Daniel Garcia graduated in 2010 from Harvey Mudd College with a B.S. in biology. During the summer of 2009, he worked through the EXROP program on asthma research with HHMI investigator Richard Locksley at the University of California, San Francisco. In the fall, he will begin a Ph.D. program in biomedical sciences at University of California, San Diego.
Q. When did you know scientific research was the field for you?
A. The first moment was when I was taking biochemistry in college, as I was first learning how to read and analyze scientific papers. I went back and did research on the medication I was taking for arthritis, which I was diagnosed with when I was six years old. I found the original paper that was published, and was able to understand some of it. Then I realized, wow, this is where it came from -- this is how it all started, this is what nearly saved my life in terms of the quality of life that I’m living. That’s when I realized that I really wanted to go into research to help people.
Later, when I was doing a year of research at the National Institutes of Health after I graduated, I got the chance to be independent in the lab. I was given a project and I pretty much took ownership of it. I had a great time learning how to do research and feeling like I was an actual scientist, not just a student. I know I still have a long way to go before I get there, but I got a taste of what it’s going to be like in graduate school and after, by interacting with a lot of postdocs and other great scientists. These past couple years at the NIH are what cemented my desire to go into research.
Q. Why is diversity important in science?
A. People are brought up in different ways, and so people with different perspectives might look at a problem in a different way, which might be helpful when you’re trying to tackle a major problem. Some might say science is blind to that because it’s a seemingly objective field. But I think that how you go about thinking about a problem is somehow dependent on your worldview.
Also, people from different backgrounds might be motivated to study certain things more than others. That was something that struck me when I heard Dr. Tyron Hayes speak about his scientific career. He talked about how corn pesticides affect animals in the environment and humans in the chemical factories, and mentioned that some of his students are from regions where pesticides are widely used, so they have a personal impetus to do something about it. I think personal experiences are important in providing motivation to do science.
Q. What has the Gilliam fellowship meant to you?
A. It’s a huge honor. But it’s also a lot of responsibility. HHMI has given me a rare and valuable opportunity, so I am fully committing myself to pursue a career in science while keeping James Gilliam’s vision in mind. I realize now that I have kind of a big job to do, to try and make a difference. It’s daunting because it’s hard to change the status quo, but I think that with all the Gilliam fellows working together, it’s possible.
Photo: Paul Morigi/AP Images for HHMI