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!