The Society recently caught up with 2008 Biophysical Society Summer Program in Biophysics alumna and active member of the BPS Education Committee, Yadilette Rivera-Colón. Since participating in the program as an undergraduate, Yadilette has gone on to receive her PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and complete a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania. Read more about her life and career in her 2014 profile in the BPS newsletter. This August, Yadilette will begin a new, exciting chapter in her career.
Tell us about where you are now in your career.
I just attained my first faculty position at Bay Path University. Starting this fall, I will begin my roles as an undergraduate research coordinator and assistant professor in biology.
What excites you most about starting this new position?
The most exciting aspect of this new position is the fact that I will get to educate not just within the school but also the community as a whole. There are many underserved students in that area and I want to be able to create educational opportunities for them so that they know how many options are available for them. I am looking forward to try innovative teaching methods and one of the reasons I joined Bay Path University is because it is an environment where professors are encouraged to do so.
What is your research focus?
I plan to study novel acetyltransferases and gain insight into their structure and function using exciting directed evolution approaches.
When and how did you first become interested in this type of research?
I first developed an interest in protein structural biology as an undergraduate summer student while studying T7 Polymerase in Dr. Craig T. Martin’s lab at UMass Amherst.
How have mentors played a role in shaping your success?
Yes! In addition to working closely with your thesis advisor, it is important to surround yourself with mentors that have supplementary skills, strengths, and areas of expertise. Dr. Craig T. Martin, Dr. Jeanne Hardy, Dr. Sandra Petersen, Dr. Barbara Osborne, Dr. Scott C. Garman (my thesis advisor), and Dr. Ronen Marmorstein (my post-doc advisor) were all critical to my success as a scientist. My amazing teaching mentors, Dr. Sandra Devenny and Dr. Georgia Arbuckle, were similarly important to my development as a teacher. These professors helped me with everything from improving my grammar to developing confidence to designing efficient and informative experiments. I have also found mentors in my undergraduate students: Emily Schutsky, Sarah Tarullo, Shaul Kushinsky, Andrew Maguire, and Nada Bader. They always kept me grounded and helped me remember what it is like at the beginning of your scientific career.
What have been some of your toughest challenges so far in advancing your career?
So many challenges! In addition to the new language, moving to the main land from Puerto Rico presented a variety of weather and cultural differences. From the necessity of buying a winter coat, to shaking hands firmly rather than hugging and kissing to say “hi,” I found grad school life to be a bit colder than what I was used to. I felt a certain amount of pressure to conform to the quieter, less colorful personal and professional styles shown by my some of my classmates. Over time, however, I have learned a lot about other cultures and how amazing it is to have perspectives of people from very different backgrounds. There were times when I struggled with the fact that some people achieve their goals more quickly than others, but I have learned that there is nothing wrong with being a bit slower, as you can still accomplish the goals you have set for yourself.
What was the most important thing you learned or took away from the Biophysical Society’s Summer Program that helped you get where you are at now?
Dr. Martin told me about the Summer Course in Biophysics, and it has been one of the most instrumental aspects of my development as a scientist. My current success would be unimaginable without the amazing support network of professors and colleagues that I cultivated there.
What was your favorite thing about participating in the summer program?
I really enjoyed the opportunity to study with students from different academic and ethnic backgrounds, especially when working together on our homework. Everyone I collaborated with had a different area of expertise, and we helped each other learn challenging new concepts in a really fun, diverse environment.
What advice would you give for current undergraduates interested in pursuing a higher degree?
Keep your career options open and learn about everything. You never know what skills or connections will help you in the future, so keep learning and keep growing your professional network!