Rocio Deanna

Postdoctoral Researcher, Natural History Museum and University of Colorado at Boulder


Never give up your ideas and do not be afraid to be ambitious.

What do you do?

I'm a botanist, but I especially study the family of the tomatoes and potatoes (Solanaceae) to disentangle the relationships between the species and provide better classifications. As an amazing mentor says, 'If you do not know the names of things, the knowledge of them is lost too'. So yes, I also name species when we discover them, but currently, I'm working with plant fossils and extant plants in order to integrate evidence and estimate the age of Solanaceae, inferring the evolutionary history of this economically important group.
My work is very dynamic. It includes field work to describe the biodiversity of the family, revision of dried plants in herbaria, analyses of fossils at museums and a lot of computer work to ultimate analyze all the data and publish articles about the new results.

Why did you choose this field?

I have loved the biodiversity since I was a child. My parents had a field in south Argentina (La Pampa) where they had crops and cattle. I liked so much spending the weekends there and, over the time, I found I really like to classify life, first with insects, spiders and other small animals, and then with also plants. In my family, there are no academic relatives, so I have to admit that it was a challenge to go to the university without a referent, a guide within the family. All were very supportive, including several high school professors who encouraged me to pursue my dreams. During the undergrad studies in Biology, I found very supportive amazing professors who taught me how is the academic world and encouraged me to do research. However, during my phD and postdoctoral studies the major role models were three female mentors who showed me not only how is the path in science, but also that is possible to have a complete personal life and also being a researcher.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

I was full of dreams since I was young, but I always knew that the language was a barrier that I needed to overcome. My native language is Spanish and I didn't have English classes when I was a child. I still remember professors saying 'if you don't have a good English knowledge by now, you cannot do research'.. that was disappointing for me so many times. I studied English during my PhD, and now I can communicate well, give talks in congresses, write papers in English, and well, most of my time I'm speaking in English. That is not to say that it is perfect, but it is good enough to communicate my ideas. The scientific community is comprehensive, and they know how much effort is for a non-native speaker to present research. I would like have known this when I was younger.

Why do you love working in STEM?

Collaboration. It's amazing how we can work together to address broad questions in world-wide distributed groups that would be difficultly achieved by single researchers. Big steps increasing the knowledge in science are only achievable working as a team, collaborating across researchers with different expertise.

Best advice for next generation?

Never give up your ideas and do not be afraid to be ambitious. Sometimes research questions seem to be very broad to be undertaken, but collaborating and working with passion for what we do there is always a way to achieve big goals. You will face very different people, a lot who will support you but also others who will make your path more difficult. Remember that you will learn of every experience, good and bad ones, and every problem will make you stronger. We learn more from the things that go wrong than from the things that go smooth. So, don't give up and make your own story!

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

“Los entusiastas son luchadores, son resistentes. El entusiasmo es la base de todo progreso. Con él se alcanzan los logros; sin él... a lo sumo, pretextos.” - Henry Ford
“Enthusiasts are fighters. They have fortitude, they have staying qualities. Enthusiasm is at the bottom of all progress. With it there is accomplishment. Without it there are only alibis.” - Henry Ford

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