SOT Diversity Initiatives Endowment Career Development Award Fostered Opportunities for Recipient Yislain Villalona

Thanks to support from the Society of Toxicology (SOT), I was the first undergraduate recipient of the SOT Diversity Initiatives Endowment Career Development Award. What an incredible honor and opportunity! This award provides funding for students to take part in career development opportunities to enhance our professional development. I applied for the award in hopes of attending my first national scientific conference. It ended up being a double bonus, for which I am extremely grateful. I was able to present posters about my research at both the Teratology Society and Developmental Neurotoxicology Society meetings because the two societies hold joint conferences each year.

 

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Photo credit: Linda Roberts, SOT member and Chair of the Teratology Society Communications Coordination Committee

The conferences took place in Denver, Colorado, June 24–28, where I ended up meeting important researchers in toxicology in very informal situations. I met Dr. William Slikker, the Director of the National Center for Toxicological Research and former SOT President, while playing in the annual Teratology Society volleyball game. I also ended up playing a friendly game of Pictionary at the DNTS social with the Society’s President-Elect, Dr. Diana Dow-Edwards, a respected professor who studies drug abuse. During my time at the conference, I learned how to present myself to graduate schools, and I determined that I could potentially do a lot of work in public health with my research background.

I attended a Teratology Society professional development workshop on science communication, and I received great advice from SOT Member Dr. Nicole Kleinstreuer and Reproductive and Developmental Toxicology Specialty Section President Kary Thompson on how to prepare oral and poster presentations. This helped me by teaching me how to speak to my audience in order for them to understand my project better, based on their background knowledge on the topic. I also learned to make my project more personal, by giving a real-world example to my audience to show them why they should care about the research and its effects on our daily lives.

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Photo credit: The Teratology Society. Posing with my mentor Christine Perdan Curran to promote the meetings on social media.

I also attended a Teratology Society symposium on communicating science to the general public and learned how science journalists decide which stories to cover. I met the President of the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology, Dr. Hudson Freeze, and we discussed the importance of good communications skills to advocate for science funding and to educate the general public.

My goal for these conferences was to discover more opportunities in public health with my degree, as well as to see how much I can do with my research background. During my presentations, I met academic scientists who offered me information on research positions and PhD programs.

I would like to receive more guidance from mentors on how to apply for a graduate program and what they recommend I should do to make my resume more competitive. I was invited to visit SOT member Dr. Vanessa Fitsanakis at her new lab at the Northeast Ohio Medical University to discuss graduate school opportunities, and I hope to do so in the next six months.

Graduate schools and companies are looking more at students who have a research background compared with those who don’t have any experience. While I continue to widen my knowledge in the field, I will hopefully improve my qualifications before applying to a program. 

Another thing I would like to accomplish is to receive feedback from mentors and colleagues on my research to get our findings published. Since the mentors at the conference have much more experience in what it takes to get something published, I also would like to be able to learn from others’ experience to see how I can improve my research work in the lab to improve rigor and reproducibility.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to attend both of these meetings and the support from SOT made it possible.

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