Laura Menocal is a Ph.D. Candidate at Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences where she specializes in Tumor Immunology research. When Laura isn’t doing research, she be found coordinating activities are events for the Tri-Institutional Minority Society (where she is the co-president!) and running a research program for underrepresented students.
Laura grew up in the suburbs of Long Island, and despite its close proximity to New York City, views New York City as “much more diverse and open-minded” by comparison. Since Laura was a young child, she longed to live in New York City and explore its “fast-paced environment . . . cultural diversity, the convenience of public transportation, and of course all of the food!”. Laura especially appreciate the fact that New York City has something for everyone.
What’s your favorite thing about being a scientist? Did you always want to be a scientist?
“What I love about being a scientist is that it’s literally my job to come up with cool, novel questions and figure out cool ways to answer those questions. I get to stay curious, critical, and creative. What’s also great is that I get to apply this critical and creative way of thinking to my every day life outside of lab.”
Can you think of a specific time when you found science or pursuing science challenging?
“The process of going through my qualifying exam was quite challenging for me. My program is unique in the sense that our qualifying exams are off-topic. It was my first time going through the process of writing completely by myself. I would get discouraged and frustrated often, even to the point where I started doubting my capabilities. However, I am fortunate to have an extremely supportive mentor, lab, group of friends, and family that all kept me going. Eventually, I passed! While extremely difficult, the experience truly helped boost my confidence as a scientist and reassure me that I am capable of more than I give myself credit for.”
If you could give one piece of advice to young scientists or students, what would it be?
“Don’t give up, you are capable of so much more than you think! Science is incredibly challenging and you will experience many failures. That’s okay! Just as you experience failures, you will also experience many triumphs. The key is to keep going, stay focused, and remember WHY you are doing this.”
Keep moving forward. Times will get tough, sometimes things won’t work, but it’s so important to keep moving forward. Surround yourself with people that support you and bring out the best in you. They will be there when times get tough. It’s always important to remember why you are doing what you are doing and to keep moving towards your goals!
Have you ever made something explode or otherwise wildly go wrong in lab?
“Not yet, thankfully! Knock on wood!!!!”
If you hadn’t pursued science, what would you have done instead?
“This is a difficult question because I am so passionate about science that I really can’t picture myself doing anything else. However, I do enjoy trying new foods and I absolutely love animals. Perhaps I would have tried to have a show like Guy Fieri’s Diner, Drive-Ins and Dives on Food Network. A job where I get paid to try new food and eat all the time? Sign me up! Or perhaps a career where I can hangout with animals all day. Maybe a combination of the two?!”
What is the funniest/strangest thing you have seen in NYC
“I personally LOVE our NYC pigeons. There is a pigeon couple that lives outside my apartment building. It’s hilarious watching the male chase the female around. Sometimes, she let’s him cuddle with her. Other times, she gives him the cold shoulder. They’re a lot of fun to watch!”
When you are done training, do you plan to stay in NYC?
“While I would like to travel to other cities and countries, NYC is where I ultimately want to end up living. New York has always been home to me and it’s hard to picture myself calling anywhere else home. So yes, staying in NYC is the plan! If everything works out.”
If you were a lab animal/model organism, which would you be and why?
“I would probably be a rat. In my experience, they are very sweet and relaxed. They can even be playful! I once “met”/worked with a rat that had a very similar personality as my dog. She was sweet, but also sassy.”
If the building was burning, what single item would you grab as you ran out the door and why?
“I would say my dog, but she isn’t an item, she is practically a human being. So I guess I would grab my phone. I have to call my mom to let her know I’m okay!”