Photo Credit - Jaime Cifuentes
Mildred Fabiola Corona Figueroa
And - Researcher
Doors must be knocked, some will not open, but others will.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
I research the ecology and conservation of aquatic mammals. That is, I investigate where they live, what they eat, how they interact with the environment, and how much human activities can affect them.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?
Science class was always my favorite in school. In high school, I had an excellent science teacher, who inspired me to study biology at university. Fortunately, my mom and dad supported me in my decision to study biology and continued to cover my expenses so that I could dedicate myself to studying. I thank them so much for giving me a profession, the best inheritance of all!
During university studies in Biology, marine-coastal areas were always of interest. In zoology class, we had to expose some species of mammals with distribution in Guatemala. Other students chose to research whales or dolphins (the options that also caught my attention), so I chose to research the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus), an endangered species of aquatic mammal. When reading about this species, its ecology, and the threats it faces in the areas it inhabits, I became passionate about studying aquatic mammals in Guatemala and from there I have not lost track of them.
In 2008 I had the opportunity to participate in a Congress focused on the study of marine mammals of Latin America. At that congress, I met Dr. Nataly Castelblanco, a researcher who is also dedicated to studying manatees and other aquatic mammals. Since then I have kept in touch with her and she has been a great example to follow.
In 2012, I participated in the final phase of a project on cetaceans in the Pacific of Guatemala together with other biologists (Andrea Cabrera and Jenniffer Ortiz) that I admire very much. With them, I was able to work the historical record of cases of whale or dolphin stranding in this area. In 2013, I did a one-year internship at the University of San Carlos as a professor of the invertebrate zoology course and as a curator of the university's arthropod collection. This opportunity, plus the support and guidance of my great friend and colleague Samanta Orellana, awakened in me the importance of reference biological collections. Between 2017 and 2018, while doing my master's thesis, I participated with the Aquatic Mammal Stranding Attention Network of Quintana Roo, Mexico. I admire the way of working of those who are part of this network, it left me with great lessons that I want to implement in my country. Since then, I have tried to get involved in recovering stranded aquatic mammal skeletons and bringing them to the university's mammals collection.
HOW DO/DID YOU TACKLE OBSTACLES?
Of course. As well as opportunities, there are also obstacles. Unfortunately, in my country, the work of biologists is underestimated and the budget allocated to do science and technology is very poor. Some institutions finance research projects, but financial support is limited.
One of the ways that have worked to overcome these obstacles is to submit projects to calls issued by foreign institutions. Many of the institutions abroad are friendlier in the reports they ask for and understanding in delivery times.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"
You’re doing well! Do not stop.
You have supportive people around you who have been an inspiration to you. The road has not been easy, but you have the skills and abilities to overcome adversity, which have allowed you to be where you are. Keep exploring your skills, growing in every way. And inspire other people ... Don’t stop!
WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?
I think it is a summation of qualities and abilities to investigate. I remember when I was little, when I played with my favorite doll, I gave her the role of a scientist and the one that taught the little ones. The combination of research and teaching are activities that I like to do. Currently, I am doing my doctoral studies in Ecology and Sustainable Development in Mexico. At the end of this phase, I would like to join as a professor-researcher in an academic institution in Latin America, to continue in the line of research and be a mentor to future scientists.
My boyfriend and I use the quote from a famous cartoon and adapt it to our situation. This quote motivates us to continue with our day-to-day activities, and it is "Keep calm and we will conquer the world." So whenever I wake up, I think about that quote.
BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?
I immediately think of the girls in my country (Guatemala). Unfortunately, the opportunities to study for a girl are limited, especially if they are of low income and if they belong to an ethnic group. The road is difficult, but if any of them want to continue studying, my recommendation would be that they look for institutions that offer support to students with limited resources; Similarly, the OWSD team in Guatemala offers to mentor girls who want to pursue a STEM career. Doors must be knocked, some will not open, but others will. It's just a matter of being constant.
Nature itself inspires me a lot. I enjoy it as much when I go for a walk as when I am doing the field phase of research. Apart from this, many people around me inspire me a lot, among them, other biologists not only from Guatemala but from other countries, with whom I have been able to share different experiences. All this adds up, it contributes to my continuous training as a scientist, there are always things to learn.