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  • Writer's pictureWomen in Ag Science Team

Meet Juliana González-Tobón, Plant Pathology Ph.D. student

Disciplined and committed through academia, Juliana is fulfilling her goals of becoming a plant doctor and communicating science.

Juliana González Tobón is a first year Plant Pathology Ph.D student at CornelI University. She is currently working at the laboratory of Dr. Melanie Filiatrault with a research focus on small non-coding RNAs that could regulate interactions between plant pathogenic bacteria and their host, most probably potatoes. Specifically, she works with a type of small non-coding RNA that responds to specific metabolites and/or physical conditions in planta. They are important components of many regulatory pathways and have been shown to have key roles in regulation of factors that are important for virulence. A better understanding of this system will help to implement new strategies of disease management in potato crops around the world. 

Before going to Cornell, Juliana always knew that she wanted to do science and was inclined towards human genetics research. With strong personal motivation, she volunteered in a laboratory that worked with human genetics and realized that she was not fulfilled by it. During that same time, Juliana was taking plant pathology and epigenetics classes, where she discovered a huge passion in both subjects. Moved by the enthusiasm, she started looking for ideas on how to know more within these research areas, and she had the great opportunity of meeting Dr. Silvia Restrepo and Dr. Giovanna Danies at Universidad de Los Andes (Uniandes) in Bogota, Colombia. 

Juliana spent three years working in the laboratory of Mycology and Plant Pathology (LAMFU) at Uniandes under the guidance of Dr. Silvia Restrepo and Dr. Giovanna Danies, first as an undergraduate doing her thesis in Biology and Microbiology and then as a grad student doing a Master’s in Biological Sciences. Juliana studied the pathogen Phytophthora infestans in potatoes and her research projects were mainly focused on how this pathogen responds to fungicide exposure. Most specifically, how does this pathogen acquire resistance to metalaxyl, a commonly used fungicide. -This effect of overcoming resistance mainly occurs when the pathogen is exposed to sublethal doses of the fungicide-. What a change! 

Networking and simple conversations help accomplishing your goals

Juliana mentioned that it’s crucial to have opportunities to view things from different perspectives. While completing her studies at Uniandes, she attended the American Phytopathological Society (APS) a couple of times. For her, it’s an outstanding experience of networking and possibilities that helped her envision what she wanted for her future. Juliana expressed that attending this kind of conference and communicating her research work to the community convinced her that it's one of the most important things she can do for her science career. With this state of mind and moved by her ambition in science and research, she was able to complete two internships at Cornell University, which helped her find her current advisor, friends, and community at Cornell.

 “I cannot find enough words to describe how important that experience was for my future. I got tons of experience as well as good friends and contacts who are making my transition to be a Ph.D student at Cornell much easier and more enjoyable.”

It’s on the details of the daily routine where you find your purpose in life

Juliana expressed that she went through personal situations in life that made her change the way she was perceiving it. “Adopting two lovely cats-believe it or not, it helps a lot in maintaining the balance-, discovering that close family members got cancer pushed me to maintain my life-work balance and, even though the latter sounds as a hard and sad story, I believe it had a positive impact on myself because it really helped me value what I've got and what I want to do with my life.”

Juliana clearly discovered new passions and ambitions along the way

Currently she is practicing a little bit of teaching by being a tutor for the English Language Support Office at Cornell where she helps other international graduate students and postdocs with their academic writing such as research articles, cover letters, personal statements, and fellowships, among others. Juliana has demonstrated perseverance and discipline to follow her dreams which are becoming a professor and having her own laboratory. A balance between teaching and researching are her ultimate goals. “Off course that is a long-term goal. For now, I'll focus on giving the best of me every day on what I'm doing.” Baby steps folks, baby steps.

Juliana is a big believer of taking chances and making them her own 

“Take all the chances you can get, embrace all the possibilities and make them your own. Some would come out good, some may be tougher, but you will learn something from each one, and perhaps some years later, you'll see how a great impact those experiences had in your process of becoming a successful scientist.”

She lives with a positive state of mind, and that helps her move forward

Juliana takes seriously her close relationships and puts a lot of value on the time she spends with them. In her free time, she loves to play, take care, and spend time with her cats. She also considers herself a very loving person and makes all the efforts needed to spend valuable time with her husband (newlyweds!), friends, and Colombian community.


A useful tip to young female students out there

“Trust in yourself and believe you can because, sadly, there will be a lot of times when others would like you to think that you are not able to do it. Then, ask yourselves if that's true. If it is, then work harder. If it isn't, just keep being the best you can be every day. That will show them eventually who you really are, and if it doesn't, don't even give it a slight thought.”

You can find more about Juliana at 

Instagram: juligt7

Twitter: EpiPlantPath

This interview was written by Andrea Lugo Torres



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