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Andrea Cabrera

Researcher

University of Copenhagen

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Follow your dreams, no matter how crazy and impossible they sound.

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WHAT DO YOU DO?

I am an evolutionary biologist doing research in ecology, evolution and adaptation of species. I use bioinformatics and statistical approaches on genomic, as well as environmental and stable isotope data to understand how species and populations evolved.

I am currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Copenhagen where I am generating and analyzing contemporary and ancient genomes of marine mammals, particularly polar bears. The focus of my main research project is to understand how polar bear populations have changed over time and how climate fluctuations have influenced their demographic history.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?

As a kid, I always liked science and nature; I was always trying to understand how and why things are how they are. I remember a cartoon I loved “the why why family”, I felt identified with the little boy who was always asking questions.

I was lucky to have a supportive family. I remember my mom bought me many books of animals and science and she was always creating math games to play with me, I loved those. She said she took me to the zoo very often and I was never tired of seeing the animals. My dad was always taking me for adventures in nature, as he loves camping and climbing volcanos.

These aspects probably motivated me to study biology. Why marine mammals? I never really planned that, I had the opportunity to work with that during an undergraduate course, and after been in the field and seeing dolphins for the first time I became passionate about them and haven’t leave them since then.

HOW DO/DID YOU TACKLE OBSTACLES?

One of my first reactions when I face an obstacle is to feel demotivated. When that happens, I try to step back for a moment, take some time for myself (e.g., go for a run, go hiking to a nature area or the sea) and think why I am doing this. That usually brings my motivation back and I repeat to myself “A black belt never gives up” and then I try to find a way to solve the obstacles one-step at a time. To give a bit of context, I have trained taekwondo for many years and my couch in Guatemala used to say that phrase to us when we were getting tired during training. This phrase always comes back to me when I am facing a challenge. The interesting part is that afterwards I even enjoy the process of solving it; it becomes my next fighting match.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"

I wish I would have known that there are no impossible dreams. A little girl from Guatemala or from any other developing country is capable of doing whatever she dreams for and can compete for or against the best in the world. Never underestimate yourself. Sometimes you just have to work a little harder but you can do it. So, don’t be afraid to try.

WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?

I love solving problems, and to discover new things every day. I look forward to contribute answering many ecological and evolutionary questions that could retelling the story of life. I hope to inspire the new generations, particularly women from developing countries. I want to show them that doing science is fun and that no matter where you are coming from you can follow your dreams, because you are capable of doing so and more than what you think.

BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?

Follow your dreams, no matter how crazy and impossible they sound. Never give up and do not be afraid to ask. You already have a no for an answer, asking will only give you the chance to hear a yes.

Someone once told me: You do not need to be a genius to do science; you just need to work hard.

Remember to take time to learn things about personal development, you will be surprised of how important they are, learn about negotiation skills, management, dealing with people, communications skills, networking.

INSPIRATION

First principle: never to let one’s self be beaten down by persons or by events. Marie Curie