Olga Pena

Research Scientist and Manager
Espinal, Colombia
Vancouver, Canada
Exploring the development of endotoxin tolerance during sepsis
Robert E Hancock

What are your main responsibilities or activities in your current position?

  • Overseeing research projects
  • Supporting project development and grant funding
  • Supervising staff, trainees and students
  • Participating in budget forecasting
  • Leading, coordinating and participating in scientific meetings
  • Liaising with the UBC support offices (SPARC, Faculty of Medicine and Department of Medicine)

What do you like and what do you find challenging about your current position?

Prioritizing tasks on a daily basis and having to complete important tasks with a very limited time.

Is your current career path as you originally intended?

No. My career path views started changing around the end of my PhD. I am now trying to carve the career path that fit best my ultimate career goals and my personal life. I think I am on the right path and will continue working hard to fulfill these goals.

What motivated you to pursue graduate work at UBC?

Great microbiology/immunology program.

What did you enjoy the most about your time as a graduate student at UBC?

The possibilities of learning at many different levels – not just through my program. I was able to learn and join many extracurricular activities that I really enjoyed and most importantly help me to build skills that I could use and transfer to my professional life.

What key things did you do, or what attitudes or approaches did you have, that contributed to your success?

I always tried to have a positive and happy attitude and to always reach for peer and friend/family support. In your research thesis, you may not always have your supervisor available to discuss your ideas/results, so having that peer support definitely helps. This support can come from the fellow graduate students in your group, so do not see them as competitors but instead as collaborators. Moreover, get the support of friends and family and try to do social activities outside of research work; that definitely helps when things inside your research are not going the way you wanted, which can happen regularly.

What is your best piece of advice for current graduate students preparing for their future careers?

Get out and learn more beyond just about your PhD thesis. Try to get involved in other activities that may help you discover skills you did not know you had.

Did you have any breaks in your education?

Yes, I took 6 months maternity leave. It was not planned specifically, but this break did not hinder my career progression. I am actually glad it happened at that stage. My son has been my strength and my inspiration since the moment I knew I was pregnant. I still was able to finish within the average PhD timing and with a relatively good number of academic and research accomplishments.


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