Francisco Peña's time in Mexico brought him up-close-and-personal with a whale shark and his roots
Brain and Cognitive Sciences major, Francisco Peña, in the Universidad Anáhuac-Mayab neuroscience lab

Personal growth

For Francisco there were two main gains: personal growth and a new vision for the future.

Although he went to Mexico without any friends, Francisco stayed with a family that shared their home-cooked meals three times a day. The city’s multiple museums and monuments give a glimpse of the development of Merida over hundreds of years while his homestay family integrated him to contemporary culture. This all brought Francisco closer to his roots, and when he returned home, he felt connected to his parents in a way he had never felt before.


Apart from personal growth, the internship gave Francisco a new perspective on research. Having researched for five months at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, Francisco had already learned molecular biology techniques and was familiar with confocal microscopy. The lab, however, had just bought its first confocal microscope so he helped train the undergrads. Also, the lab had limited resources so Francisco went from a throughput of ten mice per week to four rats every two weeks. These setbacks made progress very slow and they also pointed out the issues of scientific research in a developing country.

Oddly enough, these frustrations led to an important awakening that changed Francisco’s career path. It seemed that if the professors and undergrads had more funds or resources they would make faster progress toward their medical treatments for insomnia and diabetes. Since Francisco had only been in a privileged lab, this was the first time economic problems stood in his way and he realized that these problems matter more to him than the questions of how neurons record memories. He now plans to be a leader for charter schools in underprivileged communities, so that socioeconomic status does not dictate a person’s achievements.

  • Mexico
  • Internship
  • Brain & Cog