José Ricardo Moreno
José Ricardo Moreno, Ph.D. candidate, chemistry
University of Southern California
Potions class may have been fictional, but to this wizard, chemistry proved to be the next best thing.
Not Eye to Eye
Where's the Help?
Has there been a moment when José Ricardo feared higher education just wasn’t going to work out? “Yeah,” he says grimly. “There are a couple of moments but we’ll go with one that seems, mmm. I was after my first qualification exam. I did not pass my first qualification exam. I wasn’t prepared well enough for it. It was also my first time ever coming for an exam like this, I had not known what the process was.
Not Eye to Eye
“At the time I was getting my research done and my advisor and I were not seeing eye to eye about how to get to the end of the project. And we had to separate, and sometimes separation is what you need to do to grow, to find a new space to be the person that you need to be. That moment is when I thought I would end up leaving graduate school, because I came in thinking that I was going to work with this person, and the sense of betrayal that occurred really scarred me. But…”
If you ask for other people’s help, if you reach out and engage with people…” José Ricardo begins generally, then turns personal. “Even cold-calling people that I meet over Twitter to talk about their science, I’m just excited. I’ll say, ‘I saw your post or your article, I just really want to say great job, can we talk about this sometime?’ He says this approach has led to some friendships that are really deep now, and admires leading with your own heart and positivity.
Where's the Help?
José continues, “Coming back from [the advisor problem] was so hard. But along the way I had made other relationships with other faculty members, I had made relationships with other graduate students, I had made relationships with other people within the university. At this point people were like, no, we’ve seen the kind of work that you do. We’ve seen what you bring to the table. You’re more than capable of doing this. Let’s get you back on track. And it really was a community that came together and helped me get through that period of time and made me into a very different person now than I was during that period of time.”
So what changed for José Ricardo? He says, “The biggest attitude change was I thought I lived in a world where there was so much scarcity — there weren’t resources, there weren’t opportunities. The switch was, actually there’s a world of plenty here. There’s a world of plenty of opportunities. But, based on his experiences (see above), doesn’t he feel vulnerable in new or nerve-wracking situations? “Vulnerability is a strength,” says José Ricardo, leaning in. “So find the parts where we’re uncomfortable. You have to walk through that.”
It took José Ricardo’s parents about six years to accept his being gay. “I’ve been involved with the New York City Pride for about a decade,” he says now.” One of my duties was to go in the golf cart through the path of the pride march first, make sure all the obstacles were taken care of. I’d see millions of people lined up on Fifth Avenue. My parents would watch on TVand see me. “There he is! In the golf cart!” Yeah, you have to be really really comfortable with the fact that your son is gay to see him on tv like that.
Now, he says, they’re the parental support system his friends wish they could have. “At my birthday party my friends were like, ‘You’re not any different in front of your parents than you are with us,’ and I was like ‘why?’ I don’t want to put different aspects of myself and change who I am because of who’s in the room. Because of that experience my parents have had with me, and that growth, so many other LGBTQ people also opened up to my parents.
My mother works at the ‘last chance’ high school with kids who have been expelled from their schools for behavioral issues, for learning disabilities. Some of them are LGBTQ. She’s had to stand up for them in different ways, for teachers not understanding, (this is Texas!) and she’s like ‘NO! Leave them alone! They are expressing themselves how they need to express themselves, that is who they are. Let them be, they’re kids.’
MORE: Visit José and 499 other LGBTQ scientists at 500 Queer Scientists: