Yanet Valdez Tejeira

Scientist, PhD in Microbiology & Immunology, UBC

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It won't be easy, it won't be smooth, it may not give immediate satisfaction, but it will give you strength, courage and fulfillment. Moreover, you will be helping humanity.

What do you do?

As a scientist, I have the freedom to ask questions about living things and try to look for answers. As an immunologist, I want to understand how our body fights disease. By attacking invading germs our immune system protects us from agents that can make us sick. In addition, by keeping our own cells in check this same system prevents us from developing diseases like cancer. Specifically, I'm curios to find out how cells in the gut, distinguish between good bacteria (those that help us digest food, for example) vs bad bacteria (Salmonella, for example, as a pathogen that causes diarrhea). By understanding our body's initial responses we can help design treatments for diseases

Why did you choose this field?

When I was a kid, I was fascinated by evolution and wanted to be a paleontologist. I started my career studying biology. As an undergraduate, I had a rotation in a research institute that was adjacent to a hospital. It just so happened that my country had one of the most deadly outbreaks of cholera at that time. The hospitals were over capacity, so many people were treated outside in beds. I experienced, first hand, the devastation of infectious diseases. I was touched to see many kids really sick. This event had a profound impact on me that made me change my career goals. I decided to be a scientist to help prevent and cure diseases.

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

I wish someone could have told me before that I don't have to be perfect at everything. Then I could have learned to lower my expectations and be more self-compassionate early on in my life. As a woman, mom and scientist, I have had to juggle many things at once. Learning to set up priorities, delineate limits and accept my limitations are just things I learned to do by experience. I would have benefited from having a network that could have supported me. In short, I wish there were more organizations like this to provide me with role models.

Why do you love working in STEM?

I am an innately curious person. I find enormous satisfaction in knowing the answers to questions. I feel peace inside me when I can understand a phenomenon. Telling myself, "I understand now," is just so rewarding. As a scientist working in the lab, you invest hours and hours in looking for the answers to questions through experimentation. Once you finally have an answer (and you could be the first one in the world to know these answers) the satisfaction is just priceless!

Best advice for next generation?

Believe in yourself! If you have the passion, then go for it and don't let anybody or anything stop you!!! It won't be easy, it won't be smooth, it may not give immediate satisfaction, but it will give you strength, courage and fulfillment. Moreover, you will be helping humanity.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

"I cried when I had no shoes, but I stopped crying when I saw a man without legs. Life is full of blessings, sometimes we don't value it" Shakespeare.

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