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A Q&A with a Stowers Graduate School alumni

Raquel Barajas, PhD, graduated from the Graduate School of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in 2019. In this Q&A she shares more about her experience and how it shaped the scientist she is today.

14 November 2023

What was it like completing your Ph.D. at the Graduate School of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research?

Completing my Ph.D. at the Stowers Institute was wonderful! Everything started with amazing assistance from the Stowers Graduate School staff. The staff was accommodating and made sure everything ran smoothly when it came to interviews and the opportunity to visit Kansas City and the Institute, which can be difficult, especially when coming from Europe.

What did you find most beneficial about the program?

Once I was accepted and the classes started, it was very easy to dive into the atmosphere of scientific discovery at the Institute. The organization of the modules allows you to experience many different scientific topics and lab environments. Each module includes intensive classes about a different subject every other week during a semester. The module system also made it convenient to get to know the Principal Investigators, postdocs, and other students at the Institute.

Additionally, the social environment facilitated by different events like Friday Science Club and Tuesday dinners provided the opportunity to meet people and stay in touch constantly. This was very useful to promote discussions about your scientific ideas, thesis problems, and life at the Stowers Institute!

The Wednesday Lecture Series, where speakers from outside the Institute were invited to present on various topics, was a very convenient approach to get a different perspective and hear from professionals outside the Institute.

Lastly, financial aid for attending scientific conferences greatly helps to broaden your horizons. All of this is extremely important when it comes to making new discoveries, learning scientific methods, and how to approach a scientific problem.

Barajas with her mentor, Stowers Institute Scientific Director Kausik Si, Ph.D.

What most helped advance your scientific development?

The most important element for my scientific development was my mentor, Kausik Si, Ph.D., Scientific Director and Principal Investigator at the Stowers Institute.

He was the one who instilled in me the motivation to overcome the toughness of science, and to have a "whole picture" view in science. He was also very inspiring when writing papers.

Once my lab obligations were met, he was also happy to let me expand my CV in other directions, like teaching.

His enthusiasm about science, his extraordinary intelligence and hard work, together with his positivity and big heart made me grow from a seed to a strong tree of a scientist. This was recognized by my mentors from my master’s degree thesis when writing scientific papers and giving talks about my project.

Where are you now and how did Stowers help get you there?

My successful Ph.D., thanks largely to Dr. Si, let me easily find a postdoc position at Carlos Ribeiro laboratory at the Champalimaud Foundation in Europe, even before officially receiving my Ph.D. title. I am now Head of the Research Department at Fundación Francisco Luzón.

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