2022 Harvard Undergraduate Student Employee of the Year

Sofia Diaz Rodriguez, Sophomore

Job Title: Inclusive Research Labs Intern

Organization: Office of Science Education



Appreciation note from Sofia's Supervisor: "Sofia typically worked 10 hours each week on the project, so her work was by far the most essential work for the success of the project. She generally worked with minimal supervision, asked questions when necessary, scheduled her work time around her school work and other commitments, and each week presented us with a list of the tasks she had accomplished and a proposal for her work the following week. It often felt like she was the one driving the project forward, with her ambition, professionalism, and dedication keeping her focused and productive"



A Q&A with Sofia

Q1:What made you apply to your current job while being a student?  

Sofia: There is a lot of room for improvement at Harvard. The Inclusive Research Labs project is a cross-campus project that aims to apply Universal Design across research labs at the different Harvard schools. Universal Design incorporates seven principles into the building and design processes, to make spaces inclusive and accessible from the beginning. It emphasizes that when we design for disabilities, it helps everyone. For example, the curb cut was originally designed for wheelchair users but is often used by non-disabled people since the design is convenient and accessible. Many barriers prevent highly qualified students from participating in research; such as needing to reach out to Principal Investigators and having to remain focused for extended periods. Similarly, research labs are often not accessible for people with physical disabilities due to spatial constraints and non-adjustable furniture. As a result, the project focuses on making proactive changes to labs and lab culture to encourage underrepresented groups to participate in research. Doing research is a great opportunity to expand your knowledge outside of the classroom with hands-on learning, critical thinking, and analysis. Thus, I applied to this position because I think everyone should have the opportunity to do research in an inclusive and diverse space where they feel welcomed and accepted.   

Q2:Where did you find your job?  

Sofia: I was looking for a summer job, but hadn’t found anything that I really wanted to work on. My friend, Maria De Los Santos, saw a position for an Inclusive Research Labs Internship and sent it to me since she knew it was something I would be interested in. After searching it up on the SEO Job Database, I applied and interviewed for the position. 

Q3: How have you been able to balance your schoolwork and work responsibilities? What are your personal keys to success and what challenges or hurdles have you encountered?  

Sofia: I honestly still struggle with balancing my school work and work responsibilities, but I’ve found a few helpful strategies. Since my internship is mostly remote, I am able to scatter work and school tasks in my schedule. I usually begin by making a to-do list in order of urgency and importance. Urgent tasks usually involve an approaching deadline, whereas important tasks depend on my priorities and beliefs (urgent and important tasks go at the top of the list). After making a list, I put the tasks into my calendar. Often, I schedule a task between classes (depending on the time I have between classes), which I usually don’t finish in one sitting. However, splitting things up helps me be more organized and productive.  

My personal keys to success involve prioritizing my health, my relationships, and the things that make me happy. As a child of immigrants, my parents work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Growing up, I had to teach myself how to do things to support my family and translate documents. I often felt like I couldn’t show weakness or ask for help. Although I continue to struggle with this, I’ve realized that I don’t need to figure things out on my own and that it is not shameful to ask for help. Now, I am learning to take better care of my physical and mental health by prioritizing myself. I’m also learning to be more compassionate with myself. People are not supposed to be productive all the time. We have to balance work with the things that make us happy. I’ve given myself the space to notice the activities that calm me and make me happy– going for walks, spending time with friends and family, moving my body, listening to music – and incorporating them into my daily routine.

Q4:What does your typical day look like at work? What do you love the most about your position? 


Sofia: My internship is mostly remote, so I have a pretty flexible schedule. I typically work about ten hours a week and have weekly check-in meetings with my supervisors. I’ve completed many different tasks during my internship with the help of my supervisors, Logan and Aaron, who are always so kind and provide great feedback and guidance. The main tasks I’ve worked on include: creating easily distributable materials, designing a training session, collecting/analyzing data, and collecting testimonials. When I first started, I did a lot of research to learn about Universal Design. While doing this, I compiled a big slide deck with a lot of information, pictures, diagrams, and sources. This furthered my understanding of Universal Design and allowed me to think of creative ways to present the information. Then, I condensed this information into a shorter presentation. I brainstormed ways that Universal Design could be applied in lab settings and split them into three categories: low-cost, moderate-cost, and high-cost modifications. The team and I toured Harvard labs and took “before and after” pictures for each modification, which I incorporated into the final Powerpoint along with a description of each modification. I created and distributed a survey, which received over 250 responses from undergraduate students. The survey helped us better understand why students were opting-out of research and find common lab tasks that students find difficult. We analyzed and incorporated this data into our presentation. I also helped design an easily replicable training session for lab members, collected testimonials from researchers with disabilities and worked on making the materials easily distributable and accessible. 


Q5: How does it relate to what you are learning at Harvard? 


Sofia: I am a sophomore concentrating in Neuroscience on the pre-med track. Although I have not conducted lab research outside of my classes, I hope to begin working in a lab next fall. I think research is a valuable part of the undergraduate experience because it allows people to explore their interests outside of the classroom. I hope to make research a more enjoyable experience by reducing the anxiety of reaching out to labs and implementing universal design to make it more accessible to underrepresented groups in STEM.