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Yalena Amador @AmadorYalena
, 57 tweets, 46 min read Read on Twitter
I would say that Cuba is a land of many contradictions, contagious music (a way of life), old classic cars, warm-hearted people and sandy beaches. My home town is Santiago de las Vegas, a small locality situated 20 Km away from Cuba’s capital city, Havana.
I was the late an only child. My parents, always loving and caring, taught me that we are not entitled to anything, unless we work hard to deserve it. I feel really grateful to them for opening my eyes to one of the crudest realities of life. @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #IWS
Both my parents were middle school and high school teachers. Other older relatives had been teachers too. So it was not surprising that I liked playing “a la escuelita” (Spanish for “little school”). @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
I was always interested in nature, animals and plants. My nose was always inside the books, even before learning how to read. My favorite stop before coming back home from any family outing during the weekend? The bookstore! @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience #ILoveScience
I think I inherited my love for books from my mom. She was a Spanish and Literature teacher. She read stories for me before bed. She is a firm believer that reading helps widen your horizons and works for improving your orthography too! @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
In Cuba, all education, from elementary all the way through university and graduate school is completely free. So, parents have no worries about finding ways to send their children to school. I went to “Camilo Cienfuegos” elementary school. @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
In Cuba elementary school covers grades 1rst to 6th. I kept nurturing my passion for books now that I could read for myself. Immediately it was evident that I preferred animal subjects and my passion for science started to grow stronger. @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
I remember how impressed I felt whenever I read something that said: “Scientists say…” I always thought: Wow! Who are these scientist? And I would run to find someone whom I would let know what scientists were saying! @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
How do you become a scientist? As a child I believed that that was something unattainable. Maybe you were born as a scientist? I didn’t actually know in that moment that there are many roads to a science career. #careerpaths @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
When people started to ask: What would you like to do when you grow up? I had no clear answers. Those who knew me better suggested that a veterinarian, given my passion for animals. Maybe?? What about teaching because of the family traditions? Meh… @IWS_Network #voicesIWS
The eye-opening moment arrived when I watched a TV show in which one of the principal characters was a Biologist. A woman, by the way! I was around 10 years old, approaching the time in which I would enter middle school. @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
That ignited my curiosity about Biology. I had never heard that word before. What was that? My life changed from that moment on. No more doubts to answer “What would you like to do when you grow up?”: A biologist, of course! @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience #WomenIspire
I received Biology classes in middle school and loved all of them all the way through high school. I thank my parents, who supported me. I was not following the tradition and I would be immerse in a world of “weird” words that they wouldn’t understand. @IWS_Network #voicesIWS
Around that same time (~10 years old), I made another important decision that shaped my life forever. I decided I wanted to learn English. That got my parents by surprise. It was something that children would never ask. @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
I was influenced by many English-speaking cartoons and movies that were frequently on TV. I thought it would be more enjoyable to understand them without reading the subtitles all the time. And it sounded cool! @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
Schools taught English from 5th grade on but they were not effective, resulting in the majority of the population having only rudiments of English in their knowledge. Again, my supporting (and perplexed) parents strived to find a private English teacher. @IWS_Network #voicesIWS
It was hard. Only adults needing the foreign language to advance their careers would seek their services. Everyone thought I would be a distraction for them. Facing rejection I promised with tears in my eyes that I would be a good student. @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
When someone accepted me, I became his best student. I was self-motivated, and had the brain plasticity to learn quickly. I didn’t know that one day I would be living in an English speaking country .@IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
Cuba, despite the economic hardship, supports science. I started Biology undergraduate studies at the University of Havana. Founded on January 5, 1728, it is the oldest in Cuba, and one of the first founded in the Americas.@IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
In Cuba, there is no divorce between “Academia” and “Industry”. They are not seen as different entities. You need academia to provide the high education. Then, simple math shows that academic institutions can’t absorb every person that earns a PhD. @IWS_Network #voicesIWS
There is no painful “transition” from academia to industry. No hard feelings. Universities are proud that their students go and contribute to science in a meaningful way. @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
Several prestigious research institutes exist. So, instead of asking: Are you interested in academia or industry? People will ask you: Are you interested in basic or applied science? What do you want to wear, boots or a lab coat? @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
I dreamed of Marine Biology (basic, boot/flipper science). Later I realized that there was more financial support for Biotechnology. As my undergraduate studies advanced, I naturally entered in contact with a wide suite of subjects. @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
Immunology (applied/lab coat science) was the most appealing and it became an attractive alternative to my initial first choice. At the time, Biology undergraduate studies took 5 years and included a mandatory thesis work for all students. @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
External research institutions host most of the students during their thesis work. I did my undergraduate thesis at the Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB), evaluating Hepatitis C virus vaccine candidates.
@IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
That was a great opportunity to show me early- on my 3rd undergrad year- what team work was and how people did research in the real world. Additionally, I explored the workplace and started to build my professional network.@IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
Typically what happens is that if you like the place and the people, and they like you, you will surely be hired upon graduation. And that was what happened to me. I decided to stay at CIGB, with the same team I knew so well.@IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
In Cuba, once you earn your BSc, before thinking about graduate school, you find a job. If you have been strategic, you have something lined up with the place in which you did your undergrad thesis or find something through your network. @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
Otherwise, you depend on the offers that come directly to the university. Research centres inform about their job openings for junior scientists. The positions are assigned on a competitive process based on your grades and scientific productivity.@IWS_Network #voicesIWS
So basically after graduation you earn some sort of a dual citizenship: you are a full-time employee in your workplace and a graduate student at the university if you choose to enroll in a graduate program. This is not an absolute must. @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
Anyway, I enrolled in a Masters in Biochemistry (at the U of Havana) as a first step. Then decided to continue extending my work into a PhD in Biological Sciences in the same university. @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
Being an employee while enrolled in a graduate program was challenging because I had to juggle course assignments with experiments and administrative work I had to do as required by my employment. @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
The good part was that the same experiments I was required to do as part of my responsibilities as a researcher employee, where useful for my theses as a student. It taught me a lot about multitasking and self-organization @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
Doing scientific research in Cuba is hard due to the economic blockade. We buy most of the reagents from 3rd party companies, at higher prices, which drain our scarce resources. This also increases the time we wait for the items to get to our bench. @IWS_Network #voicesIWS
We do not have the luxury of preferring one supplier over others and we concentrate our funds on reagents, leaving almost nothing to pay for publication fees. End result, we can't publish in highly reputed journals all the time. @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
In a world that judges and evaluates the quality of science by impact factors this is a crippling situation. So, one year after earning my PhD, I started to think about going somewhere else to explore other worlds. @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
First I thought of Europe, as I had been in France as a visiting researcher at the Pasteur Institute of Lille and loved the ease of travel from one country to the other and the life style in general. @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
However, the immense geographical distance from my family was scary, so I started to think about Canada. Many Cubans have chosen Canada as a second home. So many people couldn't be wrong! @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
I contacted a professor at @usask, who worked with HCV and was looking for postdocs. Her projects centered in miRNAs sounded attractive. She was also a mentor at @canhepc , so I had the potential to enter their awesome training program if she accepted me.@IWS_Network #voicesIWS
Soon after sending my CV and cover letter, I got a positive reply. We talked over the phone, I got her letter of offer, with that got my work permit to move to Canada as a postdoc for 2 years! It all took a lot less time and hassle than I had anticipated.@IWS_Network #voicesIWS
Things moved so fast that I had no chance to be scared about moving alone to a foreign country. I did google research on the things that worried me the most: the weather and the health care system. The weather was scary, health care sounded safe. @IWS_Network #voicesIWS
That was the second time I heard of Saskatchewan. The first time it was in a letter sent to me by a Canadian pen-friend who told me that the coldest Canadian provinces were Saskatchewan and Manitoba. It came back to me. SK, here I come, challenge accepted! @IWS_Network #voicesIWS
My start was encouraging. My supervisor proposed me to apply for a postdoc fellowship from @_SHRF_ . To my surprise, I not only got it but also won an award to the best postdoctoral fellowship of 2014! It was a total boost to my self-esteem as a scientist. @IWS_Network #voicesIWS
I was accepted in the @canhepc. That extended my funding for 2 more years. I attended conferences and was in contact with a multidisciplinary team of HCV experts. @canhepc has an interesting approach to training. I highly recommend their model to others.@IWS_Network #voicesIWS
I never got other nationwide scholarships. My publications were not "shiny" (low impact factor, too many coauthors). The awards from the Academy of Science of Cuba were considered “questionable”. What can be questionable about an Academy of Science? @IWS_Network #voicesIWS
“You don’t know what you don’t know”. This is one of my daily mantras now. Four years and 4 months after stepping in Canadian soil, I see how ignorant I was of everything that would be important to know before arriving.@IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
How do you build a network from scratch or navigate a multicultural workplace? The worst: No idea that doing a postdoc could be interpreted by many as an eternal “pact” with academia! @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
I have always tried to be a pragmatic person and adapt to my situation. It was clear that the scarcity of opportunities to land an academic job warranted an “alternative” approach. @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
After all, I was primed with this wide concept of science, which can’t find walls between academia and industry. Such a vision seemed a disadvantage because I would go against the rules. I panicked. How can I succeed here? @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
That system has problems many experts have pointed at. I was not to change the system but I wouldn’t allow it to change me. My foreign ideas would make it easier for me to move forward, not caring about judgments. That was all that mattered to me. @IWS_Network #voicesIWS
Finding a permanent position was a struggle, despite that I was not looking for PI positions. I struggled for 1 year and 2 months juggling the 2 full-time jobs of postdoc and job hunter. Most of my applications didn't land interviews. @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
Probably my greatest weakness was the lack of a professional network. Finally, I have found my first permanent position that for the moment suits my needs and expectations. Yay!
Recently someone asked me which is the event that has had the greatest impact in my life so far. I didn't take a second to answer: Coming to Canada! It has opened my eyes to the world, to the human nature, to cultural diversity, to our similarities @IWS_Network #voicesIWS
I have proved myself that I can handle challenges with a positive outlook. It was hard to learn to drive at age 34, it's uncomfortable not "getting" pop jokes, I restrain myself from hugging others, I miss my family and the ocean, but I have no regrets @IWS_Network #voicesIWS
I have found a second home in Canada. I finally saw my dream of seeing the snow come true! And I try to enjoy it! I have visited places that I always dreamed to visit and done some crazy stuff too @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInScience
I feel lucky to have found this group of awesome ladies @IWS_Network . It is a young organization but it is already impacting the lives of all our members, providing support to not give up on our dreams of building a professional career in science in Canada. #voicesIWS
This is my story so far. To those if you on the same path, my advice is find your support network, nothing is worth more than that. Inform yourself as much as possible but be also prepared for the unexpected and adapt! Thank you for reading @IWS_Network #voicesIWS #WomenInSTEM
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