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The Sense of Discovery

Posted on March 30, 2009

Keith A. Trujillo (bio) describes how he first became interested in science.


I grew up in a very small, rural community, and there wasn't much science around. And the perspective that we had on science was what we saw on television or movies, and there was nobody like me that I saw in science. And I thought you must have to be independently wealthy to pursue a career in science, didn't see how you could make money doing science. And so I just didn't have the exposure that allowed me to see myself in a scientific career.

It wasn't until I was, probably, a senior in college that I saw that there was a potential opportunity, and so from there I sought out an opportunity to engage in research.

I had the opportunity to meet a faculty member who was doing science, and she exposed me to science in a research laboratory. And it just seemed so exciting to me to see something for the very first time that nobody has seen before, to have that sense of discovery.

I kind of had that as a kid, going out and exploring around my own neighborhood and out in nature, and I felt that there was this excitement around discovery. And it wasn't until I was able to experience it in an institutional setting that I saw, "Ah, well, maybe there is an opportunity here."

And there from there I was also exposed to potential careers in science and saw that I could be a faculty member at a university and engage in research at that level. My exposure to teachers was all about teaching, not about teaching and doing other things, high school teachers and community college instructors and things like that. But at the four-year university I saw that there was this career path where you could balance your teaching and research, and it seemed like a real nice way to fulfill my interests.

And so I decided then to go on and get a PhD because I realized that a PhD was required for me to do anything important in research. And having not had the early experience to really get the ball rolling, I took five and a half years to get my PhD. And so it was a little bit longer than I expected, but it gave me the skills that I needed to go on further.

And then I pursued a post-doc at the University of Michigan, and that was really the most important foundation for me to really build a serious career in research. And I was able to develop the skills and the independence and the confidence that I needed in order to establish myself as an independent investigator.

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Excerpted from interview with researcher at the 2008 National Hispanic Science Network on Drug Abuse Conference in Bethesda, MD.


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