In this special episode of “Caminos en Ciencia”, we meet Dr. Daniela Gómez Atria and Dr. Néstor Más Gómez. They share lesson they learned on the challenging yet rewarding path to careers in academia, with a focus on achieving a work-life balance and acclimating to new countries and cultures.
Dr. Gómez Atria was born in Chile to a family of artists. Her professional journey began when by chance she enrolled in an biotechnology elective that sparked her interests in the sciences. This led her to Universidad de Chile where she studied plant molecular biotechnology. After graduating, she went on to pursue her PhD because she was passionate about teaching and wanted to continue in academia. During her pre-doctoral studies, she sought opportunities to network and share her researching by attending international conferences, an experience she felt was key to helping her advance in her career. At a conference in Italy, she came across a job opening for a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, studying the immune system of fish. She moved all the way from Chile to Philadelphia with her seven year old daughter to pursue this opportunity. While adjusting to life in Philadelphia was hard, she looks back fondly on those times when she explored museums, parks, and the surrounding city with her daughter. Through these new experiences, she learned a lot about herself, she says. She quickly built a community, connecting with other Chileans in Philadelphia, making a new city feel more familiar. There is where she met Dr. Más Gómez. Their paths first crossed at a happy hour at the University of Pennsylvania, where they were introduced by a mutual friend.
Dr. Más Gómez began his education in Cuba and found his way to Philadelphia for his post-doctoral work via Germany, where he pursued his PhD in physiology. He took a non-traditional route to his PhD, taking time after his bachelor’s to study music in Cuba. His post-doctoral research focused on ion transport and retinal degeneration. Today, he works on diseases of the central nervous system and is still passionate about music.
Dr. Gómez Atria and Dr. Más Gómez still live in Philadelphia, where they are senior research scientists. Reflecting back on their careers in science across several continents, they identified a few key lessons they learned. They emphasize the endless possibilities that are available to scientists. The opportunities beyond professor roles are just as rewarding. Dr. Gómez Atria remains interested in teaching and find ways to engage in mentorship in her role as a senior scientist. She tells of friends in industry, in medical writing, and many more careers. Through adaptability and dedication, they are achieving their career goals while devoting time to family. This work life-balance is a product of having learned to be efficient in the lab. At the end of this episode, we are left with the message: “Sí, se puede.” Yes, you can.