We’re taking time to get to know the members of the GSA’s Early Career Scientist Committees. Join us to learn more about our early career scientist advocates.
Julio Molina Pineda
Policy and Advocacy Subcommittee
University of Arkansas
My research interests focus on using model organisms to genetically dissect complex traits related to human disease. My main project consists of using yeast to elucidate the genetic basis of natural variation in resistance and susceptibility to the Parkinson’s Disease-related protein alpha-synuclein. This protein has been linked with neuronal cell death and its overexpression is a hallmark of Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. Yeast can be used to model cellular death by alpha-synuclein toxicity, and we have created a panel of ecologically diverse wild strains to understand how and why some individuals might be more susceptible while others are more resistant to this protein’s toxicity. By elucidating the mechanisms behind these differences in resistance and susceptibility, we hope to set the foundations for possible treatment avenues.
As a PhD-trained scientist, you have many career options. What interests you the most?
While I have been passionate about science and research since an early age, I am also interested in growing professionally in different aspects. My general career goal is to be a principal investigator at a top research university or institute, trying to figure out key insights for the betterment of our human species. Through rigorous scientific research, we can usually find the answers we need in order to move toward a prosperous future. Nonetheless, being a researcher goes beyond the bench itself and writing grants; I also aim to be the best version of a mentor that I can offer, ensuring that new generations of scientists are not only received with open arms but also benefit the most from their scientific path.
In a similar manner, I am highly interested in improving the research enterprise in my home country, Honduras. Advanced scientific research is one of the hallmarks of any developed country; unfortunately, it is often last on the priority list of countries seeking to develop further. Honduras suffers from many ills, but corruption and a general disinterest (fueled mainly by the unfamiliarity of research) have made it hard to develop robust research institutes, with universities lacking resources to develop a comprehensive plan. I am thus highly interested in finding the resources necessary to develop a robust basic research institute in Honduras. This endeavor shall not only heavily benefit the scientific community, but it will also serve as an example of how, when given equal opportunities, everyone and anyone can contribute to the fabric of science. It is my goal to show, through exemplary scientific research, that incredible scientific insights will always be produced by those who practice science ethically—no matter their origin.
In addition to your research, how do you want to advance the scientific enterprise?
Besides research, one of my main goals is to become an expert on science policy and communication. As an international student, who also happens to be a minority from a developing country, I have unique perspectives on how the public views science and the intersection with policy and communication. Minorities are often omitted from discussions on science policy and communication strategies. I hope that being an expert in my field will help me create a sense of connection with the community, a connection that should help the layperson further their understanding of science. Sadly, we constantly see how difficult it is for policymakers to discuss science and all its potential benefits. Many current scientific issues exist in a grey moral zone, but policies are not catching up with new technologies. Moreover, articles are often too technical and complex, and summaries are usually made for the scientific community. We, therefore, need to explore ideas for communicating science in an accessible way for the general public. This dissonance between those writing the scientific articles and the general population has created an atmosphere of disinformation and mistrust in science. It is our responsibility as scientists to make sure that our findings are not only accurate and factual but also available and understandable to as many people as possible. Our goal should not simply be to publish data for the sake of publishing. Although furthering scientific understanding should always be a priority, scientists in all fields should seek a way to communicate their findings so that they can be understood, regardless of educational background. The scientific enterprise is in dire need of democratization, as right now the facts are available only to a select few with technical understandings. I wish to push for science-based policies that increase the accessibility and understanding of our findings and consider diverse opinions to settle ethical questions.
Similarly, increasing diversity and inclusion in genetics is another step to creating a truly democratic scientific enterprise. Too often, minorities and those from underrepresented backgrounds must work twice or thrice as hard to get the same benefits as their peers. Too often, this is seen as a sign of “hard work” and not for what it really is: an immensurable disparity in the access to knowledge and facts. I plan to not only be a researcher but also a constant activist for the complete democratization of science. By bringing more diverse ideas, insights, perspectives, and world views, we should be able to advance science exponentially, especially if we can amplify the scientific enterprise in places where it is currently inoperative.
As a leader within the Genetics Society of America, what do you hope to accomplish?
My experiences as an international student, an immigrant, and an individual with a historically disadvantaged background can bring new insights and perspectives to the initiatives that we develop together with the GSA. I will make sure that the perspectives of international scholars and historically disadvantaged scientists are considered in any decision-making. The international community brings a great deal of benefits to our genetics field, and we must take it into account for any initiatives. This program is an incredible opportunity to discuss with other like-minded individuals how to advance our field while securing equal opportunities for everyone. Through hard work and dedication, I plan to implement ideas and use the GSA networks to share those ideas with those who can make a difference.
I would like to forward several initiatives, such as exploring ideas to communicate science in an easier way for the general public and using our current networks to develop a consensus on the ethical considerations of modern genetics. But beyond any specific deliverable or end-product, I hope that my involvement as a leader in GSA will highlight the importance of international scholars in creating a diverse and inclusive environment in our field. I also hope to bring attention to the untapped potential that exists in countries where genetics research endeavors are nonexistent or just developing. I hope that my experience and work in this great professional society will inspire others to make their voices heard and keep pursuing their dreams to the full extent.
Previous leadership experience
- University of Arkansas (Fayetteville, AR) – Biology Graduate Student Association Secretary, Biology Graduate Student Association President (current).
- Tri-Beta National Biological Honor Society – 2018–2019 South Central Regional President
- University of the Ozarks (Clarksville, AR) – Student Government Association Senator, Student Government Association Secretary, founder and President of Ozarks Hispanic Society, American Chemical Society Chapter founder and President, several officer positions in additional organizations, student member of the Presidential Advisory Board.
- Macris High School (Honduras) – Student Council Vice-President, Student Council President.