The Way of the PhD: Liliana de la Paz, PhD, Research Scientist from Gilead Life Sciences

Everyday 1 billion people take at least one pill that was manufactured by Gilead Sciences. A company devoted to manufacture antiviral drugs that treat HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and influenza. 

One of the many researchers at Gilead Sciences is Liliana de la Paz, PhD. A Bay Area native with Mexican roots. She has the unique distinction of being the first ever Latina to graduate from Stanford University with a PhD in Chemical Engineering. 

Liliana is used to being one of the few women in the room and sometimes the only Latina. From her undergrad days at Berkeley where she majored in Chemical Engineering to her Stanford lab where she spent 6 years researching protein engineering, all the way to her current role developing the next generation of antiviral drugs. 

We talked about her experience going to school at Berkeley as a first generation student attending college and the first in her family to become an engineer. We went deep into understanding what imposter syndrome is, how it manifests itself and how she deals with it. Full disclaimer: You never fully overcome it, you just learn to manage it better. 

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Key Takeaways:

* On being the only Latina in the room:* “My attitude is that if I am here, I am here to play.”* It’s important to stay positive and to avoid falling trap of the victim mentality. If you are called into a meeting is because your opinion is valued* To overcome imposter syndrome, keep a record of all your KUDOS and achievements handy in your email or notes app. I keep all my presentation review notes and thank you emails I’ve received from others to remind me that I am good at what I do* It’s OK to feel nervous before doing a presentation, you feel nervous because you want it to come out well* Imposter syndrome is the feeling that you are not the right person for a job or a project and that other people are going to “find out” that you are not qualified for it. * “Go to your TA’s office hours. They are probably more scared from you than you from them”* You never really “overcome” imposter syndrome. You learn to manage it better* The more you grow into an organization and take bigger projects, the more important is to be self- aware of your imposter syndrome* Ignorance is bliss! Since Liliana was a first generation student, her parents didn’t put pressure on her to attend college or had a 12 year plan for her career. Her parents supported her and told her she could transfer to a less demanding school than Berkeley anytime. * Motivation is BS. You have to show up and do the work whether you feel motivated to do it or not. * Art Tatum story- as a young blind kid, Art was obsessed with playing the piano and would learn how to play songs by ear. He would often listen to the radio and piano roll recordings to discover new tunes. In one occasion he heard a tune that was original…

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