Every week this summer, we had the opportunity to listen to esteemed Duke scientists share about their current research as well as their career paths. Not only was it fascinating to learn about the diverse projects they’ve dedicated their careers to, but it was very intimate to learn about their personal journeys that have made them the successful scientists they are today. It was comforting to hear their stories and to learn that a lot of them did not follow a linear path to become a scientist. Instead, many of them took non-traditional paths that allowed them to explore many different avenues and discover many valuable experiences.
Though I enjoyed listening to all the faculty seminars, Dr. Raphael Valdivia’s talk caught my attention the most. Dr. Valdivia’s lab studies the pathogen chlamydia, a bacteria that is responsible for infecting thousands of men and women with sexually transmitted diseases as well as causing infectious blindness in humans. His work mainly involves identifying the mechanisms of how chlamydia mediates reprogramming of host cells and investigating how they occur. One of the mechanisms he observed is how chlamydia infections prevent cells from undergoing apoptosis, or cell death. I thought it was interesting how chlamydia uses this mechanism to proliferate in cells.
However, what really drew my attention was how personal he was with sharing his story. Dr. Valdivia grew up in Lima, Peru. He obtained his undergraduate education at Cornell University, attended Stanford for his Ph.D. and Berkeley for his post-doc. It wasn’t an easy road for him, however. After not being able to get into grad school right after college, it was his amount of determination to get in after his gap year that really inspired me. He was also faced with many tough decisions, such as having to decide to work in a lab where he values intellectual stimulation and being outdoors where he loves the adrenaline rush of climbing mountains. His gap year helped him decide that his true calling was with science and discovery. He really emphasized how important hard work is. If you’re willing to put in the work that it takes, you can go far. Ultimately, it was this amount of determination and authentic passion he has for his work that I enjoyed hearing the most.