Emma Margarita Pereyra Talamantes
And - IA-UNAM/Research Associate
Make sure you build a healthy, empathetic and enthusiastic community for yourself.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
I’m a professional astronomer, currently working as a research associate to the
Instituto de Astronomía of UNAM in Ensenada, Baja California, México. In 2018 I was hired by
the National Council of Science and Technology (CONACyT) to conduct research on high energy
astrophysics by means of optical photometry technics, using the facilities of the Observatorio Astronómico Nacional located at the San Pedro Mártir national park in Baja California, the best Astronomy laboratory in México. My research includes a variety of topics related to astronomical objects such as planetary nebulae, neutron stars and black holes. Although astronomical studies seem not to be related to our daily life, they actually contribute enormously to innovation and technology. The need of more sensitive cameras to observed the faintest astronomical objects, the electronic devices required to automate data acquisition in large telescopes as well as the sophisticated systems used in space missions promote the excellence in technological development.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?
In my childhood, I never though that studying the Universe was something that you could do for a living. I was living in a very small town where the future for a woman was most of the time just to have a family and take care of everyone at home. Fortunately for me, my father is the kind of man that is always looking for opportunities to grow personally and professionally. In my teens, we move from my mother's hometown to the state capital and there was the first time I realize how great science was. My Physics courses full of experiments were the best. One of the experiments I remember most was a raft that we build from scratch using plastic bottles. Our teacher take us to the beach, we put the raft into the water and it actually worked! I was amazed at how something as common as a plastic bottle could be used as a mean of transport just by considering physical laws when we build the raft. From then on I was convinced that physics was something more than a regular high-school class to me and a couple of years later, I enrolled in the school of physics and mathematics to pursue a bachelor degree. Astrophysics will come afterwards, when I had the chance to take some fundamental astronomy courses in my university. I continued my career path to become a professional astronomer by pursuing a PhD in astrophysics which I awarded in 2014.
HOW DO/DID YOU TACKLE OBSTACLES?
The main obstacle I face as a woman interested in science has been living in an underdeveloped country like México. My country has excellent universities to study science, but most of them are located in the capital cities. As a native of the Baja California peninsula, when I decided to study Physics for my Bachelor, I was aware that the opportunities in my state were very limited and it was clear to me that pursing a career in sciece will require some sacrifices. When I move to Mexico City for my bachelor degree was really tough to leave my parents and siblings behind, but I was convinced that I would never regret it because I was following my dreams. During my first year of enrollment I find out that my high-school studies were far away from the capital standards, which I'm sure is a direct consequence of the centralization of education in Mexico. Every course required more time and effort from me, compare to my classmates. Ironically, the first year of my bachelor I had failed only two courses: Physics I and Physics Laboratory I. However, I worked hard on weekends and holidays. With the support of my classmates and teachers I managed to continue my second year with no further problems.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"
I would have loved to hear from role models that:
1.- You don't need to be a genius to do science/research for a living.
2.- Giving birth is not a woman's obligation and does not necessarily define your happiness.
3.- Opportunities are always round the corner, keep your eyes wide open and don't miss any.
4.- It is ok to fail, but don't let failure make you think you are not enough.
5.- Build an empathetic and enthusiastic community that always encourages you to follow your goals. A community is like a family, it will always help you to overcome the hardest moments.
WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?
My favorite part of working in STEM is the chance to know many different kinds of human beings. The current globalization of science allowed me to see the world from the eyes of colleges that live a reality very different to mine and learn from them alternative ways to solve a problem. It also showed me that there are many different ways in which science can be useful to the society and individuals.
BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?
Nowadays science work is based on collaborations, make sure you build a healthy, empathetic and enthusiastic community for yourself. It will always encourage you and help you to succeed.
Opportunities exist only for those who are prepared. Be ready, be bold.