BME post-doc Rafael Gonzalez-Cruz PhD'18 discusses science and identity at SACNAS 2019

November 14, 2019
Rafael Gonzalez-Cruz

Rafael Gonzalez-Cruz PhD'18 at SACNAS 2019

Gonzalez-Cruz and other Brown Graduate School representatives at the Brown booth.

Students and postdocs from Brown's SACNAS chapter

The Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) held its annual national conference in Honolulu, Oahu from October 31 - November 2 with a record attendance of nearly 5000 people. The conference had many events to showcase scientific research and discussion, which included field-specific, scientific panel discussions with scientists from academia, industry, and government settings, as well as poster and podium presentations given by both undergraduate and graduate students. I was able to attend one of those sessions, Acute and Long-Term Aftermath of Trauma: A Military Perspective, which had research discussions on traumatic brain injury biomarker advances (which is directly relevant to my research project) and the use of bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cell-derived microvesicles as potential antimicrobial therapeutics. There were other talks on different subjects including computational mathematics and statistics, climate change, infectious diseases, health disparities in underrepresented populations in the US, etc.

Given the organization’s commitment in championing diversity, many of the speakers at these sessions were either Hispanic, Latinx, African American, Native American, Hawaiian, were first generation college students, and/or are actively in diversity and inclusion efforts in their working environments. As such, students were encouraged to attend sessions led by these speakers and talk to them about their shared identity and career interests. The conference even provided the space for this networking to happen by hosting a lunch/speed networking session, sponsored by Amgen, in which professors or other professionals would sit on a table based on discipline of expertise and students would come to the table and ask them about their career trajectory while sharing their current status as students and getting advice on how to navigate their careers. Speakers at this table were also willing to exchange business cards with students and promote them to contact them to continue further conversations, which I thought was very unique since some of the speakers are program directors, scientific society chairs, research scientists at companies, etc.  

When I was not attending sessions, I spent a significant amount of time talking with prospective students from different universities at Brown University’s booth. I was able to interact with 46 students out of the 120 students that visited our booth, most of them being undergraduates. I specifically met with a few students majoring in biomedical engineering who expressed great interest in attending Brown for their PhD studies. Besides Brown University’s booth, there were other universities and medical schools recruiting students, as well as professional scientific societies, foundations, and government agencies promoting fellowship opportunities for students and postdocs, which included the American Physiological Society, HHMI, NSF, NIH, DoD, AAAS, Ford Foundation, etc. I took the opportunity to visit several of these booths to gather information on several fellowships that I intend to apply as a postdoc. Some of these booths were also advertising sessions in which they would have speakers talk specifically about the application process. Besides this office, I noticed companies like Amgen and Amazon were recruiting students there.

The conference also provided space for the celebration of the different cultures and ethnicities. These social and networking events include meetings between the different SACNAS chapter E-Boards from different universities across the US and Hawaii to discuss best practices on how to maintain and expand their chapter at their local campuses, dinners with awardees of fellowships like HHMI, a dinner that included Hawaiian food an entertainment to teach guests about the culture of their host, the people of Hawaii, and a Native American-led PoW Wow celebration as closure to the conference. In my opinion, SACNAS is a really great conference for discussing both science and identity topics and how they intersect and affect the pursuit of academic and non-academic careers as well as a great opportunity to explore options when considering pursuing degrees, fellowships, career changes, professional development initiatives, etc.