We’ve interviewed several successful women from around the world to show that women in STEM have many different stories, career paths and points of view. What do they like about their jobs? What is their inspiration and who are their role models? Are they aware of human rights in the working environment?
We’ve asked these questions to Adriana L. Romero-Olivares from Mexico, a postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of New Hampshire.
What do you like about your job?
I get paid to learn. It’s extremely empowering to be knowledgeable.
Why have you decided to pursue a career in this field? What was your inspiration?
As many POC, my career in STEM was completely incidental. I didn’t know any scientists; I had no idea that I could have a career in STEM. But, I had a lot of support from high school teachers and mentors who told me about careers in science. I cared a lot about the environment since I was very young so I wanted to do a short course in horticulture and become a gardener/farmer (it made sense in my head back then). One of my mentors told me that since I was so good at sciences and I liked plants and the environment, maybe I could pursue a career in Biology or Chemistry instead.
Do you have role models?
Yes, my PhD advisor is an important role model in my life as a woman in the sciences. I also really admire Roxane Gay, the writer; she’s unapologetic and I really admire her honesty and crudeness when talking about sexual abuse, self-image, and feminism.
Did you have a turning point in your career?
Yes, a year into my PhD program I realized that my career as a scientist was not only about me but also about underrepresented groups in our society. I vowed to have a career in sciences and serve these communities throughout my career. Since I am not yet in a position of power, I do what I can, mostly volunteering in groups that advocate for the advancement of women in society (e.g. AAUW).
What do you think is one example of one way you have enjoyed your human rights, in learning or at work?
The fact that I have a PhD in the sciences is a clear example. So many women around the world don’t have this simple and one of the most basic and essential human rights: access to education.
Are there any challenges facing women in your educational or work settings, and if so, what do you see as one possible solution?
Yes. Sexual harassment is something that is very prevalent in academia and taking a stand against it and speaking up against it, sometimes means endangering your career or tenure-track position. A possible solution is to find the courage and speak up against systemic sexual harassment in academia. It’s happening with the #metoo and #metooSTEM movement, but it’s still not being taken seriously by universities (with a few exceptions), so we must continue to push to disappear sexual harassment and sexism from academia (and everywhere, really).
What is one piece of advice you would give someone just starting in your field?
Don’t get discouraged with rejection. In academia, rejection is our everyday life. Celebrate every small success. If you belong to an underrepresented group and/or minority group in STEM, don’t get discouraged by the lack of diversity. Things are changing, slowly, but changing. Focus on making your voice heard bring awareness to your department. It’s uncomfortable sometimes, but there are different ways of doing it, so find the way that fits you best.