Centro de Estudios Conservacionistas, USAC
And - Biologist
You need focus in your goal and fight for it every day.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
I am a Biologist, specialized in the study of wild bees from Guatemala. Currently, I am a tenured professor, and researcher from the Conservationism Research Center at San Carlos University. I have been studying different actual and important topics about wild bees in Guatemala, i.e. crop pollination by wild bees, the characterization and cultural use of beehive products of stingless bees (honey, propolis, wax, and pollen), the cultural knowledge around native bees in Guatemala, systematics and ecology of native bees.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?
When I was twelve years old, I used to say, “I will be a biologist”, a rare career for a girl living in the countryside. Then at sixteen years old when I finished high school, I decided to be a biologist. During my childhood, my parents played an important role, they did not limit my dreams and respected my decisions. Additionally, I was a very dedicated person, and I liked all sciences subjects. When I finished high school, I moved to Guatemala City to study biology at the Chemical Science and Pharmacy Faculty of the public San Carlos de Guatemala University -USAC-. This was a crucial decision because I left my home and start my own life path and decisions. In the second or third year of college I fell in love with insects, the most diverse animals in the world. During the last year of college, I took one course with Dr. Carlota Monroy, an excellent researcher and medical entomologist. It motivated me to enroll in her laboratory, where I worked for 10 years. She was a role model for me, she taught me medical entomology, the importance of other beneficial insects, like stingless bees, the beauty of entomology research, and leadership, among other things. I enjoyed the research time in her laboratory and after 10 years I decided to study a PhD in Ecology. At present, I have my own research laboratory about wild bees and other aspects of conservations of biodiversity.
HOW DO/DID YOU TACKLE OBSTACLES?
I had several obstacles during my early scientific career both in college studies and in the PhD studies that limited me from pursuing a STEM career. When I started biology in college, I did not have enough money to pursue a scientific career (e.g. field trips, books, were so expensive). I belong to a big family, and I am the first of five siblings. Despite the great sacrifice of my parents to support me, I studied with many economic limitations. Additionally, I did not feel the emotional support of my family since I was alone in Guatemala City since I started college, so it was a difficult time for me. Further, I did not have a good training in science subjects in high school. Finally, I had a child when I was only twenty years old, when I had not finished college yet, so It was a challenge to obtain my biology degree.
I was finally able to pursue my doctorate after 9 years of graduating in biology, when my child had grown a little. At that moment, fortunately I was a tenured professor in San Carlos University of Guatemala. In Guatemala there are not a PhD programs in biology or ecology. However, with a lot of endeavor, with help of the authorities of my faculty, and help from some professors from Autonomous of Mexico University -UNAM-, I promoted a Memorandum of Understanding between USAC and UNAM. Three years after a lot of negotiation, the PhD program started, and It was the first of this kind at USAC. I and twelve other colleagues studied the doctorate in Biological Sciences. But in Guatemala there are not enough resources for training and research, and we cannot receive some grants for developed our research. Fortunately, the UNAM help us to the access at scientific journals, research laboratories, and experts for training courses, to complete the PhD.
Some aspects that help me to overcome all these obstacles were: First, my husband and my child who were my inspiration and were always proud of me and my scientific career, with whom I have a lovely home. I appreciate the lovely care that my mother-in-law and my grandmother-in-law gave to my child, these were extremely helpful to finish my undergrad studies and achieve my goals. Second, throughout my early scientific career I meet people with similar interest in science and we fight together for it. I had a role model in science that inspired me to believe that a career in science was possible. Third, I enjoy research and I knew that it was what I wanted, for this reason, the limitation of money, time and opportunities were not a limitation to pursue my dreams.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"
Perseverance, patience, dedication, self-confidence, and hard work is the right way to achieve your ambitions. Also, I understand that going to college and pursuing a degree and PhD is necessary sacrifice, which is a benefit in the long run. For that, you have to make the effort to achieve it.
WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?
As Leono from the Thundercats said, science and knowledge give you “sight beyond sight”. Science gives you the power to help other people and nature. I like to produce new knowledge to conserve nature and help people to use nature to their benefit in a sustainable way. Science allows me to “make things happen” here in Guatemala. I would like to inspire other people to “make things happen” as well. I would like to ease the way for other people behind me, especially young women. I would like to leave a legacy.
BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?
Things do not happen overnight; you need focus on your goal and fight for it every day. You need to be persistent and dedicated everyday of your life. Success does not happen by chance.
At the beginning of my early scientific career, I joined Dr. Carlota Monroy´s Lab. There I met two great women who made a mark on my life: Dr. Monroy and Biol. Antonieta Rodas, both professors and researchers. The two of them gave me a love and passion for research and taught me the importance of dedication, determination, and commitment, to be able to achieve my goals. For 10 years, both professors trained countless women who are now successful scientists and biology professionals, even in other developed countries. I believe that with their example they have left their mark on many Guatemalan women. Recently, my research lab turned 10 years old and I have tried to replicate what they taught me.