Dr. Aura Ontiveros-Valencia
New graduate from the School of Sustainability and the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology
The mentorship by my co-chairs (Dr. Rittmann and Dr. Krajmalnik-Brown) was fundamental and set the stage for putting my ideas into experiments, and then into “take-home” messages. Thanks to all the feedback and supportive assistance from my lab partners, writing tutors, friends, and family, I was able to graduate. The courses I took build the basis for the “big picture”. My work in the lab was intensive; however it was productive. My lab reports were the basis of my first manuscript. I can’t forget one time I entered Dr. Rittmann’s office and he encouraged me to start a manuscript. He said: “the fun is just about to start”. I was hesitant to stop running MBfRs, and analyzing samples all day long and even during the weekends; I was on a “denial mode” for writing. But, yes, Dr. Rittmann was right--the fun started with my first manuscript. It took me a year, several grammar lessons, and “X” number of iterations with Dr. Rittmann and Dr. Krajmalnik-Brown. My first paper was published by the end of my third year in my program. I was super excited, and the excitement continued with more manuscripts in the queue.
However, not all was smooth and easy: the PhD journey also involves rough times, and everybody willing to take the challenge should be aware. In my case, I had to go through tough situations in academia: from being a non-native speaker to managing a team. At the end, I obtained the skills and knowledge which allowed me to become an expert in my area. Nevertheless and beyond professional credentials, a PhD requires you to have courage and deep passion for what you do. Everyone is packaged differently, and some people might quit while others remain resilient. My PhD journey had very difficult personal moments, at the point that perhaps my co-advisors question themselves if I would overcome those moments. And, I did it! I did it with strong commitment to honor my roots and because I love my work.
I would like to conclude by telling you that I truly believe that achieving a PhD doesn’t only involve academics, but also balancing properly your life and school. It involves your ability to challenge yourself and to keep moving forward regardless the rough times. While writing this blog, a lot of emotions came to my mind. Yes, achieving a PhD is not easy per se; however I would encourage you to take the opportunity to become the new leader in the field!