Nicole M. Robles-Matos is a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn). Coming from Naranjito, a city at the center of the island, she did her Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Chemistry at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras. She was part of the Maximizing Access to Research Career (MARC) Program funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), which helped her develop as a researcher, as well as to acquire several scientific skills. As part of this program, we write a Jr. Thesis of our desired research area and elaborate the project as a practice to prepare you for graduate school. During high school, she was involved in science fairs and she also did research in “El Yunque” (national rain forest in the island) where she found an interest in science. During her organic chemistry course, she was inspired by Dr. Ingrid Montes who guided her into research with Dr. Jose Prieto. In addition, the MARC program provided her mentorship and support during her B.S. that guided her into two research opportunities during the summer of 2015 and 2016 at Rutgers University and Penn, respectively. I also participated in a summer internship at Penn called Summer Undergraduate Internship Program (SUIP). During my SUIP experience, as Nicole pointed out, Dr. Arnaldo Diaz and Dr. Raquel Castellanos guide us through this experience by providing seminars, conferences and 1-1 meetings to make sure we were succeeding in the research and presentation of our work throughout the summer.
In addition to her scientific career, Nicole also shared the difficulties of that first year of graduate school living away from her family during hurricanes Irma and Maria. Being present in the island during these two hurricanes was a challenge not only in the lab, but also on the day-to-day tasks of getting water, food and gasoline and at the same time making sure that other family members were safe; that’s when you realize how resilience and united Latin families are. I can’t imagine going through that experience of not hearing from your families for weeks. However, having a strong Latin community within the university like Penn, I imagine, must have helped in supporting each other during that difficult first semester. Finally, she encourages us to find mentors and programs that will support your research interest and guide you during your career as a scientist as well as to never give up and think positive during the graduate school application process and later during your Ph.D.