Juanita Limas is a 2nd year PhD student in the Department of Pharmacology. Her research focuses on cell cycle regulation, in particular, elucidating the mechanisms of oncogene-induced DNA replication stress.

1. What made you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

My journey to a PhD is very different than most. I used to be a full-time community college Assistant Professor teaching anatomy & physiology. During my tenure, I was asked to create a new LSAMP (Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation) program at my school for underrepresented students interested in STEM careers. It was through this work as the LSAMP Campus Director that energized my interest in returning to science and mentoring. I realized that while my job as a teacher was fulfilling, I wanted a job that allowed me to teach as well as run a research lab and mentor students, which I wasn’t able to do at the community college. I needed a PhD to do that and hence, decided to quit my job and return to school full-time as a PhD student at UNC.

2. What’s the thing you love most about Chapel Hill?

I like the scenery, availability of hiking trails, and winters in Chapel Hill. Winter is much nicer here than the minus 20F I’m used to where I’m from. I also like the variety of events to do in Chapel Hill (live music, hiking, shopping, farmer’s markets, concerts, etc.).

3. If you had any advice for someone thinking about pursuing a graduate degree, what would it be?

The point of graduate school is to open up opportunities for further advancement in your development and career: don’t forget about those coming up from behind you and those who have helped you (even those who have discouraged you). Always make time to reach out, give back to your community, and never forget where you came from. Graduate school is not only challenging physically but rather emotionally and psychologically. Getting past the imposter syndrome and self-doubts you have will likely be one of your biggest challenges. Know this, own it, and work hard to overcome it. It’s not easy and stay away from those who diminish your feelings and try to make it about themselves: it’s your journey and your right to feel however you feel. This is the time to be selfish: surround yourself with positive influences and people who will uplift you and stay clear of those who bring you down. If it means spending less time with certain people, so be it. You need a clear and positive head to push through your struggles to finish graduate school.

4. What is your dream career after you’ve completed your studies?

I would like to become a Principal Investigator (PI) and run my own research lab mentoring students and post-docs and inspiring others about science. My dream job would be something that allows me to teach, do research, mentor students, and do community outreach while being able to come up with my own research questions and push the scientific field forward. Science is cool and I want to inspire others to be excited about science as much as I am.

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