Undergraduate student majoring in Psychology with a minor in Sociology.
Striving & Thriving at VCU talks to Camila about her experience conducting research at VCU and her sources of inspiration in her journey towards a doctoral degree.
An interview with Camila
What led you to pursue a psychology degree at VCU?
Because of my lived experiences and the racism that I experienced throughout education, I hated education. Growing up I got stuck in ESL classes, even though I spoke English. So, I didn't want to go into higher education. I spent years kind of thinking that I could live up to my purpose, which is helping as many people as I can. I then realized that the best way for me to do that was to actually believe in myself and pursue a degree. I always liked getting to learn why people are the way they are, and I felt with psychology, I could do that. As a non-traditional student, I didn't know if it would work out, but I wanted to just try. I took a leap and did something completely out of my comfort zone, which was to go away from my family and pursue this degree.
How did you get connected with research during undergrad?
My freshman year is when I actually got to start with research. I emailed one of my mentors that I still have today saying "I know nothing of this. I don't know how to navigate this area, but I want to learn, I'm a quick learner.” I emailed him and he gave me a shot, even though I was a freshman with no research experience whatsoever. Then I just kept meeting more people. I put myself out there to meet faculty and the people that are doing the research in my department. The importance of networking is often not emphasized to students of color, students that are not in the honors college, and students who are non-traditional. Research opened up so many doors for me like being a published author and presenting at conferences.
What advice do you have for STEM undergrads that want to get involved in research?
My advice is to reach out to faculty in your department, and even outside of your department. It can be scary, but you just have to push yourself, and realize that the worst that can happen is a, "no.” Identify who is doing research by looking through VCU websites and faculties webpages. Send faculty an email and ask, "Hey, do you know anyone?" Or, "I'm interested in this," or, "I want to learn." Find out where their office is and stop by to chat. You just have to give yourself a shot. Even if you're having imposter syndrome and feeling like, "I don't know where to start, maybe I shouldn't even do this?" you just have to try. Students should also know that there are opportunities for undergraduates to present research at conferences. Some departments have funds to help support student travel to conferences. If students are in a research lab, they should ask about available funding support. There are also different groups on campus like iCubed and TRIO that can support you and connect you with mentors.
Where do you find inspiration or motivation?
My motivation is looking across all universities and seeing the fact that a lot of our stories, the nuances of living not white, our experiences are investigated and told by primarily white people. Academia is a space where we've been kept out of it. The only way for academia to change and for it to get more innovative is to have more people with actual lived experiences represented. That motivates me, and inspires me to want to be part of that change in making it more about our personhood, and our experiences, because I think lived experiences really matter when it comes to research. Once I graduate, I will get my doctorate degree to be able to fill in those spaces where we have been kept out of for so long.