Hi, everyone. My name is Rafael L. I studied biochemistry and molecular biology at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. I did a four year bachelor’s degree plus a one year master’s in science degree. And now a senior research associate in the infectious disease department at Moderna.
What made you decide you wanted to go to the U.S. to pursue your degree?
Mainly post career opportunities for the field. I want it to be in research and development, specifically in some sort of cancer field or vaccine development field. I knew that the Spanish market for that was pretty small. And I knew that opportunities in the United States were endless, so I decided to apply and here I am.
How complicated was the admission process to your university?
Yeah, so the process itself is way more elaborate than the Spanish system as you know, in Spain, you take the Selectividad and then you get into the career or university you want. For the American system, They take on a more holistic review. So not only do they want to know your grades, both in school and exams, but they also want to know who you are as a person, outside of school. What’s your passion? Do you volunteer? Have you done any internships? How has that shaped yourself and how can you transmit that to colleges? I have to say that the process with Access USA was pretty straightforward. And great success in general.
How were those first days and weeks when you arrived in the US?
Yeah, so as I said, very different. In fact, I experienced a little bit of culture shock besides me being half American, because I had never lived there before. So you have to get used to living very far away from your house. In a language that might not be your first one. With different activities, or different cultural customs that they might have. Food was a big part for me. So it just takes an open mind for the first two, three months to get used to these things. After that, you feel at home. So you know, I My advice would be to keep an open mind. Get out of your comfort zone, and that way the process will be way more enjoyable for you.
What differences do you find between a classroom in Spain and in the United States?
Yeah, lots of differences. For my fields specifically, I found that Spain prepares you very well theoretically. So, for example, when I first started my intro classes and university I pretty much knew most of it for the first entire year, both by biology and chemistry. It also prepares you very well for discipline. So in Spain, ‘bachillerato’ was very rigorous. You have to be on top of your stuff all the time, and study every day. Be organized. If you bring those skills to the US, you will hit the ground running. The main difference though is that at least in my field, there is no lab work or practical work in Spain. So when you come here, it is true that you tend to be a little bit of a disadvantage when compared to local students. However, if you’re able to manage and maneuver your theoretical skills, your organization skills, your discipline, and game that lab practice, you’re going to be a star. So that will be the main difference.
What would you recommend to students who want to attend college in the U.S.?
Yeah, the main advice would be that college is a place to try new things. Don’t be scared of joining a club that you’re not familiar with, like, you know, dance club, that’s what I did. Don’t be familiar to reach out to other students that are international or local. Don’t feel scared of telling you know, professors how you feel you’re being you’re not doing as well in the class because it’s a new system for you. So get out of your comfort zone. The more you’re comfortable with the uncomfortable, the more you’re gonna grow as a person and as a student.
How do you organize yourself to fulfill all your obligations and commitments? Did the university help you in any way with this task?
There’s definitely resources at universities that will help you with these tasks. In fact, I used to work at a center that helps students with coursework. For example, I was an organic chemistry tutor. But at the end of the day, I think it all comes to passion. If you’re passionate about something, and you’re very determined to get that goal, that’s going to show it to everyone, to your students, to your peers, to your professors. I really wanted to do biochemistry, I was very passionate about it. I was interested in learning more about the class after the class was over. So I will usually go up to the professor and you know, ask a couple questions about stuff that intrigued me and that’s shown along the four years that transmits into having a great relationship with your professor who has been able to give you more personalized advice or even connecting to people in the industry that might be you know, interested in hiring someone like you so I think, you know, if you’re passionate, it’s you’re gonna be organized by nature and you’re gonna go where you’re supposed to be.
What has been your experience during the most important festivities in the United States? Thanksgiving, Spring Break…
There’s always a lot of stuff to do. I assume that the bigger the university, the more events they’ll have. My university was pretty small, around 2500 students. So events were more limited, but the trade off was that the community was very tight. So my inorganic chemistry professor used to invite all the international students for Thanksgiving to his house every year, because he knew that they might not be able to travel back home or have family or friends in the area that may be able to take them during the facility. So yeah, I think it depends on the university but most of them usually have events, especially for international students so that they don’t feel lonely during the event.
Do you think that the fact that you have graduated in the United States has made you eligible for more and better jobs?
Oh, absolutely. I think it may vary by field a little bit, but for my specific field, which is research and development. Absolutely. After I graduated or even before I graduated, I already had a job. It’s important to start the job search process early, talk to your connections, attend career fairs, do some search yourself on LinkedIn, and put yourself out there again. Don’t be scared. It’s a normal course where you graduate, you get a job. And then businesses are going to have to graduate and recruit people from universities anyway. So just put yourself out there and don’t be scared.
How much value do you place on your experience and the opportunities you have gained from it?
A lot of it. If I hadn’t gone to Clark University, I might have taken a different path. May not be here where I am. It’s a very long process and it doesn’t end. I’m still in that process, right? It’s a process of learning about who you are and where you want to go. And it’s important to have a plan. You don’t have to fulfill a plan and the plan can change but the fact that you have a plan that takes you from A to B is the process and if you persevere through it, you’ll be you’ll realize maybe sometimes that’s not what you want to do so you will switch the path but you’re eventually get to a place where you want to be.