Environmental Science major Monica Alves’s first major career revolved around water science. Recently, she has transitioned into oncology-related research data. In this interview, Alves imparts advice on changing careers and discusses her love for writing children’s poetry.
Tell us about your current career.
As a Research Data Specialist at the gastrointestinal (GI) clinical research office at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI), I engage in a variety of responsibilities related to data collection and management. One of my key tasks involves maintaining ongoing communication with research study sponsors, physicians, and clinical research coordinators to address data collection needs. This ensures that everyone is well-informed and aligned regarding the required information for research studies.
Another significant part of my work involves reviewing and abstracting medical records for patients. By carefully examining these records, I extract relevant clinical data that is essential for research purposes. Overall, my activities contribute to the effective management of clinical research and aid in advancing knowledge in the field of gastrointestinal oncology.
What prompted you to make the change from water science to clinical data?
Transitioning from aquaculture [in my case, conducting biomedical research on zebrafish in a controlled setting] to clinical data allowed me to maintain my interests while making a positive impact on people’s lives. Interacting with my specialization in water science for the first four years after graduation was excellent, but I also wanted to expose myself to clinical data.
Entering the field of new drug therapeutics, even while shifting away from my natural science background, has been immensely meaningful. So many parts of our lives have flexibility, and that is also true in our careers. While environmental and water science is my background, working at DFCI has allowed me to develop a deep passion for the healthcare field, and to provide hope for patients and their families.
Overall, it’s important to discover hidden opportunities. By exploring careers outside your major, you may stumble upon lesser-known industries or niche fields that have a strong demand for professionals with your skills. These hidden opportunities can present exciting and fulfilling career paths that you may have otherwise overlooked.
What is most rewarding about your current profession?
By being involved in cancer research, I can work towards understanding the intricacies of this complex disease and being a part of developing innovative approaches for its treatment. Every breakthrough, every new understanding, and every successful treatment developed through research has the potential to transform lives. Witnessing the positive outcomes of our work on patients and their families is incredibly rewarding and fuels my dedication to this field. As an employee of DFCI in particular, knowing that I am helping to extend someone’s life is such a gift.
What is your advice for people wanting to transition into a new line of work?
Consider your options carefully before making any hasty decisions. Reflect on the reasons behind your desire for a change. Are you dissatisfied with your current job or the people with whom you work? Take time to evaluate your skills, interests, and ideal work environment. Seek advice from others who have transitioned from similar careers. Look for connections between your current work and your desired field. Decide whether to start fresh or leverage your past experiences. Setting clear career and even academic goals will provide direction during your transition.
Also, ask yourself these questions: What gets you excited to jump out of bed on a Monday morning and feel a genuine sense of fulfillment in your journey? How does money factor into your list of priorities? And what about your requirements in terms of colleagues, teamwork, work environment, and organizational culture?
I must emphasize that changing your career is possible and does not always have to align with your major. It’s important to explore new possibilities because your interests and passions can change over time. If you only consider careers related to your major, you may miss out on discovering new areas of interest. By embracing diverse experiences, you can explore different passions and find a career that aligns better with your evolving goals and aspirations.
Why did you choose to attend Simmons?
Offering a wide range of undergraduate and graduate programs across various disciplines sets Simmons apart. Also, as part of the Colleges of the Fenway consortium, I knew that more course options would translate into a dynamic career skill set.
There is also something special about being at a women’s-centered institution. As a student in the sciences, I felt confident to raise my hand and express myself. This has extended into my current career, as I feel that I have a stronger voice, even though I am in a field that has a history of marginalizing women leaders.
Tell us about your interest in poetry.
I think it is helpful to develop hobbies that are not necessarily related to your principal profession. In my case, I write a lot of poetry. So far, I have published two books of children’s poetry: Earl the Squirrel and The Girl and the Squirrel. Currently I am collaborating with an illustrator for another book project.
In my creative process, I integrate a lot of themes of nature. The Muddy River is especially inspirational for me. I find that poetry is organically connected to rhythm and music, and it is easier to express my feelings in shorter verses than long sentences. I am drawn to children’s literature because this genre can convey a great deal of depth with very simple vocabulary.
I just composed a short poem, entitled “Our River,” that I would like to share with the Simmons community:
As Boston’s pulse resounds, the muddy river’s symphony plays,
Students strolling along its winding ways.
Beneath the bridge, shadows gracefully pass,
Silent steps on stones and whispers on grass.
Pause, attune to the geese’s harsh calls,
By Simmons, our river proudly announces its place.