Interview with Melania Guerra, PhD - La Tica Polar

Melania Guerra, PhD  - Oceanographer and Science Diplomacy Strategist

Melania Guerra, PhD - Oceanographer and Science Diplomacy Strategist

Dr. Melania Guerra is truly an adventurer, like the ones you see in movies or read about in books. Not only is she an explorer but she is also a scientist. Her journey started in San José, Costa Rica where she studied in a German High School, an experience that opened her mind to the world and its opportunities. It is here where her interest in science began and with the help of her mother who was herself a teacher she rapidly developed her interests and did very well in school. Dr. Guerra has always admired and avidly followed the career of Dr. Franklin Chang Diaz, the first Costa Rican to travel to space. Another of her role models, whose work she read a lot about and followed was Dr. Jacques Cousteau, an oceanographer who visited Isla del Coco in Costa Rica. These two magnates sparked Dr. Guerra’s interest in science and discovery and served as role models for careers she was interested in following. It was precisely these interests that lead her to study mechanical engineering at the University of Costa Rica. During her undergraduate work, she had the amazing opportunity to work with Dr. Franklin Chang, her role model, for a year in NASA. There she met many astronauts and discovered a lot of their career paths by insisting on going to lunch with a different one every day. Despite her interest in space, Dr. Guerra shifted to her other passion, the oceans and understanding and discovering the secrets they guard. This led her to start a Ph.D. program at University of California, San Diego, where her main focus was studying the impact of the sound of human activities on whale. Together with her team, they noticed that the migration of whales was shifting due to the increasing sounds of ships related to human transportation and tourism activities. While she was working on a specific scientific problem, Dr. Guerra could easily see that these shifting patterns of migration had far reaching consequences for both the animals, as well as communities and societies that depend on tracking these migrations for food and survivability. She then moved to a postdoc at Cornell University, however on a 4th of July, traveling on a ship in the middle of the Bering Strait and staring at the amazing nature, she took a step back and thought about everything we can lose and realized that her academic career was nearing an end because her true passion and calling was in how  to link science and politics to solve pressing global challenges, like how climate change affects our oceans. She did some research and found a fellowship in the United Nations with a focus on oceanography and international law, where she started dabbing her feet into science diplomacy. Dr. Guerra was selected to embark on a journey with her role model Cristiana Figueres, through Homeward Bound, where she went to the Antarctic with a group of empowering women to both receive leadership training and real-life tools towards solving global challenges. Today, Dr. Guerra continues fighting for the well-being and protection of our oceans and is interested in promoting legislation and international agreements that encompass ocean changes due to climate change. Looking back at her scientific path, one of her goals is to become the ambassador of all the whale's voices that she recorded on during her trips, and now voicing the needs of our Oceans facing the many challenges climate change is bringing. Something that definitely caught my attention about her pathway was that she had impostor syndrome throughout her Ph.D., it was fascinating to see how a person with so much training and an admirable background can have this syndrome, and really demonstrated to be that it can really happen to anyone. Lastly, I truly admire that Dr. Melania Guerra is a person who fights for her dreams and goals. As a child, she dreamt about traveling the world and leaving her mark, which she has done, to me, her passion, drive and fight to better the world truly makes her a super hero. Dr. Guerra is one of my main personal role models, and her story and career inspire me to always keep fighting for my dreams.

By Eduardo Marín Fuentes , undergraduate student in Microbiology at University of Costa Rica, Costa Rica. From Turrialba, Costa Rica.

By Eduardo Marín Fuentes, undergraduate student in Microbiology at University of Costa Rica, Costa Rica. From Turrialba, Costa Rica.

Follow Dr. Melania Guerra on social media: [Facebook] Melania Guerra - La Tica Polar and [Twitter] @melania_guerra

Check out her interview in Spanish!

Special thanks to Eduardo Marín Fuentes for summarizing our interview with Dr. Melania Guerra!

Interview with Giovanna Guerrero-Medina, PhD

Giovanna Guerrero-Medina, PhD –  Executive Director of Ciencia Puerto Rico and Director of Yale Ciencia Academy

Giovanna Guerrero-Medina, PhD – Executive Director of Ciencia Puerto Rico and Director of Yale Ciencia Academy

In Season 2 – Episode 9 of Caminos en Ciencia, Dr. Giovanna Guerrero-Medina takes us into her life and her pathway through science that led her to leadership positions to help increase diversity, equity and inclusion in science. Dr. Guerrero-Medina is a Puerto Rican scientist born and raised in San Juan (Río Piedras), Puerto Rico. Since her early years, science was a topic of discussion in her house, as her father was a professor of Pharmacology and a scientist, but it wasn’t until her high-school years that she became interested in biology. Being a student of the High School of the University of Puerto Rico – Rio Piedras Campus (UPR-RP) gave her the opportunity to attend an undergraduate biology course. There, she saw the enthusiasm of professors, researchers and students, for biology research and decided to pursue a Bachelor of Science in biology which she completed at UPR-RP. For grad school, she left her life-long hometown and went to California to pursue and complete graduate studies in Cell and Molecular Biology with a focus in Neurobiology at Berkley University. While working towards her PhD, she expressed what most of us have felt during our passage through grad school, impostor syndrome, and most of all, “what will I do after graduate school?” After listening to this conversation in the podcast and seeing how successful Dr. Guerrero-Medina has been, gives me a sense of calm and reassures that we are not alone when, at times, we doubt our future and sense of belonging. 

Her research as a graduate student had a strong electrophysiology component which she worked while listening to podcasts related to politics, interestingly, when science topics were in discussion. She developed an interest in science and politics, but how could she combine both? After completing a short post-doctoral training, she went to Washington, DC as a Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Graduate Fellows at the National Academies of Science, which led to a position at the National Institute of Health where she worked closely with federal agencies and government. Before entering Yale University, Dr. Guerrero-Medina worked in the Van Andel Institue at Michigan where she focused in developing scientific programs. At the same time, she was a volunteer for Ciencia Puerto Rico; a non-profit organization that reunites and gives visibility to any person interested in sciences and Puerto Rico. As of today, she is the director of Ciencia Puerto Rico, the Executive Director of the Yale Ciencia Academy and is part of the Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Yale. As Dr. Guerrero-Medina says, “science is not linear”, and she has been able to use science as an instrument to benefit society through her science career. Because of her experience with Ciencia Puerto Rico, which takes the expertise of scientists for the benefit of future generations, connects Puerto Rican scientists around the world and opens the space for mentoring relationships, she developed in collaboration with Yale University, the Yale Ciencia Academy, a program where graduate students nationwide have the opportunity to discuss important topics for personal and professional development with successful scientists.  Her work at Ciencia Puerto Rico has had an impact on students and scientists at every stage of their career. She has helped bring scientists together, improve the way science is taught at Puerto Rico with “Ciencia al Servicio” (Science at the Service) and is giving young girls interested in STEM a platform for science outreach through the initiative “Semillas de Triunfo” (Seed of Success). In this last initiative, middle and high-school girls receive workshops in STEM to fuel their curiosity and become ambassadors for science in their communities. As a woman, scientist, and Puerto Rican, Dr. Guerrero-Medina embodies how science can serve the community and enhance diversity, equity and inclusion. Her path through science is an example of how a combined interest and passion can serve for students, scientist, faculty, but most of all: society. 

Follow Dr. Giovanna Guerrero-Medina: [Twitter] @Sefini

Check out her interview in Spanish!

Special thanks to Flavia A. Tejeda for summarizing our interview with Dr. Giovanna Guerrero-Medina!

By Flavia A. Tejeda,  PhD Candidate in Molecular Cell Biology at Universidad Central del Caribe.

By Flavia A. Tejeda, PhD Candidate in Molecular Cell Biology at Universidad Central del Caribe.

Interview with Teresa Ramírez, PhD

Teresa Ramírez, PhD  - Diversity & Inclusion Policy and Outreach Specialist in the Office of Public Affairs at FASEB

Teresa Ramírez, PhD - Diversity & Inclusion Policy and Outreach Specialist in the Office of Public Affairs at FASEB

Dr. Teresa Ramírez is a first-generation scholar who comes from Compton, California. Her parents migrated to California from Zacatecas, Mexico. Coming from a low-income neighborhood, where the city is filled with violence, gangs and drugs, Dr. Ramírez continues to be proud and grateful of the community she grew up in. Her greatest support has been her parents and her goal as a young girl was to give them a better life. Her interest in science began when she was eleven years old. She participated in a science fair, where her experiment’s title was “Do seeds contain oil?”. At such a young age, Dr. Ramírez had an intrinsic motivation to pursue her love for science. This spark continues to shine in her and she uses it to inspire as many scientists as possible.

 Dr. Ramírez attended Cal State Dominguez Hills for her undergraduate degree. She was part of an organization called Society for the Advanced Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). Dr. Ramírez continues to play an impactful role in this organization by fostering a supportive, welcoming environment to all students, professors and administrators. She never thought that she would leave the beautiful, sunny state of California, but she is content with the experience she gained as a post baccalaureate at National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Maryland. After this segment in her life, she decided she wanted to apply to graduate schools. Staying in California was a priority in order to stay close to her parents. However, when she interviewed at Brown University, she knew that Providence was going to be her new home. Her Ph.D. thesis was on the effects of alcohol in the liver. Her research was partially motivated by her grandpa who passed from a brain tumor and unfortunately was also as an alcoholic. Not only was Dr. Ramirez devoted to her scientific investigations, but she also created a SACNAS chapter at Brown University. She brought an inclusive support group that welcomed scientists that came from underrepresented backgrounds. She has been part of SACNAS for 18 years and continues to be an inspiration to all. Furthermore, while she was at Brown, she became part of the Mariachi band. Los Tigres del Norte was the music she grew up with and when she played their music, she felt like she was back home in Compton. After she received her Ph.D., she went to NIH for her post-doc where she continued to do alcohol research for 2.5 years. She had such a strong love for scientific research but she had a keen desire to do more. When her post-doc ended, she went on to complete a fellowship at American Society of Human Genetics in the National Human Genome Research for 1.5 years. Dr. Ramírez is the Diversity & Inclusion Policy and Outreach Specialist at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) and is honored for this opportunity.

Dr. Ramírez says she has encountered several obstacles but with her perseverance, resilience, and optimism she turned them into gold. She sees those struggles as something that makes one unique, humble and prepares us to be better people. Two of the biggest obstacles in her life, first was when she was in middle school and a kid took a gun. The gun fell and the bullet passed right by her and at that moment she realized one must always stay happy to be alive. Another obstacle was when a professor told her to take her masters and not continue pursuing her doctorate. However, it didn’t stop her because “Como gran mexicana” she is a proud, determined Mexican-American woman.

Follow Dr. Teresa Ramírez: [Twitter] @DraComptonPhD

Check out her interview in Spanish!

Special thanks to Kristen Fregoso for summarizing our interview with Dr. Teresa Ramírez!

By Kristen Fregoso , PhD Student in Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology at Brown University  From Los Angeles, California

By Kristen Fregoso, PhD Student in Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology at Brown University

From Los Angeles, California

Interview with Dina García, PhD

Dina García, PhD  - Assistant Professor, Department of Health Behavior and Policy at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine

Dina García, PhD - Assistant Professor, Department of Health Behavior and Policy at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine

Dr. Dina García was born in Guadalajara, Mexico but her family soon immigrated to the United states when she was 2 years old. Her family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, due to her late grandfather having previously worked harvesting potatoes and carrots around the area. 

Both her parents were agronomic engineers from La Universidad de Guadalajara which inspired Dina to go into science. Dina’s mother especially encouraged her by proving that women could thrive in scientific careers. Dina’s mother was one of 11 women in her graduating class of over 300 people in agronomic engineering as well as the only woman to specialize in soil science. This pushed Dina to see science as a possible career option from the very beginning. 

She participated in a summer program during high school which paired her with a research mentor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW Madison). This experience allowed her to see another side of science, as a researcher. Dina soon enrolled at UW Madison and graduated with a bachelors in Bacteriology. Her interest in research and desire to help communities lead her to move to Harlingen, Texas in order to work with immigrant families in need. Her work there let her understand many health disparities in need of change, of which the largest two are oral health and diabetes. She returned to Milwaukee, Wisconsin and got her PhD in public health to directly investigate oral health and diabetes, as well as their relationship. She then moved to Iowa for a post-doctoral experience in a dentistry college where she received more training in systemic diseases. Dr. Dina García is currently a brand-new assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia.

Dr. García’s path took her through many locations and environments away from her family. This was tough, especially coming from a culture which traditionally values family. She mentions how many times in her career she wanted to go back home to her family but persevered. She now feels proud and accomplished of her career and values being able to go through many obstacles while excelling in her field. 

Dr. Dina García is an AAAS Mass Media Fellow and worked with CNN Español to spread academic findings and help promote social change. While at CNN, she prepared interviews and several web resources to communicate health messages. She helped journalism by expanding the range of scientist to interview. Typically, journalist only look for US researchers while ignore the broad range of diverse scientists outside of the US. 

She has renewed goals and is excited to be a mentor in her new position while asking herself “what can I do to be a good mentor to my students”. She mentions how the vast majority of her mentors were men. This doesn’t take away from the value of their mentorship but hopes that as a woman in science herself, she can provide a unique and diverse point of view for students. An important detail Dina stresses is that, not only do we need to continue increasing the enrollment and retention of women students in STEM, but we also need to increase the number of women mentors and leaders throughout science.

Her research interests are diabetes and oral health. Periodontitis, inflammation and serious infection of the gums which can cause the loss of teeth, is connected to diabetes. She uses secondary datasets to study the association between uncontrolled diabetes and periodontitis.

Dina has had an incredible life with a colorful range of experiences all over the US. Her story of being inspired by her mother to go into science is fascinating and an important reminder of why representation in higher education is indispensable. Overall, her emphasis on communicating her epidemiology work in public health to communities through science journalism is so important and we are glad to have her working on it!

By  Miguel A. Osorio García , PhD Candidate in Biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  From Jalisco, Mexico.

By Miguel A. Osorio García, PhD Candidate in Biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

From Jalisco, Mexico.

Follow Dr. Dina García: [Twitter] @EpiDG

Check out her interview in Spanish!

Special thanks to Miguel A. Osorio García for summarizing our interview with Dr. Dina García!

Interview with Carmen Maldonado-Vlaar, PhD

Carmen Maldonado-Vlaar, PhD  - Professor and Neuroscientist at the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras.

Carmen Maldonado-Vlaar, PhD - Professor and Neuroscientist at the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras.

Dr. Carmen Maldonado-Vlaar was born in San Juan, The Capital of Puerto Rico. Since childhood, she was interested in knowing the why of things. That curiosity led her to take a Bachelor's Degree in Biology and Psychology at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus. She always wondered why people behaved in different ways, what was the reason. That thought led her to focus her studies in the area of Neuroscience. During her baccalaureate, she carried out undergraduate research at the Medical School of the Medical Sciences Campus in the area of neuropharmacology where she published her first scientific articles as co-author. She began her Ph.D. at Northeastern University in Boston and finished it at Madison University. During her journey in graduate school, she began studying, which ended to be her area of research: the neurobiology of addiction. She completed her post-doctoral studies at the Scripts Research Institute. After finishing her post-doctoral studies, she received a call from her alma mater and since then she has been serving as a research professor for 22 years at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus where she currently carries out her research on cocaine addiction. Dr. Maldonado is a very active person who always looks for the best for her alma mater and its students. These qualities have led her to occupy various administrative positions within the University, being the most recent Dean of Graduate Studies and Research

Although she did her doctoral and post-doctoral studies outside of Puerto Rico, Dr. Maldonado-Vlaar mentions that leaving her comfort zone is essential to enrich our knowledge both professionally and personally. Returning to Puerto Rico was a thoughtful and hard decision, but the commitment to the institution was key in the decision to accept the offer. As she describes, being a woman in science is hard but not impossible and she has managed astonishingly to keep her research-active while assuming administrative responsibilities. Dr. Maldonado describes the impact that Hurricane Maria had on the University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras Campus and how the research laboratories were severely affected. She also expresses how the scientific community got up and how months later it was possible to start the scientific activity again…. "Si se puede".

For me, this episode of Caminos en Ciencia based on the story of the great colleague Dr. Maldonado represents a story of a woman who with the different responsibilities she has assumed she has managed to excel within the university scientific community. As a doctoral student at the University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedras, I attest her commitment to and for the University and its students. I have had the pleasure of taking courses with her and coincide with her different administrative roles and without a doubt, it is an example to follow. Thanks, Dr. Carmen Maldonado!

Follow Dr. Carmen Maldonado-Vlaar’s NeuroID Program on social media: [Facebook] Neuro ID Research Program

Check out her interview in Spanish!

Special thanks to Bianca N. Valdés Fernández for summarizing our interview with Dr. Carmen Maldonado-Vlaar!

By Bianca N. Valdés Fernández,  PhD Candidate in Biology at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus.  From Bayamón, Puerto Rico.

By Bianca N. Valdés Fernández, PhD Candidate in Biology at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus.

From Bayamón, Puerto Rico.

Interview with Robert W. Fernandez - Científico Latino

Robert W. Fernandez , Ph.D. Candidate in Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry at Yale University and Founder of Científico Latino

Robert W. Fernandez, Ph.D. Candidate in Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry at Yale University and Founder of Científico Latino

Robert William Fernandez is from Lima, Peru and when he was 4 years old, his family had to make the decision of moving to the US searching for the American dream. His mom worked in a factory and his dad worked at a fast-food restaurant. During high school, he was not encouraged to pursue biology classes and did not receive mentorship from his teachers. This led him to want to pursue a Business degree to help find financial stability for a better future for his family. However, he encountered difficulties when applying to 4-year colleges because of his immigration status, as an undocumented immigrant. When applying to colleges, the limitations of his undocumented status took him by surprise as he learned what it meant to be an undocumented immigrant, which means he was preventing from applying to NJ state colleges due to an absence of a social security number or he had to pay out-of-state tuition although he grew up in NJ. For this reason, he attended a 2-year community college and earned his Associate Degree in Business Administration from Union County College. During his last year at Union County College, Robert was inspired to pursue biology when he took his first introductory biology class with his biology professor Dr. Felton. He went on to pursue an independent study project with Dr. Felton and the mentorship he received from her greatly influenced him and it showed him that he can pursue a STEM career. He decided to go out of state to pursue his dreams. He began attending Queens College in New York at the age of 19. Since he was could not qualify for financial aid, he had to learn how to economize figuring out ways to thrive on an extremely limited income. He did research at a laboratory at Queens College, but he left as it wasn’t beneficial in terms of mentorship. In order to pursue his studies, Robert worked for a couple of months at a deli to save up money and with the support of his mother, he enrolled at York College of the City University of New York. He pursued a Bachelor of Science in Biotechnology and worked in the lab of Dr. Simon, where his research focused on the influence of dopamine in the social behavior of fruit flies. This experience furthered inspired him that he can become a scientist. He received lots of support from his professors in the biology and physics department at York College. He even got invited to Brown University to find out more about the doctoral program in biology over there. Again, Robert demonstrated his capabilities and got offered a research summer internship at Princeton University studying the embryogenesis of the fruit fly.

After obtaining his bachelors, he applied to a several doctoral programs in biology and decided to pursue his Ph.D. in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale University. Before starting at Yale, Robert’s immigration status took a 180-degree turn. After 20 years of living in the US, he finally obtained his green card which motivated him more to continue on his studies. Unfortunately, he had a rough path during his first year due to multiple reasons such as being the only Latino in the program, having difficulties in his classes and medical problems. However, he was able to overcome these issues and keep moving forward with his Ph.D. After obtaining his Ph.D., Robert plans to go back to New York and help students the same way he was aided. Being this the primary reason why he and a couple of friends founded Científico Latino, a website that gathers all sorts of resources to apply for scholarships and fellowships for undergraduate and graduate students.

Robert comes from a very humble background and he has worked hard to get where he is at now and whoever listens to his story, should feel inspired by him. He never had it easy, but he was able to overcome any obstacle that once prevented him from pursuing his dreams. Also, he acknowledges that not many students are lucky enough to get help or even recommended to opportunities which is why Científico Latino exists. It truly helps to have all opportunities and resources so accessible. Thank you so much Robert for sharing your Caminos en Ciencia! 

Brenda Noriega, Undergraduate Student in Aerospace Engineering at Rutgers University.  From Lima, Peru.

Brenda Noriega, Undergraduate Student in Aerospace Engineering at Rutgers University.

From Lima, Peru.

Follow Robert W. Fernandez’s initiative on social media: [Facebook] Científico Latino and [Twitter] @cientificolatin

Check out his interview in Spanish!

Special thanks to Brenda Noriega for summarizing our interview with Robert Fernandez!

Interview with Patricia Silveyra, PhD

Patricia Silveyra, PhD  - Associate Professor, Director of the BBL, and Beerstecher-Blackwell Distinguished Term Scholar at UNC-Chapel Hill

Patricia Silveyra, PhD - Associate Professor, Director of the BBL, and Beerstecher-Blackwell Distinguished Term Scholar at UNC-Chapel Hill

In Season 2 - Episode 3 of “Caminos en Ciencia”, Dr. Patricia Silveyra shares her journey to becoming an independent investigator, while reflecting on her training experiences in both Argentina and the US, and also sharing advice on taking risks, learning to negotiate, and transitioning through the different stages of the scientific career.

Dr. Silveyra was born in Argentina and grew up in Buenos Aires and Bahia Blanca. Despite programs at her high school focusing on business and economics, Dr. Silveyra developed an interest in biology/biochemistry. She was very proactive in seeking opportunities within the field of biochemistry and spoke to professors and experts within the field on their past experiences and paths to their careers. While still in high school, Dr. Silveyra worked on a biotechnology project which sparked her interest to changing fields. She went on to attend Universidad de Buenos Aires, where she joined an organic chemistry lab as a biologist and worked alongside chemists, collaborating and learning from one another on the same project. Dr. Silveyra then worked in a botany laboratory at Instituto Leloir that focused on molecular biology, and her experience their led her to pursue a doctorate degree in this field, where she then joined an endocrinology laboratory studying hormones that regulated appetite. While she did not have neurobiology experience, her principal investigator encouraged her to work on a new project in the lab, using an analogy of either hopping onto a moving train or learning to build the railway, train, and understanding how it moves. 

Although performing research in Argentina is difficult due to limited resources, as ordering reagents and antibodies may take over a month to arrive, Dr. Silveyra saw this as an opportunity to read and study each product she needed to order, and seek input from colleagues, allowing her to develop her thinking, planning, and experimental design skills. These were valuable skills for her during her post-doc in the US, as Dr. Silveyra thoroughly planned experiments and used more abundant resources available to her to carry out each experiment much quicker than before, also recalling that this led to her working very long hours leading to high stress and affecting her health. From this experience, Dr. Silveyra assures her students manage their time properly, helps them plan to avoid poor health, and reminds us to take care of our health throughout our careers. 

Dr. Silveyra shares that while many of her friends and colleagues left Argentina throughout their PhD or after, she hadn’t thought of leaving until a friend of her encouraged her to apply to a program that allowed her to work abroad. Although there were some setbacks through the process, Dr. Silveyra saw how important her network was in finding out about opportunities such as the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship and fellowships for countries with limited resources, and was eventually awarded the fellowship, being one of eighteen, and moved to Pennsylvania to study respiratory physiology as a post-doc for three and a half years. She speaks about her challenges to becoming a faculty member, as she was proactive and attended a National Postdoctoral Association meeting where she worked with an attorney to obtain her green card and apply for funding. Through her perseverance, Dr. Silveyra had been an Assistant Professor at Penn State for five years, mentored various students, obtained an independent NIH K01 award, and was recently awarded an R03 award and promoted to Associate Professor. She recognized the importance of switching universities to benefit her area of research, to have more expertise and collaboration to expand her projects and ideas, and transitioned her lab to University of North Carolina in September of last year, gaining valuable negotiation skills. 

Dr. Silveyra’s hard work and determination show that anything is possible when we believe in ourselves, she advises us to speak to others to learn from their paths and obstacles faced and to take risks throughout our careers. She ends by reminding us that not everything in our lives will be a straight path and that learning from errors may lead to the best lessons. 

Follow Dr. Patricia Silveyra and her Lab on Twitter: @patosilveyra and @silveyralab

Check out her interview in Spanish!

Special thanks to Sophia Varriano for summarizing our interview with Dr. Silveyra!

By Sophia Varriano, PhD Candidate in Molecular, Cellular, & Developmental Biology at City University of New York.

By Sophia Varriano, PhD Candidate in Molecular, Cellular, & Developmental Biology at City University of New York.

Interview with Yaihara Fortis-Santiago, PhD

Yaihara Fortis-Santiago, PhD  - Manager, Postdoctoral Affairs Office at the Memorial Kettering Cancer Center in New York

Yaihara Fortis-Santiago, PhD - Manager, Postdoctoral Affairs Office at the Memorial Kettering Cancer Center in New York

A strong woman with immense courage and an eager spirit…

Dr. Yaihara Fortis-Santiago was raised in the town of Orocovis, “the heart of Puerto Rico”. Since she was little, her parents encouraged her desires to get to know the world. After multiple trips to Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba, Dr. Fortis-Santiago developed a keen sense of curiosity. This insatiable curiosity drove Dr. Fortis-Santiago to follow the path of science. She pursued her undergraduate studies in Biology at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras. She was a participant of the Career Opportunity Program funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Under this program, she had the opportunity to do summer research internships at Columbia University and New York University. The strong base that she built along with her sister and her mentors, prepared her to successfully conduct her doctoral studies at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. Her development as a scientist and as a leader did not end here but instead, she continued to search for opportunities to expand her horizons. For two years she was a fellow of the Science and Technology Policy program under the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) at the National Science Foundation (NSF). Later on, she worked as Program Director for the Science Alliance at the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS). Currently, she works as manager of the Postdoctoral Affairs Office at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

Even though it seems that the professional development of Dr. Fortis-Santiago was a straight line of success, she describes how academic development is rather a “roller coaster of emotions”. As she describes, the journey through graduate school does not only involve intellectual aptitude but also a profound and never-ending process of self-transformation and self-discovery. Dr. Fortis-Santiago demonstrated to be a trailblazer and a role model for others. Neither the language barrier nor being in the diaspora stopped her from following her dreams. For me, this episode of Caminos en Ciencia based on Dr. Fortis-Santiago’s story is not just a mere recollection of someone’s academic and professional milestones but an inspirational story that echoes and represents the voices of us migrants. Being myself a graduate student in Germany, I agree and sympathize with Dr. Fortis-Santiago and I am pleased to have had the opportunity of meeting such an outstanding woman and energetic leader. And like she would say…“¡Sí, se puede!” With effort and dedication, anything is possible. Thank you Dr. Yaihara Fortis-Santiago!

Follow Dr. Yaihara Fortis-Santiago on Twitter: @yfortiss

Check out her interview in Spanish!

Special thanks to Dakeishla Díaz-Morales for summarizing our interview with Dr. Fortis-Santiago!

By Dakeishla Diaz-Morales , PhD Student in Environmental Parasitology at University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany  From Orocovis, Puerto Rico

By Dakeishla Diaz-Morales, PhD Student in Environmental Parasitology at University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany

From Orocovis, Puerto Rico

Interview with Karina Gonzalez-Herrera, PhD

Karina Gonzalez-Herrera, PhD -  Assistant Director of Diversity & Minority Affairs at Harvard University Graduate School of Art & Sciences

Karina Gonzalez-Herrera, PhD - Assistant Director of Diversity & Minority Affairs at Harvard University Graduate School of Art & Sciences

Guatemala is a country famously known by its beautiful landscapes, diverse population and world class coffee. However, most recently, Guatemala has appeared on the news as one of the countries where large scale international migration is occurring.  As a Guatemalan, it is difficult to hear about the many reasons for migrating, but it is a fact that for many years, Guatemalans have been looking to start a better life for their families outside the country. In this episode of Caminos en Ciencia, we highlighted the story of Dr. Karina Gonzalez-Herrera, a native Guatemalan scientist, whose parents travel to the United State, looking for a better future. She has a Ph.D. in Biological and Biomedical Sciences from Harvard University, where she is now the Assistant Director of Diversity and Minority Affairs.

Dr. Karina Gonzalez-Herrera passion for science started when she was in high school when a Professor told her once that she would become Dr. Gonzalez-Herrera, and these words became a dream come true. In this episode she describes how her curiosity for learning more in those early years of high school guided her career path to become the scientist she is today. Her story is incredibly inspiring, not only for Guatemalans, but for all women in Latin America who are not always encouraged to practice scientific careers because local governments do not prioritize funding for research. Dr. Gonzalez-Herrera always wanted to learn about the things she couldn’t see. She also describes that not only chemistry became her favorite subject in high school, but she also fell in love with genetics. Her interest and passion even inspired her dad. She shares in this episode how biology and genetics was all she could talk about at her home, so her dad had to read about cancer and related topics to share the same interest with her and continue the conversation.

Since high school, her dad emphasized that the only way she could improve her life and overcome poverty was with education. With the love and support from her high school teachers and family, she decided to pursue a bachelor’s in science at California State University San Marcos (CSUSM). However, her immigration status and fear for deportation were always a concern for her and her family. Despite this, she enrolled and actively participated in programs like RISE (Research Initiative Scientific Enhancement) and was mentored by her professors and other scientists in CSUSM. Before finishing her degree, the life and career of Dr. Gonzalez-Herrera was threatened by deportation procedure. As an undocumented immigrant, she remembers experiencing anxiety because she did not know if it would be possible to have a scientific career back in Guatemala. With the support from her then mentor, Dr. Thomas Wahlund, she got offered an opportunity to stay in the United States to pursue her master’s degree. Sadly, professor Dr. Wahlund passed away while she was working on her master’s degree, but another professor in the same lab promised Dr. Gonzalez-Herrera that she would support her throughout the whole immigration process. A year after obtaining her master’s degree, she was called to court to face deportation procedures but gratefully she was able to stay in the United States to continue her life and career goals. Soon after, with her mom’s encouragement, she applied to Graduate School and successfully got accepted to Harvard University. She defines that the key element for success is hard work, love and support from her family and guidance from mentors. Although she is still passionate about science, she also finds purpose in helping international students who need guidance to pursue a career in science. This is how she gives back to the community. She is a true inspiration for scientist and the Latina women, not only for her perseverance, but for her commitment to pursue a career in molecular biology despite all limitations by her immigration status.  

Follow Dr. Karina Gonzalez-Herrera on Twitter: @KNGonzalez_PhD

Check out her interview in Spanish!

Special thanks to Pamela Ochoa for summarizing our interview with Dr. Gonzalez-Herrera!

By Pamela Ochoa, MPH    From Guatemala

By Pamela Ochoa, MPH

From Guatemala