PhD Candidate, Neuroscience



OGPS: What is your academic and research background?

Alonso-Caraballo: I graduated from the University of Puerto Rico at Ponce with a bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Sciences with a major in Biology. I was part of the NIH-sponsored Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) program during my junior and senior year of college. As part of RISE, I did research at the Ponce School of Medicine (Ponce Health Sciences University) with Dr. Annelyn Torres looking at sex differences in mood disorders and addiction. After I graduated college I came to the University of Michigan as part of the Post-baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) where I worked with Dr. Jill Becker. Dr. Becker has been an inspiration to me and a mentor throughout my PhD career. Currently, I work with Dr. Carrie Ferrario in the Pharmacology Department. Our lab focuses on understanding the neuro-mechanisms contributing to obesity and addiction. Dr. Ferrario has also been an inspiration and a great mentor throughout my PhD.  

OGPS: How did you decide what you wanted to do in your science career?

Alonso-Caraballo: I have always been interested in science and the goal that I had in mind when I started college was to become a veterinary medicine doctor. At the moment I didn’t know that a career in research was an option. It wasn’t until an extended family member (who was doing a PhD in Biology at the moment) talked to me and motivated me to apply to a summer research program outside of Puerto Rico when I was on my sophomore year of college. At the end of sophomore year, I went on to do the MIT Summer Research Program in Biology (MSRP-Bio) and from there my research path started.


OGPS: Describe one of your current research initiatives that you are most excited about and why.

Alonso-Caraballo : My PhD research consist in determining the role of the reproductive cycle and ovarian hormones in modulating conditioned approach in response to food cues in female rats. I am also interested in understanding the neurobiological mechanisms governing these behaviors. Most of my PhD studies have been conducted in females, this is because I want to understand female behavior and physiology. There is a lack of female subjects in biomedical research, which has contributed to a big gap in knowledge in women health. I am passionate about doing research that can close this gap and that can lead us to a better understanding of female physiology and behavior.

OGPS: What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Alonso-Caraballo: I recently received the NIH Blueprint Diversity Specialized Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Advancement in Neuroscience (DSPAN) award. This award helps cover the last two years of my PhD and will cover up to 4 years of my postdoctoral studies. This award aims to increase diversity in the neuroscience field. All the “DSPANers” get together at the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting. Through these meetings I have been able to meet extraordinary and unique people who have become colleagues and friends.

I am also very proud of the University of Michigan Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) chapter and how much it has grown. I am proud of the people that are leading the chapter and how invested they are in increasing diversity in Michigan. I am proud of the people that I have met and that I have worked with. As a founding member it is rewarding to see that through SACNAS we have created an inclusive community at Michigan that is ready to foster and mentor students from all backgrounds.


OGPS: What is one piece of advice you would give new PhD students?

Alonso-Caraballo: I think that one advice that I would give to aspiring scientists is to not be too hard on themselves when things don’t go “right”. Science is unpredictable and not having an experiment be “successful” doesn’t mean that you are not a good scientist. We are human beings and it is OK to fail. It is also OK to ask for help and to admit when you don’t know the answer to something. Science is not a race, it is a journey, and we have to be able to learn from every aspect of it.

OGPS: What do you like to do outside of the lab?

Alonso-Caraballo: I mainly enjoy hanging out with my friends and talking to my family. I also like to visit home (Puerto Rico) during breaks.

OGPS: What are your future goals?

Alonso-Caraballo: My short-term goal is to defend my dissertation and start my postdoctoral research. In the long term, I aim to have an academic career in which I can mentor future scientists and at the same time advance research in women’s health.