Alyssa Paparella

NIH-PREP Scholar, University of California

And - soon to be graduate student, Baylor College of Medicine

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Do not let anything or anyone hinder you! You can be a scientist no matter your background!

What do you do?

Working in a lab, I have the privilege of studying c. elegans, with the goal of trying to understand the role of microtubule motor choice for nuclear migration. My daily schedule involves the opportunity to design and execute my own experiments to test my hypotheses, while also working in close collaboration with others members of my lab.

Why did you choose this field?

I did not always know I wanted to go into science, but it was something I developed later in life. After undergoing a surgery, I became really interested in the underlying biochemical and genetic principles of medicine. As I took my first Genetics course at Sarah Lawrence College, I quickly found out that I was enthralled with the world illuminated underneath the microscope. The particular moment of research that solidified my interest was working with my own blood to visualize my chromosomes, which was part of my Genetics lab. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to pursue research and answer scientific questions.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

I recently was awarded the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF-GRFP), which is a prestigious fellowship granted to scientists to fund their education. As a first-generation college student, I had never even heard of it a few years ago. After hearing about the fellowship and associated opportunities, I set it as my goal to obtain, but knew it was a highly competitive process. I spent many months working on my application, having lots of insight from my mentors and those in my lab. When I received the e-mail that I was awarded, I stood there in disbelief, stunned that I had received the award on my first try and really showing that it was possible coming from a rural first-generation family. For my younger self, I constantly doubted my own ability in my laboratory skills and my knowledge among my peers, but three peer reviewers deemed me "excellent" in intellectual merit, showing I can be a scientist!

Why do you love working in STEM?

I love working in STEM because I get to explore topics that others have thought about, but have not been able to find the answer for. I have the opportunity to advance science and find results that others have not, which makes it exciting enough to jump up out of bed each day.

Best advice for next generation?

Do not let anything or anyone hinder you! I was told by a fellow peer that I was not qualified to be in a class as I had not used a microscope before compared to the others. It intimidated me at first, but I overcame that to become a national award-winning fellowship in STEM! You can be a scientist no matter your background! As a first-generation college student, I know it may seem daunting but if you love the path, it will be worth it! I seek to make STEM more accessible and currently run a Twitter account called @DisabledInSTEM.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

"And once the storm is over, you won't remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won't even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won't be the same person who walked in." Haruki Murakami

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