Hugo Vega-Ramirez graduated in 2011 from the University of California, Davis with a B.S. in neurobiology, physiology, and behavior. As an EXROP student in 2009, he studied synapse-inducing factors in the brain in HHMI investigator Richard Huganir’s lab at Johns Hopkins University. In the fall, he will begin a Ph.D. program in neuroscience at Harvard University.
Q. What triggered your interest in science?
A. I had an aunt who had Alzheimer’s disease when I was pretty young. To me that was tragic, but also somewhat fascinating, because I didn’t really understand what was going on, and no one else did either. I wanted to know what was wrong and if there was something that we could do. As I got older, I took a psychology course in high school and I was really fascinated by behavioral studies, but I felt like they only got so far, and I really felt more satisfied when I took a biology course and studied the nervous system.
Q. What is the greatest obstacle you’ve had to overcome in the lab?
A. I think my biggest obstacle has been myself. Before trying to do scientific research, I didn’t really know how to deal with failure. As you know, science is a ton of failures, and trying to learn from those failed attempts. So that was initially my hardest obstacle, and I’m sure it will continue to be one of the hardest things to overcome.
Also, coming from a family where no one else is really in the same field, it’s hard to explain why you are coming home late from the lab or spending weekends there. It’s not as clear cut as a nine-to-five job. I think over time my family has definitely realized that this is something that I love to do, and because of that I’ve gotten a lot more support from my family, but initially it was somewhat difficult to get them to be excited for me or engaged in what I did.
Q. Why do you think diversity in the sciences and in scientific leadership is important?
A. It’s helpful to have people that have had different experiences throughout life come together and think about an issue. Different perspectives on something could lead to the generation of a thought or idea that wouldn’t come forth if it was a group of people that were thinking the same things or having the same experiences. Diversity helps science move forward.
Also, having a more diverse scientific community would help make the general public better appreciate science. Knowing people who are devoted to science helps the general public better understand why scientific research is useful and why we should keep funding it. If you have more people from different backgrounds doing it, you can have more people from those backgrounds learning about it.
Photo: Paul Morigi/AP Images for HHMI