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Olga Pena, PhD 🔬 @OlgaPena
, 40 tweets, 33 min read Read on Twitter
Starting "Voices without Frontiers" #VoicesIWS
A program by @IWS_Network to promote awareness about the challenges & lessons learned by #Immigrant and #International #WomenInScience

I was born & raised in Chicoral, Colombia. A tiny town in the middle of the Andes Cordillera.
I attended Nuestra Señora del Rosario school, located in Espinal, 15Km away from Chicoral. Due to the high heat by noon, all schools start really early back home. This meant, I had to wake up at 5am to attend school every morning since I was 4 years old. #VoicesIWS
I did well in math and science in elementary and high school, so I chose to study clinical microbiology. Although coming from a low-middle income family, I was able to attend university, thanks to my parents’ effort to prioritize education over other commodities. #VoicesIWS
Moving from a very small town to the capital city and sharing classes with students who had attended the best schools in the country, was not easy. Adaptation and competition were tough #VoicesIWS #Thread☝️
At 16 (when I started university in Bogota), I had to learn to navigate through a very busy city and often unsafe, as living options within a university are non existant in Colombia or limited to very few universities. #VoicesIWS #Thread☝️
Despite the initial academic challenges, I was able to rise through my undergrad. I discovered a passion for science research, most specifically in the field of immunology, thanks to a fantastic female professor at my University. Dr @SusanaFiorenti4 #VoicesIWS #Thread
Then, I realized that fulfilling my dream of doing a Ph.D. in the field I wanted, was close to impossible in my country and very difficult to be accepted into a graduate program overseas without much research experience. #VoicesIWS #Thread
I got some local research training & then I took the risk... I strated research internships in a country (US) with a language I barely spoke, no family or friends. I was in a lab with very limited funding & a very strict supervisor= almost living in the lab24/7 #VoicesIWS #Thread
Despite the barriers, the hard work during my research internships and a few publications under my belt, helped me to get accepted into the Ph.D. program I really wanted and allowed me to obatain some scholarships. #VoicesIWS #Thread
I moved to Canada to start my PhD and I had to start all over again, learn about their culture and make new friends. I was sharing lab space with some of the best students in Canada, and I was attending graduate courses in a foreign language. I was terrified! #VoicesIWS #Thread
During my #PhD at #UBC I obtained strong academic and research training. But my experience went far and beyond this. I also learned the real meaning of multiculturalism, by interacting with people from many different countries & cultures. #VoicesIWS #Thread
I learned the meaning of #international and #community #engagement, by being engaged and engaging others in initiatives that can contribute to building a better world through dialogue, teaching and learning. #VoicesIWS #Thread
I did well during my #PhD, I got a great publication record, excellent scholarships, I got married, I had a baby. It was not easy, but I was able to accomplish it thanks to the great support from my hubby and from my Ph.D. supervisor, Professor Hancock. #VoicesIWS #Thread☝️
We went off to Australia for my Post-Doc. This was a new culture, same language, with a distinctive accent a bit difficult to follow sometimes for a non-native speaker. Half of this time, my hubby was a stayhome dad #VoicesIWS #Thread
& the other half, I had to play single mom since he could not find a Job in the city we were in & had to move to another city 2-hours-flight away. This latest unhealthy situation for our little family led us to decide to come back to come back to Canada earlier #VoicesIWS #Thread
I knew that coming back to continue the professorship path & start another #PosDoc in 🇨🇦 with the long hours required, the limited earnings & social benefits was not an option. I was in disbelief as my heart and mind did not want to leave #academia. #VoicesIWS #Thread
I was disqualified from a few #fellowships due to my age. This is a major barrier I see for #womeninSTEM & especially #IWS. I had to spend several years of training prior to starting my #PhD, so I could be competitive to be accepted into a graduate program. #VoicesIWS #Thread
Also, despite having achieved 10 #publications (4 as 1st author) during my PhD, my previous short #PostDoc time led only to 2 publications without 1st authorships, making me not compeitive to other fellowships. #VoicesIWS #Thread 19/
Finally, obtaining a #PostDoc position without self-funding (a fellowship) is difficult, & implies you have to be open to work in areas that may not excite you, & for me this is critical. My passions are #sepsis, infectious/respiratory diseases #VoicesIWS #Thread 20/
Combined with Immunology & Genomics with a focus on translational research. I was reluctant to leave academia completely. But I also wanted a real job. So, I obtained a staff position as a Research Scientist/Manager at UBC with full benefits. #VoicesIWS #Thread 21/
I was lucky to obtain this position as these are rare. I enhanced my management and grant writing experience and I was able to work still in an area of my interest, supervise a team of staff members and mentor students, which I truly enjoyed. #VoicesIWS #Thread 22/
In that position, I was also able to experience closely the struggles PIs go through to maintain a lab afloat, to keep the moral high, despite the constant efforts to secure funding & the hard work to keep up with the #publish or #perish academic game. #VoicesIWS #Thread 23/
I was somehow disillusioned and while this confirmed I was not pursuing the professorship path, it also inspired me to push forward because I want to see real changes, so those #womeninSTEM and #IWS that want to fulfill this path feel supported and welcome #VoicesIWS #Thread 24/
This is why I am active enthusiast on #Science #Policy, this is why I keep supporting/mentoring girls, #WomeninSTEM in training & cheer for female PIs, this is why I liase with other #IWS to create @IWS_Network. Because I want us all to fulfill our dreams #VoicesIWS #Thread 25/
My dream is advancing fields like #Sepsis, where much of basic science & clinical research collaboration is needed, fields like #Genomics & #PrecisionMedicine where much support is needed for low-mid income countries to be in the race of new technologies #VoicesIWS #Thread 26/
My dream is to promote and engage in real North-South #research #collaborations where both sides can be enriched with knowledge and skills, to train young generations (especially girls) in LMIC, so they can navigate and thrive on their own. #VoicesIWS #Thread 27/
My dream is to bring my knowledge and research findings to the benefit of society and the world. And this is what I am currently doing. Working with my former PhD supervisor to develop a potential diagnostic tool for #Sepsis.
#VoicesIWS #Thread 28/…
Promoting and establishing collaborations with researchers from different parts of the world. Empowering girls in STEM in Colombia and mentoring students locally and in Low and middle-income countries.
#VoicesIWS #Thread 29/
Now, let's talk a bit more about the challenges as #IWS. Throughout all these experiences and even today, I have learned to overcome difficult cultural and gender challenges. #VoicesIWS #Thread 30/
As #IWS, I have been stared at, judged and bullied, because (just to mention a few simple examples) I give too many hugs, because I smile too much, because I want to help all the time, because I am too friendly... #VoicesIWS #Thread 31/
...because I prefer to talk face to face rather than just texting, or because I use sometimes bright colors in the accessories or clothes I wear. These are all synonyms of my own culture that are embedded into who I am.
#VoicesIWS #Thread 32/
Moreover, I have been criticized because I have a Spanish accent or because I have prioritized my family's happiness and my own health (mental & physical), even when this has meant taking difficult career decisions! #VoicesIWS #Thread 33/
Despite all these challenges, I am proud of what I have learned and accomplished, not just professionally. I happily invest time and energy meeting a person, so we can get to know more about each other's story, culture and traditions. #VoicesIWS #Thread 34/
I feel tremendously fortunate of all the experiences lived, even the bad ones (which have made me stronger), and the people I have met on my way, who have been willing to know me, accept me and respect me, the same way I do for everybody. #VoicesIWS #Thread 35/
And today I feel even more fortunate. Last Friday I attended my Canadian Citizenship Ceremony 🇨🇦
While I was singing the Canadian National Anthem during the ceremony, I got goosebumps and teary eyes. I could not have been happier! #VoicesIWS #Thread 36/
After living in several HIC, I can say that Canada shares my views and my values, it has taught me multicultural understanding, it embraces immigrants and it is a country where its people are welcoming with open hearts, making them so special #VoicesIWS #Thread 37/
I am proud to be a #woman, a #mom, a #scientist, an #Immigrant (who learned to speak English at 21) and a new Canadian Citizen. I am also proud of my #Colombian roots, as well as my multicultural Canadian/Palestinian/Colombian little fruit. (my son) 😊 #VoicesIWS #Thread 38/
Thanks to the support of committed mentors, family & friends, I will continue breaking barriers as an #IWS to achieve my dreams, while learning & growing in the process. #VoicesIWS #Thread 39/
With this tweet, I end my story. Thanks for following our Voices without Frontiers program from @IWS_Network 😃
If you are a #IWS and have any questions, feel free to PM me.
Join us also & continue to follow #VoicesIWS. Every week we will have a different story😊
#Thread 40/END
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