By Juan Cervantes
The year you participated in the UC Davis McNair Scholars Program:
Where are you currently a graduate student?
University of California, Riverside
Tell me about your research interests and why you are passionate about this topic?
My research interests lie towards technological innovation, specifically in the area of microfluidic instrumentation. This field of research gives me free rein over how I want to approach the design of microfluidic devices for different applications, allowing me to come up with creative solutions for optimizing their performance.
What is the most helpful advice you’ve received?
The most helpful advice I've received in that time, however, spent, is never wasted. All experiences, whether positive or negative and people we've met along the way help to shape the future path we eventually end up taking.
Who has influenced you the most in life?
The biggest influence in my life has been my family, who have helped me to navigate through difficult times in life and continue to support all the decisions I make.
Growing up, what did you want to be?
Growing up, I wanted to be an accountant due to my love for math. This eventually steered more towards engineering as my interests in science also grew.
Please share a favorite memory of UC Davis?
One of my favorite memories of UC Davis was biking throughout campus and admiring the beauty of the nature surrounding it.
Please share with us your McNair story and what impact would you say McNair had in your life?
The McNair Scholars Program has had a large impact on my life and was probably the turning point where I decided that I really wanted to attend graduate school. Coming into McNair, graduate school was always a goal for me to work towards but I never really knew what it consisted of. After finding a lab to work in, with help from the McNair staff, I met graduate students who showed me the current problems they were researching in bioengineering and inspired me to want to continue learning more about the field. Through McNair, I also became friends with a group of students who had gone through similar experiences as I had and were striving to reach even higher heights in their respective fields than I was. My cohort continued to help each other out and showed me the importance of having a support network you can rely on during difficult times. The experiences I gained from my friends and mentors in the McNair Scholars Program are invaluable and helped me to grow as a person, gave meaning to why I continue conducting research every day, and defined the goals I want to achieve after graduate school.
What obstacles have you encountered in graduate school?
The biggest obstacle I've encountered in graduate school was in finding the right lab to pursue my degree in. Due to my financial situation at the beginning of graduate school, I wasn't able to find many labs that were willing to take the risk in supporting me financially, leading me to join a lab in order to stay in the program rather than out of interest. Eventually, I decided to leave the lab and continue searching. This led to a series of problems with graduate division regarding my academic progress, but I remained determined, frequently consulted with my graduate student adviser, and was able to find a lab that I really enjoy coming to every day to do research.
What traits or habits of yours do you think have helped you the most in graduate school?
My desire to want to keep learning has helped me the most in graduate school. This helped me to continually ask questions when I didn't understand something and grow as an engineer. Being observant has also helped me to pick up on visual cues and make quick decisions.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
People would probably be surprised to learn how competitive I am despite my reserved nature. Knowing that there is an opportunity to compete with someone else has been the driving force for a lot of the actions I've made.
We always let our scholars know that self-care is an important thing besides academics. What are some of your current hobbies outside of academics?
Outside of academics, I actively socialize with other graduate students in my department. We frequently go out for dinner, play sports (tennis, badminton, racquetball, pickleball), and have weekly game nights.
Any words of advice for our scholars?
Always choose the path where your inclinations become the driving force for how you conduct research. Once research starts to dictate your actions and how you live your life, then the novelty of learning about the subject matter quickly wears away and it becomes less enjoyable. Also, try to find a group of friends you can count on for not only classwork but also hearing out any struggles you're facing. The sooner your conflicts are vented out to others, the sooner you'll realize what you need to do to resolve them. It's definitely possible to go through graduate school alone, but having people around you who are aiming for similar goals as you make it much more bearable. Lastly, always prioritize your own happiness. As long as you stay in a good state of mind, a lot of the pieces for the path in front of you tend to fall into place on their own.