Dr. Carmen Hinojosa-Laborde spoke to a group of graduate students at April’s Graduate Student Association meeting as the final speaker of the Conversations with Alumni Conversation series.
Dr. Hinojosa-Laborde grew up in San Antonio and went to St. Mary’s University.
“I realized I liked being in a lab during my junior year in college, after participating in a work study program at UT Health San Antonio,” she said. “After learning that in graduate school, the students are paid a stipend and don’t pay tuition, I thought to myself, “why doesn’t everyone go to graduate school?”
Dr. Hinojosa-Laborde graduated from UT Health San Antonio in 1985 with a Ph.D. degree in Pharmacology. Afterwards, she completed two postdoctoral positions in Milwaukee and Iowa City before returning to UT Health San Antonio where she worked for 17 years in the Department of Physiology, Department of Pharmacology and Department of Anesthesiology.
In 2009, Dr. Hinojosa-Laborde was recruited and selected for a Research Physiologist position at the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research. She moved from academia to a military lab and considers this change an excellent career choice.
She explained that the U.S. Army has research labs around the country and the one in San Antonio is specifically focused on trauma research. Some of the areas of research include ocular trauma, burn research and pain research.
“A lot of our research is easily translated into the clinic because we have a Clinical Research Support Department to help us,” she explained.
Dr. Hinojosa-Laborde explained that conducting research in a military lab is not so different from academia, but the structure and focus of the research is different.
Compared to scientists in academia, scientists in a military lab don’t spend time teaching, and spend less time applying for funds. Instead they work on projects that address “capability gaps” which are areas of research that have been determined as a priority by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command.
“It’s not really an alternative career, I still do research and I still publish papers–the difference is that our research is focused on the soldier,” she explained. “Specifically, our research focuses on the optimal care of the combat wounded.”
Once a project is over, military scientists are transitioned to other projects which may not be the same area that you specialized in. So, a broad background in graduate training is recommended.
“I was trained as an integrative physiologist so that was a huge advantage because it allowed me to be flexible,” she said. “You could be a trained as a cardiovascular physiologist, and be expected to conduct muscle or renal studies, or even a skin cancer study.”
For students interested in working in military careers, she recommends that they check the National Research Council or the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education for postdoctoral position openings or USAjobs.gov for job listings.