Amanda Acosta-Ruiz is a PhD candidate at Weill Cornell Medicine where she specializes in Cell Biology and Neurobiology research. In addition to her research, Amanda is the co-chair of Science and Education Policy Association (SEPA)—a Tri-Institute organization that provides resources to connect scientists and policymakers—, a mentor to undergraduate students through the Tri-I Minority Scholars’ summer programming and a science outreach participant at community events such as RockEDU’s Science Saturday.
Amanda came to New York eager to experience the unique culture, atmosphere and diversity that trickles through each neighborhood.
Amanda grew up in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and claims that “although both New York and Puerto Rico are islands, they could not be more different”. Amanda finds difficulty in the constant weather changes, joking that she “can’t master the concepts of layers”, and therefore is, “always wearing short-sleeved shirts and throwing a huge jacket on top”. However, she appreciates the ease city-living and the accessibility of Puerto Rican culture in New York City. “Whenever I get homesick, I’ll head over to a delicious Puerto Rican restaurant and eat mofongo or arroz con habichuelas! There’s usually some salsa music playing that transports me back home!”.
What’s your favorite thing about being a scientist? Did you always want to be a scientist?
“I’ve known I wanted to be a scientist since I was a sixteen-year-old high school student. I was lucky to have an inspiring and truly dedicated biology teacher that encouraged and guided me through multiple science fair projects in high school. She sparked that curiosity in me and led me to understand how much more there was to science than what the textbooks presented. I remember seeing a new issue of ‘Science’ on her desk every so often and being amazed at how many new studies were being constantly produced, compared to a science textbook that sometimes seems like it doesn’t change for years. My favorite part of being a scientist is identifying the questions that others have yet to look into and thinking of how I would approach it. Those initial phases of questioning and designing experiments are where the creativity and curiosity are allowed to roam free.”
“I . . . enjoy figuring out a good way to communicate the questions I want to answer, whether that’s through a science communication piece or a grant application. It’s definitely one of the hardest parts too! But the sense of accomplishment and pride when I feel like I’ve nailed a written piece is worth it!”
Can you think of a specific time when you found science or pursuing science challenging?
“Honestly, science is difficult all the time! Experiments go wrong pretty frequently. Understanding that failure rate and being able to learn from each failure is a perspective that many of us don’t have early on and slowly develop over time. And although I get a huge sense of accomplishment when I gather interesting data, the flip side is not letting a failed experiment ruin my day or week.”
If you could give one piece of advice to young scientists or students, what would it be?
“Keep trying, but also take care of yourself. Sometimes the hardships and failure rate is going to be overwhelming and you’re going to wonder if you have what it takes to make it through. On those days, surround yourself with friends. Sharing my struggles with my friends going through similar situations has helped me feel less alone and understand that my struggles are shared by many of us. A good support system can also help distract you when needed! Take a day or two, go to Governor’s Island (my fav spot in NYC!), indulge in the trendy NYC food scene (Smorgasburg, definitely!), do something fun that brings you the happiness you need to jump back into science.”
What is the funniest/strangest thing you have seen in NYC
“Not sure if this is “funny/strange,” but I was almost badly hurt when a stampede broke out at a Central Park concert last summer. I managed to run in the other direction fast enough, but lost one shoe in the process. Luckily, walking back to my Upper East Side apartment barefoot is probably the best place to be walking around barefoot in NYC.
If you were a lab animal/model organism, which would you be and why?
“I would love to be a c. elegans worm! I worked with them for just one rotation, but I fell in love! They get to squirm around in their own food all day. What more could I want?!”