Alexandra Marrero Quinones

Graduate student specializing in Human and Molecular Genetics, Myotonic Dystrophy at the School of Medicine. 

Striving & Thriving at VCU talks to Alexandra about how she rewards herself after an exam, what advice she'd give to incoming STEM students, and more!

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An interview with Alexandra 

Where were you born? 

My family and I are from Puerto Rico. I’ve been here in Virginia for about 10 years. Having family far away is always difficult. I have children so maintaining traditions and growing as an individual with everybody being far away gets hard at times. But my family and I always find creative ways to support each other through the distance.

What influenced you to choose a career in STEM?

It was a progressive thing. I always enjoyed science and I’ve always been drawn into helping the community. Initially, I went into biology to start a career in medicine. I remember it was around my second semester where I took my first course in genetics, and I was mind blown. I knew that that was more of the path that I wanted to take. I understood back then that a career in biomedical sciences was the path that would give me the tools that I wanted to have to really go into detail with what I wanted to study. I wanted to find creative ways to share that with the community also. Through teaching, community outreach, or eventually as a genetic counselor which is one of the goals that I have.

What is your experience as a woman of color in STEM?

It has affected me for better and worse. It has had its benefits. But I think in academia it tends to have a more inclusive environment not necessarily as much in the professional or industry setting. So, working in an industry for about 7 years before starting graduate school, I did encounter times where I’ve had to prove myself before I can start providing whatever service or information I’m going to share. I think that I’m a woman, I’m Hispanic, and I look a little bit younger than what I really am so often times when I would stand in front of the public to give a workshop or to share information I had to go through that threshold of proving that I do have intelligent, valid, experienced information to share and I’m not just that girl or that kid that’s in front of us trying to tell us something that they probably think they already know. At the end of the day, I feel that it’s a positive thing because I’ve learned from it and it has allowed me to become more prepared, more confident in my work and what I do, and just go ahead and make an entrance.

What advice would you give incoming STEM students?

I think that careers in science are a marathon, not necessarily a sprint. They take effort, they take time. I would say to find areas that you enjoy and that you like just so that as you’re working through building a strong career and going through the journey of creating science which most times you learn more from the mistakes than the successes. I think that finding something that you like and finding purpose in what you do will help you go through that journey and enjoy the whole trajectory, not just those rare moments where you have those bigger successes. Or having the vision to know what that end goal is so that when you’re going through phases that you might not enjoy as much, you know that it’s just a steppingstone to the thing that you really do want at the end of the day. Having some sort of passion for what you do helps a lot. 

What about your research are you most interested in?

Every part has something that I like. I think the sharing might be my favorite. I think that my work in my current lab and even professionally, before grad school, I’ve always liked to keep that balance where I’m doing my science and I’m doing my research, but I have that need to do community outreach, or to share what I know, or to share my findings with my lab members. I think, in terms of the journey or the end goal, the journey would be my favorite part. Being able to share that with other people. I think that is what science is all about, you can create the most fascinating things and if you can’t share them, if you can’t translate that knowledge to somebody else, then where does it go? So, I think sharing is my favorite part.

What is your favorite way to reward yourself after an exam or a long day of research?

Food. Food is my comfort and my joy. Usually after a long day in the lab, or after a test, nobody is cooking, we’re going to go eat out. I usually go for Mexican food or burgers. But anything other than seafood.