What you are about to read is a story confirming that with the support of your loved ones you can definitely follow your dreams.

My grandparents didn’t have enough money to send all of their children to school past 4th grade. So, seeing my father give up his dream job of being a doctor because he couldn’t continue his education broke my heart. Every morning he would wake up desolated, put on his uncomfortable suit and go sit on a desk for 8 hours in some bank that nowadays doesn’t even exist.

At 16, in the middle of adolescence we are pressured to choose what to do for the rest of our lives. In my case in the midst of all indecision, I had to let the secretary of applications choose my future with the sole rule that it should be either in mathematics or in chemistry.

In September 2016, I left my small island and started my bachelor’s in applied chemistry in Lisbon, 1000km away from my family and separated by the Atlantic ocean.

Everything went well in the first year. I was good at it and quite enjoyed it. However, starting the second year of bachelor’s I started to feel demotivated and lost. It was not the kind of science I was searching for. The kind of science that keeps you on edge with endless possibilities and the influence it can have on people’s lives. At least not for me.

And so there I was. An uninspired 17-year-old child that was about to let down her dad that worked so hard to give her the best chances to pursue her dream. But what was my dream at this time? I had no idea.

Starting covid and the lockdown with it, I had thankfully quite some time to explore on what I could do with my diploma. At this point I fell in love with biological research. Specifically, cell and cancer biology. How curious is the complex machinery of the smallest unit of our organisms? How curious it is that it decides to self-attack and develop the second deadliest disease in the world?

The transition was hard. No university would take someone with a chemical background into a biological master. I was forced to start a new life in a foreign country, even further away from my family that I so much love. I struggled. The first grades that I got were so atrocious that I was humiliated and wanted to quit. The basics were missing from my
knowledge. Thinking of my dad. He didn’t have the opportunity, I do. So, instead of quitting, I enrolled in almost 50 online webinars and searched all basic biology concepts and techniques online.

Fast forward 3 years I am now a first year PhD student in one of the more prestigious centers of cancer research in France in a wonderful team working in an innovative subject on cancer biology. Couldn’t be happier, couldn’t be more stimulated, couldn’t be more motivated.

At a point I had two possibilities. Take the easy way out or persevere and adapt to a whole new area of science that I knew nothing of. I’m glad I chose the second one. I’m glad I chose happiness. I know my dad is glad too.

The amazing VMS team from the CRCL that I’m so glad to be part of.

About the author:

My name is Laura Castro Dias and I’m originally from the small island of Madeira in Portugal. On February 2023 I started my PhD thesis at the Cancer Research Center of Lyon (CRCL) in France, working on the influence of the nervous system on the awakening of breast cancer cells in the bone marrow. I’ve joined the program of EACR ambassador as I believe together as research community, we can get much further much faster. I gladly present myself as a cancer researcher doing my best to give some valuable input to the fight against cancer.

About this article

This is one of our shortlisted entries for the 2023 EACR Science Communication Prize on the topic of Science in Motion: Navigating Transitions. Choosing a winner was incredibly difficult and we’re delighted to be able to share our amazing shortlist.