Originally from Heredia, Costa Rica, Gabriela Murillo is working toward her PhD in the Department of Nutritional Sciences. After spending time in Costa Rica working as s a dietitian, she decided to change course and set her sights on academic research. Here’s what she said in an interview.
Where did you study as an undergraduate? What was your major?
I studied at the University of Costa Rica (UCR). It’s located in the capital, San José. We have three public universities in the whole country, and UCR is the main university. That’s where I got my bachelor’s degree in human nutrition.
In terms of graduate degrees, in Costa Rica things are different than they are here. There is something comparable to a masters degree; it’s called a licenciatura, which is a year of school work and a thesis. When I came to UConn, I completed a master’s degree and then rolled over that research into the PhD program.
Why did you decide to go to graduate school?
After I graduated, I realized that working as a dietician wasn’t my thing. I was more into research and academia, so I started working at UCR as a teacher of biochemistry for undergrads. It’s different because here you cannot be a professor without a graduate degree. In Costa Rica, we don’t have a lot of opportunities to go to grad school and get specific master’s or PhDs; a tenure track position is extremely hard to come by. So UCR told me, we will give you a full-time position as a professor if you get your master’s degree somewhere.
I wanted to get my master’s in 2008 but I didn’t know how to put things together. I thought to myself, do I want to keep being a dietitian? What am I going to do with my master’s degree and graduate studies when I go back? Essentially, my boss told me if I got admitted to a university in the United States I could come back with a job. I started applying and it worked out really well because I got a Fulbright grant. I actually applied here [to UConn] before, without knowing anything about the Fulbright programs, and at the time my advisor had no room for additional graduate students. When I applied again with a Fulbright, I wasn’t sure if should apply to UConn again. I’m glad I did because then Dr. Fernandez had room for me in her lab.