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Q&A with LRP Awardee Yenisel Cruz-Almeida, M.S.P.H., Ph.D. – University of Florida

 Dr. Yenisel Cruz-Almeida
Dr. Yanisel Cruz-Almeida

I recently had the pleasure of attending and delivering the keynote address during the University of Florida Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) Research Day. While my travel to Gainesville wasn’t the smoothest (I won’t bore you with the details), once I arrived,

I was quickly enveloped by the juggernaut that is the U of FL CTSI! Founded in 2008 to speed the translation of scientific discoveries into improved health (including the diagnosis, treatment, prevention and cure of human disease), the U of FL CTSI Program is a model hub for educating and training translational scientific workforce innovators for the future! While I was kept busy during my visit with facility tours and luncheons, the highlight of my day (aside from providing the keynote address), was meeting and talking with a host of talented (and frankly, brilliant) fellows and trainees, many of whom are current and former LRP awardees. One particular individual and her compelling story of perseverance and success stood out to me. I’d like you to meet Dr. Yenisel Cruz-Almeida, Assistant Professor of Aging (and former LRP awardee).

Conversation with Dr. Almeida

Good afternoon, Dr. Almeida. I’d like to start our conversation by asking what is your current position and research focus?

I am an Assistant Professor at the University of Florida Institute on Aging and my research focuses on understanding neurobiological factors contributing to changes in pain perception and modulation in aging adults. Older adults are at greater risk for more frequent and prolonged pain and suffer from pain at multiple sites compared with younger individuals. It is the number one reason for disability in older persons. With life expectancy increasing in the US and around the world, there is a dire need to better understand these factors so that we can better treat (or reduce/prevent) pain in older adults.

Where are you from originally?

I am originally from Cuba. When I was younger, I vividly remember my parents making plans for us to leave Cuba. They wanted to give us a better life and more opportunities. My parents scrimped and saved. Eventually, my Dad designed a raft to help us, and several others, escape. When I was 14, we set out to cross the 90-mile stretch between Cuba and the U.S. It was treacherous! There was shark-infested water, the heat, we ran out of water and then the raft started taking on water. We were about to lose hope when we were rescued less than 20 miles off the coast of Florida by a boat named “Opportunity”.

When did you discover that you wanted to become a scientist?

I was always attracted to the discovery of Math and Science from a very young age, but really wanted to do something in the medical field that would impact an individual’s health. So, initially I leaned towards being a physician. It was not until after my undergraduate degree that I realized I wanted to be a biomedical scientist, to be constantly learning and asking my own questions. I also knew that I wanted to influence the lives of students, helping to mentor them and realize the opportunities that are unfolding in their own lives.

When were you awarded your first NIH LRP? Which NIH institute funded your LRP?

I was awarded my first NIH LRP in 2012. It was funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA).

What has been the major career-related impact(s)/benefit(s) of receiving an LRP?

The major career-related impact of receiving an LRP was being able to accept a post-doctoral level salary and pursue the postdoctoral training that I needed to advance my career without worrying about how I would pay student loan bills.

Have you experienced any other positive impact(s) of receiving an LRP been on your family or other unexpected areas where receiving an LRP has been a major benefit?

Postdocs are by no means making tons of money and at the time that I received the LRP, I had two small children, a husband, and we unexpectedly faced some unforeseen financials stressors where my salary was the sole income for a while. Needless to say, the LRP was a HUGE unexpected help. It represented yet another ‘opportunity’ for me to support my research dreams and help my family pull through some rather rough financial times.

Any advice you would give anyone that is applying for an NIH LRP?

First and most importantly APPLY. If you don’t apply, you have zero ‘opportunity’ of getting it. Second, re-apply if you don’t get it, it’s worth it!

From your point of view, can you describe the importance of the LRP Ambassador Program?

As an LRP ambassador, I raise awareness about the LRP program, meet often with potential applicants and share my experiences including my own previous application documents with applicants. The LRP Ambassador Program is a way for the LRPs to be personalized and demystified.

As a reminder, our LRP Ambassador Directory is available 24/7 and, searchable by state and LRP. If you’re planning to apply for an LRP award, finding an Ambassador is a great first step! Ambassadors provide advice, encouragement regarding the LRP application process, their experiences, and more – so take advantage of this handy resource today!

Authored By
Ericka Boone