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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.

  • Laarni Kendra Aguila

    I think that undergraduate students such as myself that is wanting to go in the medical research field has a misconception of our future careers. It is often thought that being a medical researcher means constantly finding cures, saving people from diseases, and making new discoveries. But as you said, the reality is that this field is repetitive and involves a lot of making mistakes. As disheartening as that sounds, I think that the small portion of the time that you get something done, such as finally finding the right results, will be worth it.

  • Tabitha Boulton

    As a Wildlife Conservation Major i too often dream of the impossible, as a undergraduate i assist in research and put in hundreds of hours doing what i think will benefit the species i am working with. Yet at the end of the day, it may seem like a single drop of water in the ocean of conservation. It’s easy to get lost in the mindset that your work doesn’t matter in the big picture, but it is everyone’s contribution that adds up enough to make a true difference. Saving an endangered species seems like curing an terrible disease, impossible. But it can be done with hard work, effort, and manpower.

  • Elijah Neal

    I am an undergraduate engineering student who also dreams of progressing his field. I am currently doing research and in school at the same time and I understand the struggles that come with that. I’ve always wanted to become an engineer who will push our current technologies to better levels. I often ask both ‘why’ and ‘why not’ when presented with problems. Your goals are to protect humanity internally, while I want to improve our lifestyles externally and while that seems very different I don’t believe that it is. My version of ‘curing a disease’ may be creating a new piece of safety equipment equipped in a car or on a person’s body, preventing injuries. Our goals, while in two different fields, are both for the betterment of humanity.

  • Ashli M Nguyen

    I am an undergraduate freshman at Spring Hill College, and I too dream of “curing terrible diseases.” I also experience discrimination. I am a biochemistry major with a Spanish minor and Pre-Health concentration, and although I am very passionate about what I do and want to do in the future, I cannot say that it is what I have always wanted for myself. The building blocks that made me who I am today and who I want to be in the future go so far back that I have no idea where to begin. I am a minority (Asian), a woman, and first generation student. It has never been easy, but I never hated my past because it has made me who I am today.

    Since I started school in the USA as a kindergarten student, I have always faced discrimination and racism. The way I talked, the way I looked, and even the things I ate made me an outcast. As a female, no one, even in my family, expected me to get this far in my education. It was assumed that I would complete my lower level education, get a job, and assist the family with household work and with the little income I would have. Like Mr. Mario, I just ignored them all because I believed it was the best, most mature, thing to do. These events, although are hurtful memories, have made me stronger and more determined.

    On a totally different note, I also dream of “curing a terrible disease,” most notably cancer, a disease in which damaging cells multiply constantly, invading and taking over tissues. Cancer has killed many people universally, and within the last month alone, it took away two lives in my family. Cancer is painful, and even after one dies of cancer, his or her family is left with sorrow and grief over their loss. Millions, possibly billions, of dollars have been contributed to studies concerning cancer over the years, but there still is no 100% effective cure for cancer. I, being an optimist here, believe that one day a cure will be found, and I hope to be a part of the research team or the group of doctors that create that cure. Personally, I am tired of hearing “I’m sorry, there’s nothing we can do,” and I want to do something about it. I want to come up with the cure. So, despite the discouragement, I see a better tomorrow, a tomorrow in which I will be given the opportunity and ability to make a difference.

    Although I have yet to receive any research experience in my undergraduate career, I hope to be able to do so soon, or at least before I graduate. This article has helped me prepare for possible obstacles when that time comes. I don’t mind if I do not get paid much or if I do not get time off during these research opportunities. As of now, I just want to finish undergraduate school and get research experience to achieve my ultimate goal: to find a 100% effective cure for cancer and save the lives of many people around the globe.

  • ryan martinez

    I can relate because also want to help save lives, I am getting my degree to utilize my schools connections with leading companies, giving me the professional experience and resources I need to establish and flourish my network; to be able to renovate million dollar homes enabling me to act as a philanthropist to the animal rights movement. Donating significant funding to organizations such as Mercy For Animals and Farm Sanctuaries, will allow them to have a real impact, leading to prosecutions of animal abusers and international animal welfare policy changes. Furthermore, to be financially and knowledgeably qualified to restore many old barn properties, to be donated and used as farm animal sanctuaries.

  • Veronica R.

    It is also my dream contribute to research and bring knowledge and findings to this world. Although my field of study is Psychology and not Biotechnology, I do find that regardless of the scientific area, we are all following the same goals of bringing new solutions to different issues in our community. I am an undergraduate student and hopefully will be assisting one my professors in research projects very soon, so I found this article very helpful, and I will be applying Mario’s remarks and advises in my own upcoming experiences .

  • parin

    I lost my grandparents to cancer and i was like with all the progress medical science has made still we human beings are so useless in fighting cancer.That is when i decided to pursue Pharmacology cause this is the field which will help me understand how a medicine acts on your body and till what extent.

    Cancer is genetically linked and there are a very high chance that my parents would have to fight Cancer and that time I dont want to be a bystander watching them suffer but want to be standing by them with a cure.

    Believe me there is nothing stronger than a will of a man to save his family from doom and this gets me going on

  • Alexa V

    I can identify with Mario’s situation. I too have always been fascinated by biotechnology and after taking a few classes on the subject in high school, I realized that it’s not solely about GMOs and cloning, as he says. However, I feel that this industry has so much potential to greatly improve our world in different ways; whether it’s finding cures for diseases or creating more nutritious crops in large enough quantities to feed the world. I, like Mario, have always dreamed of finding the cure for a life-threatening disease and having my contribution to the world remembered forever. I would be so happy and proud that I was able to help so many people have better lives.

    I know that choosing to pursue a career in this field or more generally, in the medical field, will be a lot of work. I know that I will have to be patient and diligent and go through what will seem like endless years of school. In the end, it will all be worth it if I can make even a small contribution to making the world a better place. This is truly my passion.

  • Kai

    Being in a research lab for a couple years now, I definitely know what it feels like to have constant mistakes and feel like you are simply a drone completing the same tasks over and over again. At times, it can be quite frustrating and seem meaningless but I feel that every experience has a lesson to teach and it is the individual’s choice to seek out the lesson. I am learning that having a higher-ranking position in a research lab is more rewarding as you are designing the experimental scheme and leading the team, rather than doing the grunt-work.

  • James E. Rose

    Being a Lab assistant is pretty taxing yet gratifying position. The low wage is a price to pay in order to escalate to the next level and become a scientist to cure diseases. What you put in is what you get out and when you work hard for it, it is that much better. This article definitely picks up my morale. I am in my 5th year of college with still some classes to get done, I know there is a reason for this, I just have to keep working hard. Its a long road but it is definitely worth it in the end.

  • Imani R

    This article was very interesting to read. I too would like to find a cure for a disease (PAH). I totally agree with Mario when he said that you may feel that the time and effort you put into something isn’t worth it. However, asking someone may be the best route to take. I’ve always wanted to become a doctor since the age of four up until now. Im currently 19 years old and going into my second year in college. Articles like these make me feel good about going into the profession I want to pursue because at the end of the day, you will have made someone happy or saved a life. I believe there’s nothing more gratifying than accomplishing your childhood dream.

  • physicsnerd

    this article is very interesting and inspiring, this lady is now my role model because no matter how hard it got or how little it paid at a time she still followed on to her goal, one day i want to look back and be able to tell my story just like her

  • This article is very insightful and inspiring and it reminds me of the obsticale that I face as far as my age I will be fifty years old but Iam motived to be part of or an advisor to a Health Care Management Team This story brought me hope.

  • MaddyK

    This interview basically reasons out of why i chose biology as my major. Most health majors like Mario and myself are in it for the pleasure of serving other and making a difference in the world through science. We are motivated by the greatest possibilities that science can achieve.

  • Superstar44

    I have lived a difficult life,it has been like I have been walking up a long mountain for a very long time. I was abused and neglected as a child by a mentally ill mother, and many of her boyfriends sexually molested me.I have a great Father but he remarried and started another family. I married to young, dropped out of school and woke up a divorced un-educated mother of an infant and toddler by age 19. I tried working minimun wage jobs, never being able to afford rent and food. I ha, I passed and thirved and got accepted into the program the falling semester. I had no knowledge of medicaid, food stamps, or welfare since not one person in my family for generations has less then a undergraduate college education. I became a stripper, no drugs, no illegal actions of any kind, just high class gentlemens clubs. I eventually did some modeling and world traveling. By age 27 I realized it was past time for me to get an education, I was scared and embarrassed, but I knew I had to show my children (now teens) that education was important. So I bought a GED book, self studied at home and went to take the test. I was amazed when I passed the first time, this also earned me a HOPE scholarship. I was empowered and proud. Next I took a CNA (nursing assistant course) and eraned my Certificate in Nursing Assisantance. I was ready to make the biggest leap of my life….I applied for nursing school. My trabsripts didnt make it in time for deadline, so I took Phlebotomy/Lab Tech. classes while waiting to get into the Nursing Program the next year. To my amazement I did excellant with a full course load for my core classes and the nursing program at the same time. I am in the end of a sixteen year marriage and I have a twelve year old daughter to try to raise alone AGAIN. I have been back in college since 2010 to gain a Bachelor of Science in Psychology degree. I have earned a 3.65 GPA and have the drive to become independant once again at age 44. I hope to discover or contirbute to Forensic Psychology in a way that helps children(victims) of preditors/child molesters break the feeling of low-self worth and thrive in life.

  • AJ

    Stories like this one always assure me of my goals in life. When I first decided to be a doctor was when I found a certain photograph online. I was a junior in high school, looking up well-known photos taken throughout history for one of my classes and I stumbled upon one that chose my career for me. It was taken in 1994 during the Sudan Famine..

    It is of a tiny “stricken child” who is attempting to crawl to a food camp only a kilometer away, while following him is a vulture waiting from a distance for the child to die so it can have its daily meal.

    At the time I was still juggling between a few career choices, until I saw the photo and read the description underneath. It explained how the photographer took the photo and then left, never attempting to help the boy and never knowing what happened to the poor child afterwards. He just left..

    I knew that if I was standing next to him I would have picked the boy up myself and carried him to the food camp.

    I chose to be a doctor so I could be that person next time.The one that finds the stricken child and gives him/her the proper care they need. I want to educate myself in medicine to go and help those in dire need of it..

    I know that I have a long road ahead of me, but no matter how hard the road gets I will stay excited and enthusiastic about my career choice because I know it’ll all be worth it. Just like the scientist in this article, I’m building my life to a great future..

  • AJ

    Stories like this one always assure me of my goals in life. When I first decided to be a doctor was when I found a certain photograph online. I was a junior in high school, looking up well-known photos taken throughout history for one of my classes and I stumbled upon one that chose my career for me. It was taken in 1994 during the Sudan Famine. It is of a tiny “stricken child” who is attempting to crawl to a food camp only a kilometer away, while following him is a vulture waiting from a distance for the child to die so it can have its daily meal. At the time I was still juggling between a few career choices, until I saw the photo and read the description underneath. It explained how the photographer took the photo and then left, never attempting to help the boy and never knowing what happened to the poor child afterwards. He just left. I knew that if I was standing next to him I would have picked the boy up myself and carried him to the food camp. I chose to be a doctor so I could be that person next time.The one that finds the stricken child and gives him/her the proper care they need. I want to educate myself in medicine to go and help those in dire need of it. I know that I have a long road ahead of me, but no matter how hard the road gets I will stay excited and enthusiastic about my career choice because I know it’ll all be worth it. Just like the scientist in this article, I’m building my life to a great future.

  • veyramus

    I know how hard it is to live on a fixed income and to have to will and drive to help others makes all the difference in charecter. I loved reading this article and can relate we need more people willing to help on this planet

  • Yulia K

    As a biotechnology research laboratory assistant myself,
    I can see how research can be discouraging sometimes. Long hours and tedious
    efforts you put into your experiments might not always pay off. However,
    failure is the integral part of innovation! As Edmund Burke said, “Our
    antagonist is our helper” and I believe this to be true. At times when I
    feel like nothing is working and my ideas are futile, I try to remember that
    numerous great things in this world were discovered by trial and error. Failure
    should make you think harder, think outside of the box!

    I believe it is essential for a researcher to never be
    complacent. Biotechnology is such a fascinating and growing field that you can
    never reach a limit to how much you can learn. Thus, if your job is just to
    maintain a cell culture, it would be beneficial to learn how and what these
    cells are going to be used for. Ask questions! Senior researchers might see
    your interest and offer you a job that is more exciting and challenging that
    would give you an opportunity to discover what really ignites your passion!

  • Yahaira Myers

    Mario’s story makes me reflect on my reasons for wanting to become a nurse. Like him, I too dreamed of conquering the diseases that were taking hold of so many of my loved ones. Unlike Mario, my dreams did not include the scientific knowledge of preparing curing cocktails for the ill. My dreams were about curing those around me with the compassion and caring that most nurses I knew demonstrated; these were my weapons in the battle of disease. Currently, a 7 year veteran of the field, I’m prepared to expand on my knowledge so that I can have a greater influence on the nursing profession. I’ve worked as a certified nurses aid, a license practical nurse, and a registered nurse; I have a lot of knowledge to share about health care.

  • Scooter48

    I used to build power plants and weld pipe and fit pipe. I was happy with that work, but one day I had to quit it and go to live with my Mother to keep her from being placed in a home. This forced me to quit roaming the construction curcit and settle down and through out the course of her last 5 years on earth, and going to many spedialists and such, I saw gross injustices to her and others. Many trips to the ER told me a story of neglect of respect that should be given to our elder adult and I felt they needed someone to go to bat for them.My mother thought I could make a change for the better if I changed my career and went back to school to help people in Long Term Care because I seemed to have a connection with the elder adults that I came into contact with.
    I got my first computer one week and started school that same week and 7 days later she died while I was in class with my enrollment advisor, Tim Bennet at University of Phoenix. He was a rock and taught me computer and school for the first 6 weeks or so and I am the only one of 10 siblings to seek a higher education. I hope one day to be able to change the lives of Elders for the better. I aplaud your work to help cure their diseases.

  • Takara Kyles

    I understand what you are going through, I am an African American female and there are all types of stereotypes about us especially if you come from a certain background and a certain neighborhood.
    I am a nursing assistant and I deal with a lot of Baby Boomers that were raised to hate African Americans. It makes it hard to care for someone that hates you because of skin color. No matter how nice I am or how gentle I am I will always be the enemy.

    This is one of the reasons why I choose to pursue a degree in Psychology, I just finished up my Associates and now I will be starting my bachelors. I would also like to help children suffering from Autism and help find a way to communicate with them with out drugs.

  • Estefania

    Being a young Hispanic female can make it difficult for individuals to take me serious. Fortunately I have not been seriously discriminated against at the workplace, but I have witnessed many other events of discrimination.
    I also understand the frustration of not feeling rewarded for my efforts because I do not see how I am making a difference at the workplace. I do not feel like I am being appreciated, but i do understand that the current job I have is just a part time job while I continue to pursue my degree in Biology/Zoology.

  • Malcolm McCray

    I am African American and I do feel his pain with the discrimination he is facing. I do know how hard it is to ignore it, but sometimes you just can’t change the way someone thinks just by talking to them.

    Otherwise I’m glad to see that he is sticking with it, working hard towards his goals as he should even if he makes mistakes he gets back up, corrects them and tries again and again. Perseverance is always an amazing trait to have.

    But I also understand his excitement I have always wanted to find a cure for a disease. The one that is most prevalent is diabetes because I have plenty of family members and a few friends that suffer from the insulin deficiency. I wish could cure it and I’m sure if he stays on the path he is on, he will do very well for the future of humanity.

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