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As an undergrad, Floricel Gonzalez wasn’t sure that research was for her. She originally wanted to be a veterinarian, and had been told that research was a great way to get started and find out what she liked. “I couldn’t get the protocol to work,” she said of her undergrad research project. “It was really hard for me because it demanded me not just to learn new techniques but to think about why I was doing things. I felt really overwhelmed.”
That changed when she had a breakthrough in the lab. It wasn’t a scientific breakthrough – at least not right away. “One night, I was in the lab really late with the grad student who was helping me. I was so frustrated, and I think I was about to give up on the whole thing. And then the control worked.” That changed everything. “I was so happy; I had never felt that type of enthusiasm before, like I could do anything. And that’s when I knew.” She realized that her frustration and all of the learning she’d done for her project were worth it.
From that point on, Floricel stayed involved in research. In 2014, she heard about ABRCMS from both her summer internship coordinator and her advisor. She submitted an abstract, gave an oral presentation, and won the prize for best oral presentation in microbiology. “That was another solidifying moment for me. At that moment I thought ‘I must be doing something right, and I’m going to keep going with this.’ ”
At ABRCMS, Floricel met ASM staff and learned about the ASM Undergraduate Research Capstone Fellowship. She applied for and was awarded the Fellowship, which allowed her to go to the ASM General Meeting (now ASM Microbe) and present a poster in 2015. At the meeting, she also attended a two-day professional development workshop now known as the Microbe Academy for Professional Development. There, she met a community of fellow undergraduate researchers. Together, they listened to career advice panels, asked questions, and practiced their presentations. “I think if I had gone alone, [the meeting] would have been even more overwhelming,” Floricel said. She’s still in contact with the other students from her cohort, and they have a Facebook group where they share tips, internship and job announcements, and other resources.
Through ABRCMS and the Research Capstone Fellowship, Floricel had opportunities that she may not have had otherwise. “I don’t think that I would have been as well prepared if I hadn’t gone through both programs,” she said. “I think that these programs are a magnificent way for students to realize that becoming a scientist is a process.” Now a first year biology Ph.D. student at Virginia Tech, her work is a continuation of her summer undergraduate research project on a virus that infects bacteria using the bacterial flagellum. She hopes to go on to a career in academia, where she can continue her research and mentor students. She also has a passion for science communication. As a first generation student, she feels that she has an important role to bridge the gap between her research and her family, learning to explain her work in a way that doesn’t overwhelm them with techniques and jargon. Along with ASM’s programs, Floricel credits her mentors with helping her get this far, and she’s excited about the future.