What is your area of expertise and what is your research focus?
Paleoecology and archaeobotany. I study the interaction between plants, humans, and climate over long-time scales (centuries to millennia).
How did you end up in STEM?
When I was 12 years old, I got interested in the global environmental crisis and started reading a lot about environmental issues (deforestation, biodiversity loss, pollution, etc.). When I started college, I decided to study biology, but I was not very interested in the science component. Instead, I wanted to do applied environmental science. As I started learning more and more, I realized that there were a lot of things that we did not know about the impacts of human activities and climate change on tropical ecosystems. That eventually led me to pursue a Ph.D. and I realized that I enjoyed doing research.
What hurdles or challenges (big or small) did you find as you pursued your career in STEM? What challenges do you face today?
When I was growing up the biggest challenge that I faced was the lack of mentoring and science programs. I was born in Bolivia, a science and technology lagging country, where STEM teaching resources are very limited. I was not good in math or chemistry and that made me think that I was not suited for a science career. Joining a doctorate program in the U.S. and having an advisor who patiently guide me, broadened my scope and made me realize that science can be done in different ways.
What or who was an inspiration or support for you?
I particularly enjoy learning about the lives of other women scientists. When we are young, we tend to idolize professors, and we think that they do not experience the same problems that we do. However, learning about their lives helps to connect generations.
Why is it important for women to be in STEM and specifically your field?
Having women from diverse backgrounds creates talented workforces, promotes innovation and solutions to problems that no one else considered, and reduces biases in workplaces.
What can be done to recruit more women into STEM?
We need to challenge the archetype of the scientist. The idea of how a scientist should look like or act is very outdated. The scientific population is very diverse and complex, and by supporting the idea that only a certain kind of people are suitable to be in science creates a big divide. Anyone can be a scientist.
What advice would you give to girls and young women going into STEM?
I would advise them to seek support from their peers and teachers. If you are an undergraduate student, join a lab or a science program. If you don’t find it appealing, look for another one. The more you experience, the more you will learn.
Is there anything else you would like to add on the subject of women in STEM?
There are high expectations for women in science. Life-work balance is particularly challenging for most women. Building communities for women in science and having open conversations are a good start.