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#STEMStories: Claudia, Ecuadorian Biologist, Ecuador

1. Introduce yourself, who are you what do you do?

My name is Claudia Segovia Salcedo, I am an Ecuadorian biologist working at Conservation and Evolution of Andean Forests. I am an associate professor at the Universidad de las Fuerzas Armadas ESPE and a national coordinator of the Ecuadorian Network of Women in Science.  My research is focused on Evolution and Conservation of the Andean Genus Polylepis, one of the most threatened forests in the world.

2. How did you arrive at this career (or point in your life/work)? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do?

I've always had a strong interest in science, at the beginning as a way to understand my surroundings, later trying new things and developing new knowledge. Later on, I got interested specifically in Plant biology and the opportunity to learn more about it. Science, also,  gave me the opportunity to travel and meet different people from other countries. Opening my mind to other perspectives not only scientifically but culturally. In addition, I had the opportunity to get involved in Women in Science during my graduate studies and now we have founded an Ecuadorian Network of Women in Science to support and visibilize some of the challenges of women in science in Latinamerica.

3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings?

I’m really motivated by learning about Andean Ecosystems and their conservation. I fell in love two decades ago with the Polylepis Forests, an amazing ecosystem of twisted trunks with exfoliating bark, an enchanted forest with great and unique biodiversity.  Their conservation and management have been my passion. I have shared that knowledge with students, academics, policy and decision makers. It’s easy to be passionate about something new, trying new experiments, and making scientific discoveries about plants. I love to teach, and inspire conversation with my students. I have found that students can teach me, too, about different cultures, abilities, and perspectives.  On the other hand, motivate girls and young women to pursue a science career is a great motivation for me, because I am convinced that you can’t be what you can’t see. At the same time, supporting other women in science and try to influence and create a better work environment is another of my passions.

4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a Story?

For me,  nature is the best healer. I tried to plan a field trip to the Andean Forests or the Amazon when I need a cure for stress.  A nature walk definitely decreased my stress and at the same time lets me focus on my research questions.  

Another strategy is to look for friends, talk to them to see different perspectives. During my PhD, I learned that you can’t solve everything,  collaboration and openness to new ideas is important. Try always to be optimistic. about the future and about your skills.

5. Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this?

I know I couldn’t have gotten to where I am today without the help of mentors from my undergraduate and graduate studies. I have been lucky to have a great role model, Dr. Pam Soltis. One of the best evolutionary botanist, but first of all a great human being.  She has helped me exploring career options, setting goals, developing contacts, and identifying resources in my natal country and internationally. She has always been there to guide me and support me. 

 It is really important to identify  a mentor to guide us and support us during our career

6. What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time?

  • Belief in yourself, many limits are created by ourselves.
  • Don’t give up on yourself, you are stronger than you think.
  • Start building your career for the beginning

7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM?

  1. Start building your career from the beginning of college
  2. Don’t compare your career with other friends. You path is unique and only yours.
  3. Try to identify a line of research that is receiving little attention. Explore different areas and how they can work together.

8. How do you measure your success?

For me,  success in academia is not only defined by the number of scientific papers, number of citations, H index and awards. It is more than that, success is focused on the impact of your work in your community. Where your students are, how they are doing in their careers, how many of your students have been inspired to follow a career in science, how your research is answering problems of your community, how you communicate your science to the public. How your research has influenced policy and decision making.  As scientists, we have a responsibility with society to contribute and generate data for a better quality of life. Having a good education is a privilege but also a responsability.

9. Where can we find out more about your work?

I don't have a personal web page but some of my work you can find at https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Maria_Segovia-Salcedo

10. Are you social? Will you share your Twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile, or Facebook so that young women can connect with you?

Information about my activism related to women in science  in Ecuador and our network, can be found at FACEBOOK @REDCIENTIFICASEC Twitter @CientificasEC , my personal twitter @mariacsegovia