Communicating with Confidence

Faces: MacKenzie Allison cover

Mireia Roig-Paul | Beaverton | BioResource Research | Class of 2023

Academic Learning Assistant in Sackett Hall | Honors Roll GPA

USDA Undergraduate Researcher | Precollege Programs

1st generation American attending school in the United States

Gardening Societies

I have taken a strong liking to indoor gardening, particularly with tropical houseplants. It has allowed me to join various clubs and societies across campus and Oregon, and it has also led to many of the friendships I have today. This is tied to what I'm studying, as I am passionate about soil health and being able to support newer, less experienced/knowledgeable plant keepers through these means has been incredibly influential in strengthening my knowledge.

Finding My Niche

My field has taken me to internships on tropical farms, as well as a research opportunity where I will present for a thesis at the end of my undergraduate career. I was also accepted into multiple study abroad programs, but due to COVID constraints, I was unable to see those through. I have applied to various PhD programs based around analytical chemistry and environmental chemistry, which I would not have thought possible before. The most valuable part of these experiences has been learning about myself and what niches I am happy with filling. I never would have thought that coding would be up my alley, however, it has turned out to be an incredibly influential part of my thesis. I also learnt about what I am not interested in, and those experiences did feel like a waste for a short time, but they ended up being incredibly important in my personal development. The most fun were the ones where I was able to form a community (even if for a short time) and be able to socialize with students who had similar interests with varying experience levels. Unexpected avenues turned out to be the most interesting routes, since I learnt more about myself and felt that I was able to renew my goals, instead of burnout listlessly. The most exciting prospect for me is being able to complete a PhD program in some form of chemistry, as I would be able to use my undergraduate degree while utilizing the specialized skill sets that I love doing.

Qualified and Capable

Being told to straight up apply to graduate school after only considering doing it after years of industry experience was a big shift in my perspective. I was talking with Dr. Pastorek and Dr. Sleszynski (College of Science, Department of Chemistry) because of Quantitative Analysis (CH324), and both told me that it would be a waste to try and get an undergraduate degree in chemistry because I am more than qualified and capable. It was such a simple message. But it felt so meaningful because I never considered myself really able to take on that level of science while applying my soil science background. But talking it over, there is so much intersection, and it all makes so much sense. I have become much more confident in myself, and I feel that I am able to achieve what I put myself towards, even if I have setbacks.

Stronger Sense of Self

Because I am a fairly young woman in STEM (particularly Ag), I have had to fight for my voice to be heard and respected in a few of the labs I have been a part of, which was extremely disheartening. Even when I felt I understood the material, I was told I wasn't capable of understanding and that I was too incompetent to comprehend what was happening. I overcame these by talking with others in those labs and bringing my concerns to trusted peers who were able to help. The encouragement of my professors, and the pride that they had in me was also influential in feeling that I deserved to be a part of research. Overall, I kept standing up for myself, and eventually others began to see my resolve and capacity, while I developed a stronger sense of self to overcome my issues.

I also have formed part of multiple on-campus groups that break down systemic barriers. Largely focused on pre- and early-college programs, I found that by advising and advocating for my peers, I became more confident in doing so for myself.

Support and Accessibility

Something the College of Agricultural Sciences (CAS) could do to better help students navigate challenges would be to provide more opportunities and accessible research. However, my only hindrance for this is that I was largely working through the pandemic, so what was available was largely limited anyway. I just want to ensure that future students are able to find projects that are interesting, and if not, they have the skillset to say no and leave the lab without feeling guilty (I struggled a lot with this since all I found were ways to be respectful in accepting and maintaining positions in labs).

Also, I would like it if there was more funding. I did well enough for myself, and while it was accessible, sometimes the funding amounts were much lower and resulted in me having to scramble for more income. I'm not sure how one would achieve this (as I do NOT condone increasing tuition of students or increasing additional expenses more), but if there are leftover scholarships, maybe just using those towards any student in CAS and/or splitting it up evenly throughout the college.

That, and less expensive everything (tuition, housing, food, etc. on and off campus). It made finding places to live, balancing research-work-study-personal life, fun expenditures, and overall quality of life poorer in multiple regards. I am in a much more stable environment now, so I am much happier with everything, but having more support and knowing how to access those resources would have made a monumental difference in my earlier years at Oregon State University (OSU).

What Can Be Gained 

Knowing about the opportunities sooner, and what to avoid would have improved my experience. However, I don't think that I could have forgone the negative experiences and been as confident and practical as I am now. Horrible roommates made me look for specific traits in people, bad professors taught me to study material independently with more efficiency, awful lab mates taught me how to advocate for myself.

I think that all my issues were based around the fact that I felt I had no community, regardless of how hard I tried to join in. So being able to confidently make and sustain a long-term group of friends earlier on would have lent itself to a better early college experience. Again, however, the pandemic made that nearly impossible, so hopefully others will be able to have that.

Learn to Walk Away

It's okay to call quits on something that feels like pulling teeth. You don't have to persevere. Sometimes things just suck, and the only way to feel better is to move on away from said thing. You will survive and will be better off without it.

I'm not saying to immediately give up on anything hard, I'm saying if you dread something consistently, to the extent that you feel you are hopelessly stuck, even after you've reached out for help and tried all the advice you can, it's okay to stop trying. You can give all you want, but if that person/test/internship/job/whatever still sucks (after putting in all the effort and extra help needed), you don't have the obligation to continue (**only in specific circumstances though, there are things where you cannot just leave**).

Fine-Tuning Opportunities

I gained hands-on experience in research via the Beginning Researcher, as well as the Continuing Researcher Support Program, Bioresource Research, and ER Jackman fundings. Without any of those CAS opportunities, I would not have been nearly as fine-tuned as I am now. These helped me develop skills of communicating my goals to audiences who give funding, as well as getting various types of skills central to being a researcher (bioinformatic, wet lab, communication, presenting, etc.). I am incredibly grateful to the opportunities I have had to present my research. These have been mainly through the CAS Annual Career Fair and Student Showcase and the Celebrating Undergraduate Excellence programs, where I was able to communicate my findings, and get advice for next steps and growing as a presenter.

Expressing Gratitude

A picture of me is present on @OSUAgSci during my poster presentation for the 2022 Annual Career Fair and Student Showcase (2nd to last photo). Further, I'm going to be doing a poster presentation for my thesis project at the end of Winter term 2023, and a full dissertation slideshow in Spring 2023 to get my undergraduate thesis. Lastly, I would like to say I am incredibly grateful for all of the opportunities allotted to me by this college, and all the support from my mentors, funders, and peers.