2020 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow Maribel Patiño was born in California to Mexican parents who immigrated to the United States from a small rural town in Teloloapan, Guerrero. With less than a sixth-grade education, Maribel’s parents sought the American Dream in the same way that many Mexican immigrants had done before them: through agricultural farm work. It was in Lamont, California, a small community composed primarily of migrant farmworkers, that Maribel also began to work in agriculture to help her family put food on the table—but witnessing the adverse health effects of the industry became the foundation for her career aspirations as a physician-scientist.
Fast forward to 2022, and Maribel is now finishing her MD/PhD at the University of California, San Diego. Pursuing her thesis research at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in the lab of Professor Edward Callaway, Maribel developed an innovative circuit mapping technology by combining rabies tracing with single cell transcriptomics and investigating the efficiency of monosynaptic rabies tracing.
Where are you with your graduate program now? What’s the next step for you?
I am finishing up my PhD in neuroscience and will be returning to medical school this summer. After I obtain my MD/PhD I will do a clinical residency in either neurology or psychiatry. I'm still undecided, but I would like to do residency in something that compliments my neuroscience research background so I can further study dysfunction of the mammalian brain.
Can you tell us more about your graduate studies? What questions did you pursue?
My work focused on neurotechnology development. I created a new circuit tracing tool that combines monosynaptic rabies tracing with single cell RNA-sequencing to allow the field to investigate cortical connectivity at the level of cell types defined by their gene expression patterns. I applied this tool to investigate laminar connectivity in mouse primary visual cortex.
Over the past two years, what personal or professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
Aside from publishing my first first-author scientific publication, something I am very proud of is co-founding Colors of the Brain (CoB), a graduate student organization dedicated to increasing diversity in neuroscience through direct mentorship and establishment of community. Since it's establishment we have grown significantly and we recently launched our own undergraduate summer research fellowship, funded by the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind, for minoritized UCSD students.
Why did you apply to The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans? What ended up being the most important part of the Fellowship?
Initially I was applying to further fund my MD/PhD training, specifically my PhD in neuroscience. However, after reading the purpose of the Fellowship and the stories of past Fellows it became much more personal. This Fellowship application is a rare opportunity to not only list our academic accomplishments, but to reflect on our and our parents immigrant stories and how they have shaped our aspirations and successes.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of applying to The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans?
My biggest advice is to just take the plunge and apply! I was hesitant to apply at first because I did not think I was competitive enough to be selected. Thankfully I was encouraged by friends and mentors to apply and it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. A more concrete piece of advice is to have friends read over your essays and create mock interview questions for you. Two of the questions my friend asked were asked at the actual interview.