Dr. Fantasy Lozada, Ph.D.
This month’s Mentor of the Month conversation highlights the mentor-mentee relationship of Dr. Lozada and Miriam Ortiz.
(COHD) How did you begin your biomedical research career?
(L) I really began in graduate school. I was a part of a developmental psychology lab that was interested in understanding the ways that parents help their children deal with emotions and stress. My mentor at the time was doing some really interesting work. She had done work with parents of children during 9/11, trying to understand the ways that parents help their children to work through such an emotional time and confusing time. She was really just focusing on how that parent-child relationship could really help them mitigate a lot of psychological and physiological stress and issues early on in childhood. Just thinking through what are some of the coping mechanisms that we are taught early that we can help parents to teach their kids early. That’s kind of where I got into thinking more about how psychological research could serve a more biomedical purpose. Trying to just understand how psychological processes could then be paralleled with more biological processes. Even though our work still stays a lot on the more psychological end of things we really try to think through where the biological aspect comes into play.
(COHD) What is the ultimate goal of your research?
(L) The ultimate goal of my research is to incorporate ethnic-racial minority families into the conversation around emotion. What’s unique about the work that we do is that we’re considering cultural processes of race in understanding the ways that parents are teaching their children about emotion and the ways that children are developing their emotion related skills and coping. Today a lot of work still continues to focus on and work with families that are middle-class, white families. While there are many similar processes across families of different races there are some very specific processes that are related to racialized experiences such as racial discrimination and racial identity development. When we don’t consider those processes as well we are missing a critical piece for ethnic-racial minority youth’s development and some of the additional things that they have to navigate as youth.
(COHD) In looking at your mentees, what do you wish you knew at their stage of their careers?
(L) Many things, many things. This is probably true for most of my mentees just in general. They tend to be first generation college students, having parents who are really supportive of their education but not necessarily knowing all the things that they have to go through to get into and through graduate school. I think the things I wish that I knew when I was at my mentees’ age or at their level has a lot to do with trusting my work ethic and my ideas. Not always second guessing myself because I felt uncomfortable in the space because there’s not a lot of people who look like me or since I don’t come from a family that does this so I’m not good enough. I spent a lot of time at that level just being so anxious and nervous that I wasn’t good enough. I really want my mentees to know that their ideas are valuable. I really try to treat them like junior colleagues. I want them to know that they are enough and they’re coming here to continue to get more training so that they can have impact in the space. It’s not because they’re not good enough yet. They’re already enough and we want to hear their perspectives and their voices. This is why it’s so important to have people of all different backgrounds doing biomedical work because if not, we’re missing out on key perspectives that can really help us advance our science.
(COHD) What do you hope to gain from this experience and what are your expectations of your mentees?
(L) What I really hope to gain from the experience of working with my mentees is to have them be a part of the research experience in a way that is rewarding to them. I think a lot of young mentees come in and they try to fit themselves into the research space but I think the research space and the mentor/mentee relationship benefit so much from the mentee being their authentic selves and bringing with them their own background and ideas. I just always hope to gain out of my mentor/mentee relationships just a better understanding of their lived experiences and their perspectives because I think that that just brings forward better and more innovative work. Young mentees have such a neat perspective because they’re not bogged down by all the literature and all the scientific knowledge that we already know is out there. Sometimes (they) like come in and just say like ‘oh, why don’t we try this?’ and ‘well, why doesn’t this work?’ and you have to stop sometimes and think ‘yeah, why not? Why don’t we try that?’ They’re just coming in with a fresher perspective. Of course there’s things they’re going to need to learn and ways we haven’t tried because someone else has tried it but sometimes that new perspective helps us to get out of our own way and advance the work. I just really enjoy that part of working with my mentees.
(COHD) Describe your ideal mentor/mentee relationship?
(L) The thing that I’m always looking for in mentees, and this is really a part of what that ideal relationship is, is a mentee who is just willing to try anything. In that willingness to try anything, it’s not that they will always have the right answer or that they’re going to do it perfectly the first time but if I ask that they try to do this that they don’t shy away and say I’ve never done that before or I can’t do it. I always feel a little frustrated when my mentees default to: I’ve never done that before; can you show me exactly how to do it this first time? I’m like no, I want to see what you bring to it. I want to see what you’re going to do with it first. I always tell my mentees don’t be surprised when I say here I want you to do this. Here’s an example but I want you to take it on and show me what you’ve got first. It might seem a little scary at first because I know you want to do it right but for me I’m so much more interested in the process that my mentees go through than I am in the end product or the right answer. For the mentor/mentee relationship I’m looking for mentees to be open in their experience, to keep trying, and to really just bring in a hunger for knowledge and a hunger for getting involved in the process.
(COHD) What do you do to relax away from the lab?
(L) I really enjoy karaoke. My husband brought me a karaoke machine for my birthday. I used to do it in graduate school actually. A few of my cohort mates after class on a Wednesday would go and would do karaoke every week. I really enjoy singing. I like to do karaoke and I can do it for hours. I also like to read.
(COHD) Describe your responsibilities in the lab?
(M) I do whatever Dr. Lozada asks me to do including lead search, read articles, working on my projects, transcribing, coding, attending lab meetings, and I meet with my mentor every week.
(COHD) What projects do you have in Dr. Lozada’s lab?
(M) We’re working on a manuscript for my PREP program project. I am reading and writing at the same time and turning in drafts for them to review as well as analyzing data.
(COHD) What have been some of the benefits of working with Dr. Lozada?
(M) Oh my goodness! There’s so many. When I first met her I told her I fell in love with her. She was one of the few professors that really took the time to sit down with you and talk to you and really explain what research is. I didn’t really get it until I started working with her. The fact that she comes from a minority background and she understands me and she understands my family’s point of view. I’m a first generation student too so I didn’t know what to do until I worked with her and she was always there for me. She’s still there for me not just as a mentor but also I feel like she’s a part of my family. She’s there when I need her. She tells us in the lab that self-care is very important and whenever you need something she’s there for you. She truly is the best mentor.
(COHD) How have you grown as a researcher as a result of working with Dr. Lozada?
(M) When I first started I was really scared to even touch a data set. I felt like I was going to do something wrong and didn’t want to do it. I was really too shy to talk in front of people and even to share my ideas with other people because I felt they knew more and they’ve been in this field longer. I felt like my ideas wouldn’t have been validated. Dr. Lozada pushed me to bring whatever I was thinking to the table, to just be myself and just give my perspective because that’s important. You could see things in a different way than others see it. I think that she’s been helping me grow not only as a student but as a person. I think that is very important. She’s always pushing us to do better and believe in ourselves. That’s one of the things that we don’t think about. We just know that there’s people that know more than I do and I don’t think I’m enough. She’s always telling us you’re enough and you can do this.
(Dr.Lozada) I’m very happy she said that she’s grown in her confidence in talking about research. That’s the biggest growth that I’ve seen in her. She was very hesitant at first. What is so amazing about Miriam from the beginning when I tell her to attempt assignments I have to give her minimal instruction and she does it well, she does it right. If there’s something that was a little bit wrong then it was only a little wrong. So to now see her be so confident and say yeah I can do that. She’s always just so responsive to everything. I am excited to start seeing her show outwardly who I know she’s always been.
(COHD) What do you like about VCU and about being in Richmond?
(M) I did my undergrad at VCU and I just love the diversity. I love to see it growing and people always having fun but not in a bad way. Then there’s also people that want to help out in a fun way. The Latino community in Richmond is growing and I see more Latino students at VCU. It makes me kind of proud in the university because I feel like there’s more people like me and there’s more people trying to change the world and help each other out.
(COHD) What do you like to do to relax away from the lab?
(M) I read a lot also. I like to hang out with my friends and go to the movies. The last movie I’ve seen was a strange movie called Happy Death Day. It was kind of weird.