Hi, I'm Ben and this is my story...
My mother often joked that I would become a medical doctor and cure her cancer. Although medicine is not the path I took, she sowed a seed. She was diagnosed with stage four metastatic breast cancer when I was nine and fought for her life for the next six years before she passed. Often my mother would share details with me of the procedures and treatments she was undergoing, leading me to ask many questions that she could not answer. This was unsatisfying. Both as a coping mechanism and from the influence of a science teacher who encouraged me to use research to answer my ‘unanswerables’, I began to seek out answers to my questions by reading and doing my own research. I, in turn, would share what I learned with my mother. In my own small way, I felt I was doing what I could to help her and, in the process, I laid the groundwork for my future.
During these formative years, my mother instilled in me the value of unwavering perseverance and the necessity of asking hard questions while facing their difficult truths. These lessons have led me to successful practices in research: the perseverance to continue when the task is daunting, and the ability to ask the hard question of whether to continue in a certain direction. Never knowing if tomorrow was a guarantee or a gift with her, I grew to have a unique perception of time. This frames many of my research questions: whether to use the scale of generations or millennia. Time-scale is a component of biological research that seems fundamental to explore. With this background, I pursued my doctorate, inspired by science as a means to rise beyond my circumstances, making them only a description of my past rather than a prescription for my future.
As a first-generation college student, I was fortunate to have teachers and mentors to introduce me to paths outside of medicine that could allow me to pursue my interests as a career. I applied to the University of Rochester with their direction and suggestion, where research experiences abounded, and I earned a B.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. This included a cascade of incredibly fortunate events, including becoming a McNair Post-baccalaureate Scholar and having a chance to study abroad on the Galápagos Islands, that have culminated in my entry into a doctoral program at the University of New Mexico. This path has cemented my own belief in the importance of mentorship, and that access to equitable education is a crucial component to breaking cycles of poverty.