Diana Martinez

Postdoctoral Fellow
University of Missouri

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You can. If someone tells you that you can't, you can.

What do you do?

I'm a neuroscientist that is interested in the role of brain in regulating the cardiorespiratory system.

Why did you choose this field?

My brother is my role model. While he didn't go into science, he started my passion for science at the age of 7. My father had his first heart-attack when I was 12. I started to read furiously about his condition, even at that age. I knew I wanted to study the heart in some form. Many years later as an undergrad, my mother suffered a sudden cardiac event, that left her hypoxic for about 30 minutes. At that point, she had some brain damage, and later passed away. At that moment, I knew I wanted to meld the two. But how? I started as an undergraduate researcher at NJIT in an NSF funded program. I absolutely was enamored with the neuroscience, working with a small neuronal system called the stomatogastric nervous system in crabs. I continued as a graduate student, but suffered a great loss of my father passing. I climbed out of 1.5 years of deep depression after that with the help of my incredible advisor, chair, and my brother. I continued to work on the crab pyloric network, interested in how both intrinsic cellular and synaptic properties work together to maintain proper network activity. As a postdoc, I studied the sensory system in electric fish. All of these experiences were important in allowing me to combine motor and sensory networks. I moved on to my second postdoc, knowing what I wanted to do. I'm currently at the University of Missouri, studying the central mechanisms in cardiorespiratory control. Even though my path was not a straight line, and sometimes treacherous, I got here. I chose this field to understand the underpinnings of cardiorespiratory dysfunction. After all of the events in my life, I needed to know, I needed to solve and understand mechanisms. My goal is to obtain a position as an assistant professor with a focus on synaptic plasticity in disease states.

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

Wow, this is a loaded question. When I went on my first faculty interview, I looked in the mirror the first morning and couldn't believe it. I was here, people want me, they think my research is awesome. It was shocking, as I felt all of my life I had to push and work harder to move ahead. I felt like I was always behind..but I've made it. But then COVID happened, and while my search is on hold -- I know now it will happen one day.

Why do you love working in STEM?

In what other profession, can you wake up and start to think of mechanisms and trying to solve different scientific issues? Each day I search to make a small step forward in science. Don't get me wrong, it's not always perfect. There are days where nothing works, where I stare at my screen and can't focus. But the good days outweigh the bad. Each day I look forward to heading to my lab (when I can) and moving my science forward.

I also enjoy teaching new students in the lab. Seeing their faces light up when they get a concept or finally master a new technique. It's wonderful to share that with the next generation.

Best advice for next generation?

You can. If someone tells you that you can't, you can. You can even if it takes a little extra work. You are good at math, science and technology. Be the best, try your hardest and each day sleep well knowing you did.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

"Life itself is your teacher, and you are in a state of constant learning." Bruce Lee

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