Breaking Through to a Career in Science

Amgen Scholar Summer Science Series – Q&A with Amgen Scholar Josean Alicea

Josean Alicea is a statistics tutor, athlete and junior year honor student majoring in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Puerto Rico-Aguadilla. He was an Amgen Scholar at Johns Hopkins University in 2019 and this summer participated in the virtual Summer Science Series, a remote offering of lectures, panels and discussions hosted by the Amgen Scholars Program through the month of July.

A self-proclaimed “research enthusiast driven towards Pharmacology, Chemical Biology and Molecular sciences,” Alicea has shown his love for learning goes beyond just the classroom as he dedicates his time and knowledge with others through tutoring and volunteering. He told us more about how the Amgen Scholars program has helped him as he pursues a career in science.

How did you first realize your interest in science?

I can’t recall a specific time in my life where I realized I was interested in science, but I do know that science has been present for most of my life. As a kid, I would buy books about astronomy. I asked for a microscope for Christmas and loved visiting the radio telescope observatory in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. I think that the reason I had this strange affinity toward science at a young age, and still have it as an adult, is because through science I can answer the questions and curiosities about the world around me.

What were your science classes like growing up?

My science classes growing up, at first, were not dynamic and pretty simple. I only had to memorize definitions and some concepts and had little or no lab time. It was not until high school when my science classes became more dynamic, tests were focused on the application of the concepts learned in class, and we were able to participate in interesting experiments and science fairs. It was here when I realized that I enjoyed studying for science class and this led me to choose Biomedical Sciences as my major when I enrolled at the university.

Can you tell us a little bit about your experience studying at Johns Hopkins through the Amgen Scholars Program?

My experience at Johns Hopkins was amazing. I worked at the Department of Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences in Dr. Netzahualcoyotl Arroyo’s lab investigating new ways to improve electrochemical aptamer-based sensors. The first two weeks were challenging because the basis of this research was analytical chemistry and it was completely out of my comfort zone, but after lots of reading and with the help of Dr. Arroyo and the lab members, I quickly understood the theory behind my research work. The interdisciplinary and inclusive environment during those 10 weeks is the reason why I want to pursue my doctorate degree at Johns Hopkins and I have to thank the Amgen Scholars Program for such an opportunity.

What were some of the highlights for you this summer during the Amgen Scholars Summer Science Series? Were there any specific sessions or speakers who made an impact on you?

The Amgen Scholars Summer Science Series brought to my attention a lot of interesting sessions that included topics on new research breakthroughs from different areas, life when working for the industry, and life as a PhD candidate. The session that impacted me the most was the life as a PhD candidate panel. Cali Calarco and Alexi Choueiri shared their PhD experience and it helped me a lot. I am going to apply for graduate school this fall and thanks to them I now feel more confident because I have a clearer idea of what challenges I will face next year.

How have you stayed connected with the Amgen Scholars Program?

Thanks to the Amgen Scholars Program I was able to build a good relationship with my peers, primary investigator, and the professors who ran the program at Johns Hopkins. We have kept in touch during this past year and they have served as my guides and advisors. Also, participating and attending the Amgen Scholars Summer Science Series sessions helped me stay connected to the program and to the large community that composes it.

What’s your advice for those currently pursuing a career in science, or those interested in applying for the Amgen Scholars Program?

My words of advice for those pursuing a career in science is that there is not one correct way to achieve your goals. You can take so many different paths and still end with the same result, but the one thing that is constant and the key to moving forward and achieving your goals in any science field is to be persistent. Also, I highly recommend the Amgen Scholars Program to those who are planning on pursuing a career in STEM. This program will provide you not only with the amazing opportunity of conducting research at incredible universities, but also of meeting incredible scientists from academia and the industry that will share their experiences and provide you with all the tools necessary to make the best decision for your future.

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