Hi! My name is Mariana and I was born in Colombia. After my family and I survived one of the worst earthquakes in the Colombian history, we moved to Spain to start a new life. We faced struggles settling down but somehow managed to find a place to live and a spot for me in public school. One day, my mother showed me a news article about Dr Anna Veiga, the first scientist in Spain who succeeded in in-vitro fertilization, this urged me to become like her. I was 17 when I realized I wanted to be a medic and gave my best to become one. Unfortunately, I faced anxiety and panic attacks throughout my exams and contests that I participated for getting into medicine. One day, my mother showed me another news article: “ Bioinformatics, the Medicine of the Future”, this inspired me to my core. I recently graduated with a degree in Bioinformatics and currently studying MPhil in Medical Science at the University of Cambridge.
1. What is your specific area of STEM?
Bioinformatics. It is the art of using computational resources in any scientific field (maths, physics, chemistry, biology and so on). For me, I chose to focus on Medical Sciences and stem cells – I am currently working at the Haematology department at the University of Cambridge, so the cells I am focused on are blood stem cells.
2. What goals do you have for the future?
My short-term goals are to pursue a PhD at the University of Cambridge and to grow as a science communicator on social media to help others to fight for their dreams, especially in stem fields.
3. What are some really cool things that people in your profession work on?
Our lab is divided between experimentalists and bioinformaticians, and we all work on Haematopoiesis (the study of blood cell types formation). The bioinformaticians work from mathematical models to machine learning and Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) analysis. In my case, I’m in the last group: I’m working on developing a computational pipeline for single-cell multimodal analysis (samples obtained using NGS)
4. What keeps you going in your field?
I have loved studying stem cells since I was 17! Now I have the chance of using my “futuristic” bioinformatics skills in this field. It’s incredible to know I can keep learning everyday, don’t you think?
5. What is the biggest challenge you face as a woman in stem?
Though it is getting better, I still find it very difficult to see gender equality. There still are lack of women in STEM. I remember my first day at the Faculty of Informatics, there was a group of men sitting in the cafe and they whispered, “look, I bet she got lost” – they were talking about me! The worst mistake is to assume a woman is not capable of pursuing or being interested in STEM fields.
6. What message would you like to give to our young readers?
I would suggest them not listening to everything that people say. I have been psychologically attacked by narrow-minded people who kept saying that I should remember where I came from and stop dreaming about studying overseas. People have said that I cannot afford higher education in a foreign country, that I cannot get into medicine, and that maybe I should stop thinking about STEM fields. People have said that I am too young to leave home because it seems scary, I have heard them complain of me spending too much time studying instead of having fun (but they have no idea how fun I find my job!). I have experienced this so I can tell you that it’s your time to prove yourself and the world how STRONG you can be. Don’t stop, KEEP DREAMING.
Thank you for reading our third STEM Up interview! To know more about what Mariana is up to, follow her at marianaql.science
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Until next time!🍹