In a society where most of the people that I work with are American-born and speak perfect English, it is very hard to find a job. People might not take you seriously if you have an accent and or they do not give you as many responsibilities because they do not believe you are capable.

    I will continue to try and prove that I am fully capable and that what I look like or speak like does not define what I can and cannot do. That is why I am trying to continue with my education and pursue a career in nursing.

  • I’m a Mexican-American, gay, feminine, transfer student originating from a small border town in Arizona. What you mentioned about the “lack of politeness” in Latin America, definitely resonated with me. The “gap you mentioned, in something I’ve experienced it in many ways in the past. Going into natural resources as an openly gay and feminine Latino is something that extremely deviates off the “standard” candidate, and I believe it to be very important to stand firm and know your worth regardless of any preconceived notions set upon by stereotypes.

  • I am also a teaching assistant for a physics lab, and I can very much relate to that feeling of satisfaction one gets from helping young students understand something about how the world works through one of the many experiments we perform. Furthermore, I can also relate to that feeling of discrimination described by Mario, as I am a Hispanic in a field that is predominately white. However I never take that discrimination as an insult, instead I use it to as fuel to motivate me to prove all the people that don’t believe in me wrong. And what I’ve found is that at first, there might be a bit of doubt in my abilities due to my race or whatever the case may be, but after I prove myself to them, there is non longer that doubt, but in most cases, I can gain their respect. Because even if talking with them doesn’t change their mind, I found that results don’t lie, and so if I consistently get good results, then there won’t be anything for them to argue. And thats what I strive to do every time I do anything.

  • As an African American female I can relate with the pain he has discrimination, and understand how he is facing it . I know its hard to ignore it, but you can’t let people get under your skin, you can’t change the way someone thinks of you by reacting negatively to their negative comments and actions. I’m glad to see that Mario is still enthusiastic about his job. Even though the lows of his job he still gets his work done. I’ve always wanted to help cure diseases and illnesses of people but mostly children. By becoming a Pediatrician I will achieve that goal, and Mario’s story has encouraged me to keep on pushing towards that goal. I loved reading this article on Mario, I can relate to his experiences, and I also think we need more people like us that are willing to help find a cure diseases.

  • I am an African American and there are times where I have as well experienced some sort of discrimination, in the work place as well as in the real world. Although, I believe that with enough heart, and grit, being discriminated against, is mearly a stepping stone to future success.

    Besides that, I am happy to have noticed that he hasnt stopped working hard and has something that is driving his hard work and keeping him interested in his line of work.

    I also, come to the conclusion that with the many troubles he may face with failures and the cold working environments, being able to overcome them, and make them something that is nothing but something mental, is excellent and should never be looked down upon