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Rocío de la Vega

Post-doctoral research fellow, Seattle Children’s Research Institute

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Don’t let people discourage you or tell you what you can’t do.

What do you do?

I am a pediatric health psychologist and I do research full time. My research interests are mainly focused on remotely-delivered self-administered interventions for the management of chronic pain (such as headaches, musculoskeletal pain or abdominal pain) and on understanding the mechanisms of change that happen during treatment, in order to improve their efficacy (that is, to understand why the interventions work better for some teens than for others). In our lab, we develop and test online (web-based) and mobile (app-based) interventions to help teens learn strategies to better cope with chronic pain and improve their quality of life. For example, they are able to learn different relaxation techniques, learn how to communicate better with peers, improve their sleep habits or gradually increase their level of physical activity.

Why did you choose this field?

I never planned to be a scientist. I originally wanted to be a clinical psychologist. One day, taking an extra course on health psychology, I realized that psychologists could actually do something to help people with chronic pain (it made sense: after all, pain is produced in the brain and we can retrain the nervous system). Then I started looking into my options to be a chronic pain specialist and realized there were no training for psychologists. However, there was a research team studying precisely that: teens with chronic pain, so I got a grant and moved to the other side of the country to do my PhD. I soon started to be passionate about it and realized how much there is still to do. I also realized I was going to be one of the people doing it.

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

Moving from my home country (Spain) to the United States to work in one of the top research labs in my field. I couldn´t see myself being “good enough” for that, or leaving everything I knew behind and starting over so far from home.

Why do you love working in STEM?

No two days are the same: research is such a challenging and fun environment where you are constantly learning and you get do a lot of different tasks: designing studies, running them, analyzing data, writing grants and scientific papers, going to conferences. I love working on research because even the smallest new findings and advances can help the next generation of scientists make awesome discoveries, somehow building a global knowledge together and doing something meaningful (in my case, helping teens with pain). 

Best advice for next generation?

Don’t let people discourage you or tell you what you can’t do. You would be surprised to know how many brilliant and successful female scientists have shared stories about teachers, advisors or even family members telling them they were not “smart enough” or that the effort was not worthy. I encountered moments in my career where I was told I was being naïve, or too optimistic, that it was really unlikely I would get those grants, those positions, etc. 

Inspo quote / fun fact

Researchgate is a great website for researchers. It is like a “Facebook for scientists” where you can share your publications, the projects you are working on, ask questions (for example about stats or software), follow your colleagues, follow or recommend publications, send messages, and ask for manuscripts from authors.