Jessica (Mader) Cavazos
Graduation Year: 2008
Current Position: Research Technician (Endocrine Research Unit), Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN
My principle tasks are taking care of our mouse colony (treating mice, setting up breeding cages, genotyping mice, and performing necropsies on dead mice), DNA/RNA isolation, reverse transcriptase PCRs, Real Time PCRs, ELISA assays, tissue harvests, whole animal fixation, pre/post surgical mouse care and entering/analyzing data. As a Mayo employee I am able to take graduate courses from the Mayo Graduate School to further my education and build my resume for graduate school. I also have the opportunity to contribute to papers that my lab is preparing to publish and have delivered presentations regarding my lab's research to members of Mayo's research groups.
What path did you follow to arrive at your current job?
I contacted a Mayo researcher who heads her own lab after reading an article she had written on Insulin-like Growth Factors. I asked to meet with her to ask advice about a career in medical research, graduate school, and how to balance a successful career with a rewarding private life. At the end of our meeting, I asked if I could send my resume to her for consideration of a summer internship. I followed up with a thank you and a packet containing my resume and letters of recommendation from my professors. I was invited to work in her lab for two summers. After graduation from CSB/SJU, I was hired as a fulltime research tech in that same lab.
What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career?
My advice to students who would like to pursue a career in medical research is to learn outside of the classroom. Read research articles, public news articles on science and research, and search for online information about the scientific arenas that hold your interest. It's amazing what you can learn on your own. Follow something you are passionate about. I have a deep passion for diabetes research; it's something that pushes me through difficult schedules and classes. If I wasn't particularly interested in what I was being taught at St. Ben's, I found someway to relate it to diabetes, and then it was easier to study, understand and apply. Take a variety of science courses; the integration of sciences is key. You'll never find a job that sticks to one specific science, so it's important to have a background in various sciences. In my job I pull from lots of my courses at CSB/SJU from Micro, Immunology, Cell Biology, Molecular Genetics, Evolution, and Animal Physiology to Virology and even my general sciences. Make sure to put effort into your labs. Sometimes you may want to hurry through, but in reality, a lot of what you do in medical research has some basis in the laboratory practices you acquire as an undergrad.
What skills are important in your field?
Multitasking is important in my career. Because there are incubation times, gel running times and other breaks in a project, it is important to be able to use that time to work on another experiment, catch up on data entry/analysis, or read a new protocol for an upcoming project. At the same time you need to be able to focus on what you are working currently. You'd find it near impossible to load a gel or run a PCR while reading a protocol for RNA isolation. Teamwork is important as well. There are many things that you can do by yourself, but other tasks take more people. An example is harvesting tissues for RNA. We have three people involved since there are many tissues that need to be removed and snap frozen immediately after the mouse has been euthanized. The more time that passes, the more degraded the RNA will become. Communication is very important in my field. When working on an experiment you may be doing one part and your coworker doing another. Or you might be collaborating with another lab across the country or world. If you can't communicate clearly with someone, your entire experiment could be at risk which might mean years of research all for naught.
What is the most satisfying/rewarding part of your job? Most challenging?
The most satisfying part of my career thus far has been seeing projects through to completion; to be able to see the outcome of all my hard work. I like thinking about how this will help people in the future. The most challenging part of my work is juggling all of the projects that the lab has in process. There are numerous studies, each with many different experiments. In addition to this, it's hard to keep up with the day to day tasks that have to be performed to keep everything running smoothly. The scientist in me gets frustrated when we have an especially large amount of regular tasks to perform when I really want to begin that exciting new experiment that can be started as soon as x, y, and z are completed.
What activities/experiences were helpful at CSB/SJU (and elsewhere) in preparation for this career?
Time in the laboratory and laboratory reports are essential for your career in the sciences. The lab reports during my years at CSB/SJU seemed to be mundane, time-killers-papers that I would want to curse every time I had to write them-are wonderful tools! They prepare you for writing in a scientific format and help you think through the entire scientific process. This is a remarkable skill that you will always use! Every time you re/apply for a grant, committee approval, etc., you need to explain why this study is important, what you think your results will be, how you will go about the experiments, and be able to cite articles supporting your research. Your lab reports prepare you for this. Do a thesis and start work on it early! You can finally focus your education on something that you are really interested in. You get to design the entire experiment, perform the experiment, analyze your results and provide your own conclusions. You learn more than you will ever know and it looks great on applications and resumes that you took the initiative to complete a thesis experiment. It does mean more time in the library and the lab, but if you want a career in medical research that is what you will be doing.
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