SURF Fellow Spotlight: Azuah Gonzalez

Meet Azuah Gonzalez, a class of 2020 biochemistry and molecular biology major at the University of California, Santa Cruz and a 2019 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) Program participant at the USC School of Pharmacy. The Boyle Heights, Calif. native shares about her experience working on Parkinson’s disease research, why she believes diversity in science is critical and how the SURF Program has impacted her career trajectory.

How did you hear about the SURF Program?

I’m part of the Research Mentoring Internship (RMI) program at UC Santa Cruz, and the director RMI told me about the USC School of Pharmacy SURF Program and encouraged me to apply. As soon as I saw how close the fellowship was to my family’s house, I immediately applied. I attended Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School, which is just down the street from the USC Health Sciences Campus. Growing up, the campus has always had such a prominent presence in my life and I’m so glad that I was able to intern here years later.

When did you first get interested in science?

Going to Bravo, I had a lot of exposure to the STEM field, but it wasn’t until I took my general chemistry classes at UC Santa Cruz that I really started to fall in love with chemistry and science. Now, I’m part of a microbial research team at UC Santa Cruz that’s tackling the issue of antibiotic resistant bacteria — an opportunity that has opened up my eyes to the world of research.

From your perspective, why is diversity in science important?

The practice of science starts with a question. When people from different backgrounds participate in science, new questions will be posed and different approaches to tackling the questions will be introduced. On a personal level, it brings me so much joy as a first-generation student to be able to represent the community I grew up in within the STEM field.

What’s a typical day for you like at USC?

I’m working in Dr. Daryl Davies’ lab through this full-time fellowship and we’re developing a novel therapeutic method to treat Parkinson’s disease. In the mornings, I check in with my graduate student mentors, Alicia Warnecke and Lila Halbers, and we’ll go over my work for the rest of the day. I wanted to step out of the world of microbiology and see the world of neuroscience, and I’m happy to be getting exposure through the SURF Program.

The SURF Program pairs you with a graduate student mentor and a faculty mentor. What have you learned from each of them?

My graduate student mentors Alicia (Allie) and Lila have taught me how to be more independent and positive. Seeing their work ethic has motivated me to be more efficient in the lab. I’ve also learned to have a good attitude when I approach my experiments — no matter the outcome. Now, whenever something doesn’t go right in the lab, I always just take it as a learning experience and go into troubleshooting mode.

Dr. Daryl Davies, my faculty mentor, is so kind and intelligent. It’s been so rewarding to work under someone who’s a leader in his field and the experience has definitely broadened my horizons as to what I want to eventually pursue in a PhD.

How has the SURF Program impacted you?

More than anything, the SURF Program has reaffirmed my desire to pursue science. More specifically, this fellowship has opened my eyes to the field of neuroscience and it’s a field that I want to continue exploring.

Learn more about the USC School of Pharmacy Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) Program here.