“To me it is amazing that one small change, one mutation, one drug, can have systemic effects even in really complex organisms like humans. My favorite thing about molecular and cellular biology is that it makes you realize just how sophisticated organisms really are.”
In the often complex world of STEM, Juan Infante effortlessly exudes confidence in his passion for molecular biology. His goal is to attain a PhD in Neurosurgery with a focus of spinal chord injury research.
“I really hope to bring some diversity to the science field. I feel that there are not enough Hispanic or Latino scientists and physicians,” says Infante. “I hope to use my cultural perspective to have a positive impact on society.”
In 2006, Infante and his parents moved to the United States where they initially faced hardship.
“My proudest accomplishment was getting into college. For them, my college acceptance was in a way the fruit of all their hard work. Nothing made me happier than making them proud.”
“When I took AP Biology in high school I realized that I was especially interested in the molecular biology unit. I loved learning about organisms and systems from the perspective of small molecules and proteins and also realized that an increasingly molecular understanding of organisms is necessary to keep up with current research about diseases.”
During high school, Infante volunteered at the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. There he worked with patients suffering from spinal cord injuries as well as brain injuries. It was then that he realized that this was the area he was truly passionate for.
Infante went on to participate in the NIH STEP-UP fellowship during his first college summer. Through this program, he received the necessary funding to join a lab group at the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.
“When I got to college, I realized that many of my peers already had extensive research experience. I never really had the chance to do intense or serious research while in high school, in part because I was not aware of all the available summer opportunities.”
Thankfully, Infante didn’t let that hold him back.
“The key to success in STEM, in my opinion, is to embrace failure and see it as an opportunity for growth.”
Infante has thus surrounded himself with opportunities to enhance his skills. He has participated in the National Undergraduate Bioethics Bowl on three occasions, among many other endeavors.
In regards to those who still feel unsteady in their pursuit, Infante is a firm believer of trial and error. After all, how can one grow out of their comfort zone if they haven’t yet escaped it?
“It may be scary to spend the summer in a strange place where you don’t know anyone. I would say that working in new places has actually provided me with some of the most fantastic opportunities for personal growth, and has also allowed me to connect with amazing peers,” says Infante. “One of my mentors always used to say that failing is just a sign that you are trying hard and challenging yourself. Look as failure as an opportunity for growth and don’t run away from it!”
Infante’s steady drive proves that his hands are not shaky when it comes to the future. Currently, he’s focusing on deep brain stimulation and it’s potential to work as therapy to treat spinal cord injury patients.
“I am developing methods for delivering protein therapeutics to the spinal cord that may lead to functional axon regeneration,” he says.
Another key interest of Infante’s is bioethics.
“I am currently looking for opportunities to start a bioethics journal that can get young students involved in analyzing important ethical issues in STEM.”
According to Infante, the substantiality of your contribution to science is defined only by the eye of the beholder.
“To me success is a word that should be defined by each individual. I consider myself a successful scientist because I enjoy what I do every day while also feeling like I am positively contributing to my community.”