Carmen Camarena

Doctoral student in Clinical and Translational Medicine

Striving & Thriving at VCU talks to Carmen about her journey as a doctoral student and her passion to pursue a career in research.  

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What type of research do you do?

I'm in grad school and my concentration is clinical and translational medicine with a focus on liver cancer. Latinos are at a higher risk of developing liver disease, specifically, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. So, it became of interest to me because I've had family members who were affected by liver diseases that later led to cirrhosis and then Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC), which is fatal. Like all the other cancers, there's really no cure for it and it's really hard to treat. That is why it is important to have more diversity in clinical research and clinical trials to help us improve treatments for patients.


I really enjoy doing research because it's something different every day. A lot of people will go to work, and they know what they're going to do that day because it's the same thing over and over. With research you never know what's going to happen with your experiments because something new is always happening.

How did you get involved in research?

I'm originally from the east side of Oceanside, California, which is in the San Diego area. I did my undergrad at Cal State San Marcos. I was very lucky because I kind of fell into research by my undergraduate professor. She just asked me one day; would you like to check out my lab? Do you want to see what we do? I was very interested in science because I took a bio course and I saw students walking around helping the professor, and I was like, how do I get to do that? So, my professor invited me to check out her lab and it was so cool. Right away I knew I wanted to do research and so I did that. With her help I discovered VCU through the NIH website. My professor actually directed me to do an internship here at VCU to do clinical research with clinician Dr. Bear, who studies triple negative breast cancer.  I had such an amazing time during my internship, so I stayed here to do grad school. I love it here.

I think a lot of undergrads are afraid to ask their professors how they can get into research. Can I join your lab? How do I do that? You just have to be confident. Just do it. You never know what they're going to say, and if they can't help you, they will, more likely than not, point you in the direction of someone who can, or you can ask them to.  

What does it mean for you to be a graduate student conducting research?

It means a lot. It means adding diversity because in high school and even in college, I did not see a single professor that looked like me. It means that I get to be that professor or be that mentor, that advisor for younger generations and let them know, hey, just because you don't see someone that looks like you doesn't mean it's impossible.

What are you passionate about?

I'm passionate about a lot of things. I'm passionate about building communities and bringing communities together. I'm also passionate about educating communities about their medical options and getting community members to get screened and undergo routine health checks. I'm passionate about eliminating the prevalent fear that if one goes to the doctor something bad is going to happen. Overall, educating and reaching out to communities is a big passion.

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25 Questions

with Carmen

 

What is your favorite study spot on campus?

Medical Library

How would you describe living in Richmond?

Hipster, easy going, very go with the flow.

What do you do with the first 30 minutes of your day?

I get up, brush my teeth, I’ll have a cup of water, and turn on the news for a little bit and then have a coffee.

Who do you respect and admire?

All of my advisors and family.

What is most rewarding about being in STEM?

Having work that is my own.

Favorite thing to do after an exam?

Relax and go out for drinks with friends or colleagues.

 

Favorite movie?

Interstellar

Sweet or salty?

Sweet

What's your favorite ice cream flavor?

Mint chocolate chip

Favorite season?

Fall

What's your favorite place in Richmond?

Cooper’s Island

Cooking or baking?

Baking

 

Favorite professor?

Dr. Rebecca Martin

A place you want to travel to is...

Greece

Go to coffee shop order?

Vanilla Latte

Favorite dish?

Menudo

If you could be any animal, what would it be?

I would like to be a fox. I love foxes. They're weird but cute at the same time.

What have been your biggest obstacle in this journey?

Dealing with imposter syndrome

 

If you could major in a non-STEM major, what would it be and why?

Music

What is your favorite STEM related course?

Clinical trial design

How many languages do you speak?

Two Languages. English and Spanish

Sunrise or sunset?

Sunrise

Favorite VCU event that you have attended?

Wine tasting with the Dean of Students

Texting or Facetime?

Texting

 

Favorite time of the day?

Early morning