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Science Next Gen voices: Unique Identities

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The scientific enterprise benefits from diverse perspectives. We asked young scientists to Describe your unique identity and how it contributes to your scientific work and community. Respondents from across the world shared their unique backgrounds and how those experiences shaped them. These scientists described their drive to help their communities, overcome obstacles, embrace multidisciplinary work, answer questions raised by their families and childhood, and approach their research with a spirit of inclusion. Read a selection of their responses here. Follow NextGen with hashtag #NextGenSci. See all NextGen Voices results at http://science.sciencemag.org/collection/nextgen-voices. —Jennifer Sills
22 5 APRIL 2019 • VOL 364 ISSUE 6435 sciencemag.org SCIENCE
ILLUSTRATION: ROBERT NEUBECKER
Drive to help others
As a multiracial female in engineering,
I can show the students in our research
group that anyone can be an engineer, not
just the figures shown in popular culture.
The presence of minority women in engi-
neering, especially in fluid mechanics where
my research lies, is essential for ensuring
that groups working on engineering and
physics problems have contributions from a
wide range of people with diverse back-
grounds and perspectives. I hope that my
presence in this field will inspire others to
pursue fluid mechanics and come up with
innovative solutions to real-world problems.
Theresa B. Oehmke
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering,
University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
94720, USA. Email: toehmke@berkeley.edu
I grew up in a village in South China
where people used wood stoves for
cooking and suffered regular electricity
outages in the summer. I learned first-
hand how important it is to have access
to clean and reliable energy, so I have
devoted my research to clean hydrogen
production and CO2 reduction. Like other
first-generation students, I am always
eager to learn, and I empathize with those
in need. I help organize service trips to
local food banks and homeless shelters,
activities that inspire us to work on
research topics that benefit humankind.
Xiao-Yu Wu
Department of Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.
Email: xywu@mit.edu
As a trans woman in STEM , I never saw
myself represented in academia. I thus
created my own organization to promote
authentic mentorship and experiences
between queer high school students and
queer academics and professionals. We are
instrumental in academia because finding
community often requires us to step out-
side of our own fields and comfort zones
to build unique scientific collaborations
centered around our shared identity.
Juliet Tegan Johnston
Queer Science (http://queerscience.umn.edu)
and Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo-
Engineering, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis,
MN 55455, USA. Email: joh12031@umn.edu
A child of Mexican immigrants, I was raised
in South Central Los Angeles during the
most violent period in the city’s history.
Most nights, my siblings and I slept to the
sound of gunfire. By the time we gradu-
ated high school, too many friends had lost
their lives to gang violence or incarceration.
Today, I’m a scientist—the first in my family
with a doctorate—because of the Federal
The scientifi c enterprise benefi ts from diverse perspectives. We asked young
scientists to Describe your unique identity and how it contributes
to your scientifi c work and community. Respondents from across the
world shared their unique backgrounds and how those experiences shaped
them. These scientists described their drive to help their communities,
overcome obstacles, embrace multidisciplinary work, answer questions
raised by their families and childhood, and approach their research with
a spirit of inclusion. Read a selection of their responses here. Follow
NextGen with hashtag #NextGenSci. See all NextGen Voices results at
http://science.sciencemag.org/collection/nextgen-voices. Jennifer Sills
INSIGHTS
LETTERS
NEXTGEN VOICES
Unique identities
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5 APRIL 2019 • VOL 364 ISSUE 6435 23SCIENCE sciencemag.org
PHOTO: ALLAN MAURÍCIO SANCHES BAPTISTA DE ALVARENGA
TRIO Programs, which provide educational
after-school academic outreach programs in
underprivileged areas. For me, science out-
reach is a passion borne from the personal
knowledge that such programs not only
work, but are truly a matter of life and death
for many poor children in the United States.
Christopher Gutiérrez
Quantum Matter Institute, University of British
Columbia, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada.
Email: christopher.gutierrez@ubc.ca
Most people who pursue a Ph.D. weren’t
raised in a motel room with their grandma
and siblings. I’ve seen firsthand that the
burden of removing systemic barriers to aca-
demia falls too often on those most affected
by these oppressions—all while we’re held to
the same standard of academic excellence as
our more privileged peers. This self-defeating
system leads to burnout and a reduced
retention of such individuals in science. To
address this, I’ve initiated small-scale and
department-wide inclusivity projects. I’ve
led workshops on addressing implicit biases
and microaggressions, identified programs
to better support undergraduates in need,
and worked to broaden the conversation so
that we’re all working toward a more diverse
and inclusive scientific community.
Dhruv Patel
Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, University
of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.
Email: dpp47@berkeley.edu
My identity as a scientist who researches
biodiversity’s impacts on water management
in agricultural soils is inextricably linked to
my identity as an African-American male
who grew up in an underresourced public
education system. This system has too often
failed to introduce students to topics such as
agriculture and soils. Soils education is far
too important to personal and environmen-
tal health to be systematically ignored.
Eric Britt Moore
Department of Agronomy, Iowa State University,
Ames, IA 50011, USA. Email: ebm256@iastate.edu
My identity as a college student on track
to be a neuroscientist was put in flux on
14 February 2018, when I learned about
the shooting at my old school, Marjory
Stoneman Douglas High, where my sister
was finishing her freshman year. The
tragedy led me to question my place in
the world, how I should use my skills, and
what direction my life should take. In the
year of heartbreak and healing since the
shooting, I have expanded my career goals
to encompass possibilities that would
allow me to work directly with people,
supporting them through their own diffi-
cult times. Regardless of the scientific path
I take, my work will always be infused with
the knowledge that the people it affects are
both valued and fragile.
Elizabeth Lanzon
Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College at Florida
Atlantic University, Jupiter, FL 33458, USA.
Email: elanzon2016@fau.edu
Resolve to overcome obstacles
I have an auditory limitation that means I
can’t hear frogs that have high-frequency
calls, yet I chose to study bioacoustics
and frog behavior anyway. I consider my
limitation a challenge to overcome, and my
enthusiasm for the field has helped create a
collaborative dynamic among my lab group.
Michelle Micarelli Struett
Department of Zoology, Federal University
of Paraná, Curitiba, Paraná, 81531-980, Brazil.
Email: michelle.mms91@gmail.com
clothing, education, and security. Between
the ages of 10 and 12, I worked as a house-
help without pay. Thanks to my passion for
academics, I earned a scholarship to study
abroad. Because of my background, I have an
exceptional drive to succeed, to create oppor-
tunities, and to motivate others to reach
their full potential. Most important, I have
empathy for those dealing with challenging
circumstances. If I can make it, so can they.
Thomas A. Agbaedeng
Centre for Heart Rhythm Disorders, South Australian
Health & Medical Research Institute, The University of
Adelaide and Royal Adelaide Hospital, Adelaide, SA,
Australia. Email: thomas.agbaedeng@adelaide.edu.au
Flair for multidisciplinary work
My experience as a Zimbabwean immigrant
in China has taught me that there are con-
siderable similarities between navigating
cultural and language barriers and con-
ducting multidisciplinary research. Each
discipline has a set of unique practices and
language. To succeed in multidisciplinary
research, one has to be humble and willing
to learn the different and sometimes con-
flicting norms.
Edmond Sanganyado
Marine Biology Institute, Shantou University, Shantou,
Guangdong 515063, China. Email: esang001@ucr.edu
Home is a difficult concept for many mili-
tary children, but one advantage of moving
every 2 or 3 years was exposure to many
different worldviews. Whether in Japan,
England, Korea, or America, I found that
everyone has a valuable perspective to
offer. This was a lesson I carried with me as
I transitioned into a career as a physician-
scientist. Science is becoming increasingly
multidisciplinary; being able to collaborate
with researchers who have diverse back-
grounds is critical for success. In my lab,
I have found that being open-minded has
helped me build relationships with my col-
leagues. By sharing my own expertise and
valuing the contributions of others, I can
make the most of this scientific community
I now call home.
Jonathan Joon-Young Park
Department of Genetics, Yale University School
of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06520, USA.
Email: jonathan.park@yale.edu
Broad and inclusive perspective
I was a first-generation student. I know
what it’s like to feel lost, intimidated, passed
over, and left behind just because I didn’t
know how to navigate the system. I also
had to work my way through school and
missed out on research opportunities that
I learned about too late because my focus
was on picking up enough shifts at work.
I immigrated to the United States without
legal status. I completed my bachelor’s
degree but could not work or obtain a Ph.D.
until getting Deferred Action of Childhood
Arrivals (DACA) status. Once I was in the
Ph.D. program, I became a permanent
resident, making me eligible for NIH fund-
ing. Most studies in my field only include
Europeans, but my identity and experiences
led me to incorporate populations from
African, East Asian, and South Asian descent
to study the genetic changes that affect the
metabolism of tobacco carcinogens. My
background has also made me a better prob-
lem solver and more resilient, allowing me
to overcome obstacles in my research.
Ana Gabriela Vergara
Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences,
Washington State University, Spokane, WA 99202, USA.
Email: ana_vergara@wsu.edu
I come from an impoverished family of
12 from a rural village in Nigeria. I grew
up without basic necessities such as food,
Ecologist Michelle M. Struett, undeterred by an
auditory limitation, researches the calls of frogs.
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24 5 APRIL 2019 • VOL 364 ISSUE 6435 sciencemag.org SCIENCE
PHOTO: SASHA MIKHAILOVA
INSIGHTS |
LETTERS
Having graduated, I still feel like I’m playing
catch-up. As a result, I push for accessibility
in my field. I challenge gate-keeping. I use
alternative publishing methods, like social
media and my blog, to share information
and research instead of restricted-access
publishing. I encourage outreach. And I
share my experiences and what I’ve learned
to help other first-generation students
make it through.
Stephanie Jan Halmhofer
Richmond, BC V7C 5K3, Canada.
Email: bones.stones.books@gmail.com
Due to my father’s work, my family often
changed residences around Greece. Having
to frequently restart from zero defined
me, and I learned to rapidly observe my
surroundings and people in order to under-
stand my new environment and become
a functional part of each local society.
Being exposed to regularly shifting norms
prepared me for anticipating reactions
that ranged from friendly to hostile when
I expressed myself. I learned to identify
the roots of each reaction in order to fight
potential assumptions, a skill I apply when
I investigate scientific questions today.
Athanasia Nikolaou
German Aerospace Center (DLR), Institute for
Planetary Research, Department of Planetary
Physics, 12489 Berlin, Germany.
Email: athanasia.nikolaou@protonmail.com
As a child, I moved from Siberia to
California, and I still carry on the lan-
guage and traditions of my family. Only
through the lens of American culture have
I been able to learn and truly appreciate
pillars of Russian culture such as figure
skating, embroidery, and baking. What’s
old is new again, much like scientific
theories. I’m reminded to look to the past
and learn from previous theories and
At 5 years old, I survived the 1998 China
flood, which destroyed my hometown.
While doing research for my Ph.D., I
learned that one of the main reasons for
the flood was unusually high precipita-
tion in upstream areas. Therefore, I am
currently studying how to use artificial
intelligence technology to predict down-
stream water flow based on meteorological
data from upstream areas. I hope that my
work will protect others from the kind of
disaster I experienced as a child.
Zhongliang Yang
Lab of New Generation Network Technology &
Applications, Department of Electronic Engineering,
Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China.
Email: yangzl15@mails.tsinghua.edu.cn
My journey into higher education and
science was new territory for our family,
as I moved away from our rural Minnesota
community to pursue a B.S. degree in
horticulture and communication at the
University of Minnesota in Crookston.
After working for 3 years, I left a stable
career to pursue a Ph.D. in sustainable
vegetable production, which was a leap of
faith that worried my parents. I see rural
communities as key to improving our
food system, and farmers are the reason
I engage in science. I also hope to be an
inspiration to women who want to work
in agriculture as we move the field toward
greater gender inclusiveness.
Kristine Marie Lang
Department of Horticulture, Iowa State University,
Ames, IA 50011, USA. Email: kneu@iastate.edu
As a Vietnamese-American, son of refu-
gees, and family caregiver, I am shaped by
ancestral, cultural, and religious heritage.
From listening to the story of my mother’s
harrowing trip across the South China Sea
on a wooden boat, I learned gratitude and
perseverance. From caring for my grand-
father with dementia, I learned compassion
and patience. I draw from these lessons of
humanity and peace as I approach molecular
and computational neuroscience. By inves-
tigating Alzheimer’s disease progression in
different populations, I hope to develop tools
and treatments to empower personalized
care for all. Dementia prevalence is rising
substantially in developing nations like
Vietnam. Because precision management
and treatment are unique for each popula-
tion and person, biomedical science must be
diverse. With my dual heritage and life les-
sons, I embrace the love of my ancestors and
duty to help patients and their families.
Michael Tran Duong
Perelman School of Medicine, University of
Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
Email: mduong@sas.upenn.edu
10.1126/science.aax2457
transcultural experiences for my own
scientific training.
Sasha Mikhailova
Center for Neuroscience, University of California,
Davis , Davis, CA 9561 6, USA.
Email: smikhailova@ucdavis.edu
In forensic anthropology, scientific works
and communities tend to ignore the possibil-
ity of intersex individuals when estimating
biological sex from human remains. As
a member of the LGBTQI+ community, I
know that biological sex is not binary and
that intersex individuals exist. Drawing
from case studies and previous intersex
research, I hope to redefine how forensic
anthropologists see and define sex.
Kristy A. Winter
Skeletal Biology and Forensic Anthropology
Research Laboratory, Queensland University of
Technology, Brisbane, QLD 4000, Australia.
Email: ka.winter@qut.edu.au
Intrinsic motivation to research
Born and raised in Fondo Grande, a 25-
family Dominican village bordering Haiti,
I learned to grow all of our food, from rice,
beans, cassavas, and maize to coffee and
cocoa. Thanks to family and Jesuit friends,
I studied agronomy during high school. My
special interest in botany and genetics led
me to a position with a local Taiwanese
scientist and eventually to Taiwan, where
I earned my Ph.D. I have been investigat-
ing the evolutionary genomics of the fungi
that cause blast disease in cereal crops.
The subject is personal to me: My uncle in
Fondo Grande consults me when his rice
farm suffers from disease.
Luis B. Gómez Luciano
Biodiversity Research Center, Academia
Sinica, Nangang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan.
Email: lbien@sinica.edu.tw
Sasha Mikhailova’s embroidered glial cells illustrate her fusion of Russian heritage and scientific work.
Published by AAAS
on April 14, 2019 http://science.sciencemag.org/Downloaded from
Unique identities
Yang, Kristine Marie Lang and Michael Tran Duong
Park, Stephanie Jan Halmhofer, Athanasia Nikolaou, Sasha Mikhailova, Kristy A. Winter, Luis B. Gómez Luciano, Zhongliang
Joon-YoungLanzon, Michelle Micarelli Struett, Ana Gabriela Vergara, Thomas A. Agbaedeng, Edmond Sanganyado, Jonathan
Theresa B. Oehmke, Xiao-Yu Wu, Juliet Tegan Johnston, Christopher Gutiérrez, Dhruv Patel, Eric Britt Moore, Elizabeth
DOI: 10.1126/science.aax2457
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The scientific enterprise benefits from diverse perspectives. We asked young scientists to Describe your unique identity and how it contributes to your scientific work and community. Respondents from across the world shared their unique backgrounds and how those experiences shaped them. These scientists described their drive to help their communities, overcome obstacles, embrace multidisciplinary work, answer questions raised by their families and childhood, and approach their research with a spirit of inclusion. Read a selection of their responses here. Follow NextGen with hashtag #NextGenSci. See all NextGen Voices results at http://science.sciencemag.org/collection/nextgen-voices. —Jennifer Sills