One of the things that makes Dr. Silveyra even more inspiring is the fact that she managed to accomplish what she did within the confines of an unfamiliar system.
I did most of my training in Argentina, and my goal in coming to the US was to acquire additional expertise to become a faculty member. Most of the PIs I knew back home had traveled abroad to do postdoctoral experiences, and even though it was not a requirement, it certainly helped them get faculty positions. A few years into my training, I decided to become a PI in the US. This was challenging because I was not familiar with the US education system and I was not a US citizen (which prevented me from applying to several grant opportunities). Organizations such as GWIS were very helpful in this transition, mainly because they offered funding opportunities such as the fellowship program, but also because they connected me with individuals in similar situations who gave me direction. I remember I had to apply for a green card at the same time I was applying for my first grant, and that was probably one of the most stressful times in my career.
Being a Latina has impacted Dr. Silveyra’s career here in the US and, as a result, she has faced challenges that women don’t typically experience in their research careers.
I think one of the biggest differences between becoming a faculty member in the US and in Argentina is the formal mentoring program. When you apply to become a faculty member in Argentina, you do it through a structured system which requires partnering with a senior PI. The process is similar to a K award, and it is highly competitive and dependent on the country's science budgetary situation. Also, one of the reasons for partnering with a PI is to get lab space and startup money, since there are less opportunities for independent funding. The resources are limited but the science is of high quality. The education in Argentina is very good and accessible, and we have some of the best scientists in Latin America (including threee science Nobel Prize winners). Also, there are fewer opportunities to try high-risk science, due to budgetary issues. That being said, I think Argentinean women in science have better work-life balance. The salaries are lower, but there is more job stability. Also, benefits such as maternity leave and vacation are much better in the Argentine system. I think it is overall friendlier towards women scientists in terms of balancing family and work, but the budgetary problems and instability of the economy may get in the way of your science. I think the same is true for other countries in Latin America and some countries in Europe.
Being a Latina is associated with several stereotypes, and none of them involve science. In general, people will tend to believe that I work in housekeeping, or that I work assisting someone, rather than being a leader. Also, I have an accent that resembles that of some Latina actresses, and that creates and unconscious association with the roles they see on TV. You have no idea how many times people tell me "you speak like Sofia Vergara". Her character could not be further away from that of a scientist. I also dress differently, because of my culture, and I tend to look younger than I am. I am 36 years old and I get confused for an aspiring medical student, or anything except a scientist, on a weekly basis. I am still waiting for the day someone will assume I am a Principal Investigator and leader of a research lab, just by looking at me. This has made me doubt about myself on multiple occasions, and I had to work on it. I remember it was so evident at a leadership training, that one of the trainers asked me to record myself saying "I am worthy" and play it every night. Imagine having to do that!! One of the things I had to learn was to embrace this. I cannot get mad at people for thinking that just because I have an accent I am not smart, but I make sure I do not internalize that. There is literature showing that this happens to minority women in science, and more often than not. Now, I try my best to make sure I introduce myself properly, and I have my elevator speech well prepared and polished! Also, I am aware that I serve as a role model for several young Latinas and aspiring scientists. This is very empowering, and gives me a lot of courage and makes me want to be better every day. Even though I mentor a lot of students, I tend to mentor minority students more often, because I know I can understand their struggles better than other mentors, and because I know there are not many minority mentors available.
There are a number of Latina-specific resources that Dr. Silveyra has found particularly in supporting herself personally and professionally since immigrating to the US.
There are several organizations aimed to promote minorities in science. One of the most helpful for Latinas is SACNAS [Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science]. They have an annual meeting attended by over 4000 individuals, with professional development workshops, and advice from Latinos in all sciences and science education. I think one of the most helpful resources this organization has is the summer leadership institute. This is an incredible experience for junior faculty member and postdocs, especially if you are interested in science outreach. In addition, most professional societies have a minority affairs committee that often offers resources and workshops for trainees and faculty. I recommend the ASCB MAC [American Society for Cell Biology Minorities Affairs Committee] summer workshop if you are a postdoc thinking of beginning a career in academia. Also, do not overlook opportunities in your local community. I have volunteered in organizations for the advancement of Latinos in my community, such as the Latino Hispanic Professional Association, and Estamos Unidos de Pennsylvania (EUP), and it has helped me polish my leadership abilities. I have served in multiple positions in these organizations, including being the president of EUP for the past year (this is a nonprofit that serves thousands of individuals in central Pennsylvania). Through these, I have connected with community leaders, politicians, and business people who have taught me a lot about leadership and personal and professional development, and have provided me with opportunities to share my science with the public and become a more well-rounded investigator. My advice to Latinas aspiring to a career in science is to find your science "familia". It will help you fight the stereotype threat and feel pride for your accomplishments.