Biotechnology expert Andrea Gómez-Maqueo explains how to develop your professional identity.
Monterrey, N.L.- When Andrea Gómez-Maqueo, a food and biotechnology expert, was on a student exchange in Germany, she thought it would be good to stay in the country to do her work experience.
So, she wrote a letter of intent to the Nestlé company and asked a friend to help check her German grammar. He was slow to respond, so Andrea decided to send the email with her application. Her friend later warned her that the letter was too “enthusiastic.” Andrea began to google “How can I retrieve an email that has already been sent?”
A few days later, they called to tell her that she’d been accepted. She asked why she’d been selected from among so many competitors. They replied that it had been –precisely– because of her letter. That’s when she realized the importance of being true to yourself and expressing yourself exactly as you are in science.
Today, the Tec graduate is Head of Research at the Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation, where she’s studying how to improve the glycemic index of foods. At Tec de Monterrey’s 52nd Research and Development Conference, she shared the aspects that have worked for her to succeed without ceasing to be herself.
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At the end of the day, Andrea says that we all want to be happy and find meaning in what we do in our work and private lives. However, reconciling both can lead to conflict.
“Personal identity has a component of who I am, what the qualities that make me unique are, and how I adjust to my community, because we’re social beings and we have to find our place.”
Gómez Maqueo believes that building a professional identity is a process. It begins with a bachelor’s degree and is only obtained when you can exercise your professional role with creativity, while staying true to yourself.
“Professional identity isn’t about moving forward in a straight line. It includes steps forward, but also setbacks. There’ll be times when we feel certain, but there’ll be others when we question everything, and there’s nothing wrong with asking ourselves questions.”
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In the process of becoming a researcher, we always face rejection: when we want to propose a new idea, a new hypothesis, or when submitting articles to peer-reviewed journals.
We must fight for what we believe and recover from the harsh comments of other scientists with more experience such as, “This is useless.”
The sense of community in science is very special. There’s a very high level of trust and our language is science. We meet people who become colleagues and you soon feel that they’re a part of your life.
People with very strong professional identities can be an inspiration to you when you’re young.
I think research is a unique job. You can express your creativity and originality in your lines of study, in conferences, with your students. Ever since I was little, I’ve enjoyed drawing, and I express that in my articles or in book chapters to explain complex mechanisms.
We can feel invincible in science and technology careers because we face so many challenges, from publishing papers to securing funding.
But we also have to recognize that we’re not invincible. We should choose our battles wisely, and steer students towards their own creative lines of research.
Stay true to yourself. Express your personality just as you are. It isn’t wrong to be very enthusiastic or shy. If you’re someone who enjoys writing, become a science writer; if your thing is teaching, you can focus on classes; if you like setting up businesses, look for mechanisms to bring your idea into being. Academia is flexible.
As in Mexico, the population in Asia has a high rate of type 2 diabetes, with the problem being even more serious there. It’s estimated that one out of two people in Singapore will be diabetic by the year 2050.
In light of this serious health problem, Andrea Gómez Maqueo is working with her team on designing potatoes, a food widely consumed in the population, so that they have a lower sugar content.
“Potatoes are a very healthy food. However, they contain starch —a chain of glucose— and when we eat them, the enzymes in our body release these molecules. If our metabolism processes them very rapidly, it can contribute to developing diabetes in the long term.”