Alumnus in the News

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Biochemistry alumnus Carlos Galván ‘19 is featured in UCLA Newsroom article celebrating first-generation scientists at UCLA.

Galván received his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry at UCLA in 2019, becoming the first person in his family to earn a four-year college degree. He conducted undergraduate research focused on increasing efficacy of targeted and immune therapies in melanoma in the group of Professor Thomas Graeber in the UCLA Department of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology. 

Each year, on November 8th, colleges from around the country celebrate the success of first-generation students as part of the National First-Generation College Student Celebration Day. The date is also National STEM Day, which encourages children to explore their interests in the fields of science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEM).

Currently a third-year Ph.D. student in the Molecular Biology Interdepartmental Doctoral Program, Galván conducts research in Professor William Lowry’s lab in the department of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology, where he is studying the molecular mechanisms and metabolism of epidermal squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) and hair follicle stem cells. 

Galván is the co-President of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) at UCLA.  

Excerpted from UCLA Newsroom (by Linda Wang, November 8, 2021):

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Carlos Galván, a doctoral student in the molecular biology interdepartmental program at UCLA, says his immigrant parents’ work ethic shaped his drive to succeed.

Courtesy of Carlos Galván

‘You belong’: How first-gen students have succeeded in STEM

UCLA faculty and doctoral students reflect on challenges and offer advice to undergraduates

UCLA prides itself on the fact that nearly a third of its undergraduate students will be the first in their families to earn a four-year college degree. Still, navigating the university experience can be a challenge for many first-generation students, and particularly for those in STEM fields, where they remain widely underrepresented.

One of the first things these students should recognize is that they’re not alone, says Carlos Galván, a STEM doctoral student. “There are resources on campus, but you have to put yourself out there and be willing to reach out for help.” 

Here, Galván and other students and faculty members from the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA share their experiences as first-generation STEM students for National First-Generation College Celebration Day and National STEM Day. Their stories touch on familiar struggles — from dealing with financial hardships and “imposter syndrome” to the burden of “making it” for one’s family — and offer encouragement and advice on how first-gen students can make the most of their academic journey.

Carlos%2BGalvanCarlos Galván 

Doctoral student in the molecular biology interdepartmental program,

UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center trainee

Alma mater: UCLA (bachelor’s in biochemistry)

Hometown: Fontana, California

Carlos Galván credits his immigrant parents’ work ethic with shaping his drive to succeed. As co-president of the UCLA chapter of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science, or SACNAS, he’s passionate about organizing outreach events that expose young people from underrepresented communities to the magic and power of science.

What challenges did you face as a first-generation student?

Transitioning to college and having to be financially responsible for myself was really difficult. I was a full-time student and working multiple jobs. Coming from a low-income background, I had this big inner conflict of trying to balance everything. At one point, I was on the verge of academic probation because I was working so much — that was a huge wake-up call.

I wasn’t able to talk to my family or friends that I’ve known my entire life about my struggles because they wouldn’t understand what I was experiencing. I was also wrestling with thoughts like, “Am I not smart enough? Do I not belong here?” Once I started to join organizations like SACNAS and meet people that looked like me and had similar backgrounds, though — that’s when the imposter syndrome started to die down.

What advice do you have for other first-generation students?

Identify your allies, always advocate for yourself and don’t be scared to ask questions. There are resources on campus, but you have to put yourself out there and be willing to reach out for help. Join organizations like SACNAS to build community with people who have similar backgrounds and can understand your struggles. Above all, have confidence in knowing that you got into college just like your peers, so you belong.

See Carlos Galvan’s UCLA lab page.

Check out UCLA First to Go, a resource hub to assist current UCLA undergraduate students.


Also featured in the article are Dr. Song Li, Professor and chair of bioengineering, UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, Professor of medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA; Aileen Nava, Doctoral student in human genetics, UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center trainee; Dr. Amander Clark, Professor and chair of molecular, cell and developmental biology, UCLA College; and Dr. Pearl Quijada, Assistant professor of integrative biology and physiology, UCLA College.  Read the full article here