As Ecuadorian Paola Molina, PhD candidate, reflects on her journey to becoming a successful scientist, she recognizes that her parents helped pave the way for her by reinforcing hard work and determination.
When Paola turned 5-years-old, her parents made the decision to immigrate to the United States to seek higher opportunities of employment and education for their family. Her father, a trained physician, knew that practicing the profession in a foreign country was going to be a challenge. However, after a few years of trying to make it work, he made the move back to Ecuador once he realized that he wasn’t able to work in the US.
Paola’s father had exposed her from an early age to his work ethic and career, and as the years went by Paola learned to love the field. In 2000, her parents returned to New York with the hopes that Paola could take advantage of education opportunities in the US. By that time she already knew that she was following in her father’s footsteps and becoming a science major.
Paola recalled being inspired by scientists, especially her father. “They seem to know a lot. Biologists understand and know how things work,” she said after earning her Bachelors in Sciences from Cumberland University in 2008.
“When I graduated, a professor suggested that I get involved in a research project so that I could improve my chances of getting accepted into medical school. I decided that this would be another opportunity for me to seek more preparation in the science field so I took the challenge and enrolled in Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) to pursue a graduate degree in Biology,” she added.
During her time as a graduate student, Paola focused her research on the effect of ultraviolet light on cancer cells. These studies further developed her interests in research. Paola graduated from MTSU in 2012, and that same year began the PhD program. She said her parents have been instrumental in encouraging her to continue working hard to achieve her goals.
And that has been exactly what Paola has been doing. Paola is one of the researchers at MTSU. She is focusing her research in mitochondrial diseases, which are diseases inherited through the mother’s side of the DNA. She expressed how she wants her research to make a positive impact in the scientific industry. “I want to help advance the research on these diseases, as the available treatments are still very risky for the patients.”
Paola is expecting to finish her PhD in 2016, and she hopes to join the research team at St. Jude Children’s Hospital. Her dream is to be a part of Mr. Douglas Gree’s team, one of the leading children’s cancer researchers in the country.
In retrospect, Paola says that coming from Ecuador and having learned the value of determination and hard work from her parents made her seize every opportunity in her career. “When you think about Ecuador, you may think that it’s a small country—but regardless of how small it is, we never give up. Give me an opportunity and I will thrive. I will work hard and take it by storm.”