“It Is Time That We Write Our Own History in Science!” – Eva Maria Wara Alvarez Pari

Interview with #LiNo17 young scientist Eva Maria Wara Alvarez Pari

This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, to increase the visibility of women in research (more information for and about women in science by “Women in Research” on Facebook and Twitter). Enjoy the interview with Eva Maria Wara and get inspired.

 

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Eva Maria Alvarez Pari, 23, from Bolivia is an undergraduate chemistry student doing her Master degree at the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität, Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany. Eva is in the first stage of her academic career. Nevertheless, she is deeply interested in organic chemistry applied to the medicine.

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in science/chemistry?

Well, I consider that question really anecdotal. During the elementary school I was close to failing one year of my studies because of mathematics. Nevertheless, in high school I have been immersed in science more and more. My first approach to chemistry was in 2007, when I started high school. I have been lucky to have an amazing woman as a chemistry teacher who has supported me in every stage of my academic life. She deeply motivated me. Nevertheless I made my first step, when one day I saw in the newspaper a competition that has been launched for high school students. I had a big desire to participate and I asked my teacher to train me for Chemistry Olympics competitions in my city. Although I have won a third place I didn’t feel any regret or depression. I was completely sure, I did my best. Since then I put my heart and soul into the chemistry. I have participated in some of my teacher’s lectures at her technical institute, where I gained my first experience working at lab under her supervision. Since mathematics at high school caught my attention by creating models to explain some natural phenomena, I decided to do a Bachelor degree in mathematics. Nevertheless, there was something missing in my life. Then I realised that if I couldn’t study chemistry I would probably have regrets later. So, I started my chemistry studies immediately. At the end, I have completed both careers. It was really hard to manage the schedules of my different subjects avoiding overlapping of the courses and arranging the transportation stuff to be on time to every single lecture. But when there is passion, everything is possible. Being motivated made it possible to complete both careers in five years; otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have done it without this driving force.

 

Who are your role models?

Definitely my professors have played a big role in my academic formation. I was fortunate to being surrounded by powerful women in chemistry. My chemistry teacher at school was a devoted person who dedicated her life and time to motivate students to pursue a scientific career. She supported me even outside the classroom. We were not teacher and student anymore, but we started to be two people learning from each other drawn by a shared passion to chemistry. During my undergraduate studies, two dedicated women were a continuous support to my scientific career. I feel admiration of their outstanding research projects and their role as women holding high positions in the university which is not common in my home country. They oriented me personally and academically, keeping my motivation to pursue an academic career. Certainly one of my strongest motivations is attributed to Marie Sklodowska-Curie, who gave the first step and opened to us the opportunities to be as equals to men in science.

I have made the best decision of my life and I don’t regret it at all.

Last but not least, my parents have always been concerned about my education and gave me all the facilities to tackle a scientific career. No expense was too great to give me the best education since I was at elementary school. They gave me freedom to decide what I wanted to become. Actually, they are supporting me in my master studies economically, and they even have plans to do so, too, for my PhD studies because they are concern about my deep love for Chemistry.

 

How did you get to where you are in your career path?

Nothing can be done without motivation and constant work. I realised at high school that to become a scientist involves many years of studies. But that is not everything. You must keep yourself in constant learning because science never sleeps. So, even knowing that, I have made the best decision of my life and I don’t regret it at all. Since high school I have set long and short goals to become a scientist, and it also meant to get a better education outside. I am always daydreaming because it keeps me motivated. Since my first day in Germany on October 1st, I have looked for many opportunities to encourage my scientific aspirations. As an anecdote, one day before the deadlines for the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting I have seen a publication on Facebook related to eight women who participated in the preliminary meeting. I didn’t miss the opportunity to apply immediately and because of that I arrived too late to my preliminary Master meeting in Erlangen. Of course, now I am really glad that this happened. The first obstacle I have faced took place, when I decided to apply for a scholarship. Unfortunately, most of the scholarships launched in my home country require one year of work experience, which reduces your aspirations to apply as soon as you have completed your bachelor studies, even considering these studies in Bolivia last five years. This drawback event helped me to understand that if I want to fulfil my dreams there was no other solution than to study abroad by myself and with the economic support of my family. Since I am here in Germany, I had the opportunity to be part of Prof. Heinrich’s group. Their research is focused on Medicinal Chemistry with topics like carbofluorination reactions. Prof. Heinrich has given me a comfortable environment to work, and my colleagues are a scientific family who are always willing to share knowledge and advice. I have been part of seminar discussions of organic total synthesis of some active substances and natural products. There, I found a space to be immersed in a wide spread of acknowledgment so I could start shaping my scientific career. Now, I have many projects in mind and I am also looking forward to getting a PhD position once I finish my Master degree so I can continue building my academic life.

 

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What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

In my home country during my last year of my Bachelor in Chemistry, I have spent three months working in a scientific institution where I could get knowledge of the use of many of the technical instruments that chemists use to elucidate organic structures. The person in charge, Dr. Marcelo Bascope, is used to giving the interns the opportunity to perform scientific projects during their stay there, which I consider a good opportunity to start with your own scientific project and see your limitations and strengths working in a lab. I decided to carry out the identification of active principles from Nicotiana Glauca, a medicinal plant native from South America, which has as main component the alkaloid anabasine. I spent a month working at this project but the most rewarding experience I had was the freedom to perform every step from sample preparation up to purification and identification using the equipment to elucidate the structure of each component. The satisfaction to complete everything by myself helped me to realise that I was meant to work in a lab. This was the first close experience at the lab doing research. The freedom to work on my own increased my self-confidence, because there was no one telling me what to do or putting pressure on me. It was only me and my research growing day by day like a baby becoming an adult.

Take risks in scientific life.

What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself/your work?

When I was admitted to a Master’s degree programme at Friedrich-Alexander University in Erlangen I was really proud of all I did so far to get an education abroad. Germany is the country for scientific opportunities. I have been here for only six months and I am part of a research team, a PhD student Anna Pirzer (whom I collaborated with in the lab and who gave me freedom to pursue my own ideas) and I are going to publish a research article. I am proud of myself, of everything I have done to pursue a scientific career, every obstacle I had to overcome to achieve my goals and for all the work that lies ahead.

 

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What is a “day in the life” of Eva like?

After I wake up, I organise everything to go to my master lectures and I prepare my material of studies. Every Thursday of the week I am part of discussion in a seminar session related to total organic synthesis in Prof. Heinrich’s group, so I can polish and hone my organic synthesis skills through wide mechanisms of reactions used to synthesise complex molecules. During the afternoon, if I don’t have any lectures to attend I go to the library to look for some books to study for the upcoming examinations or I just stay the whole afternoon studying in the library with some friends or alone. During the evening, I write some e-mails to my professors and colleagues from my home university keeping in contact with them and sharing science in some way while I enjoy hearing instrumental music. My favourites are movie soundtracks. I am fond into Hans Zimmer compositions.

 

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

My scientific aspirations in science are not related to immortalising my name, not even to economic ambitions. I have a big desire to follow an academic career. Nothing is more rewarding than to share and receive knowledge. I have a deep desire to become a Professor and to have my own research group, with active students performing activities regarding science and discussing breakthroughs in chemistry. I have always been interested in discussing and sharing ideas, even during my bachelor studies I used to organise out-of-the-classroom lectures prepared by myself and my colleagues to encourage our understanding of chemistry. At that time, we were aware that our bachelor program and lab courses didn’t provide the same knowledge in some areas of chemistry compared to cutting-edge universities in science.

 

What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?

My daily activities are not limited to study. I devote my free day doing out-door activities like hiking or taking a walk in the city, it keeps me motivated and I find equilibrium between my scientific life and my personal life. I love writing poems and thoughts as well. During the weekend, me and my master partners go to some events in Germany, go to shopping or run cultural meetings by sharing our typical food. Most of the time, I am with my “German family”. Since my childhood, I had the opportunity to grow up under a constant influence of German culture. I maintain relationship with people who belong to Missionskreis Ayopaya, an institution that is directly connected to Bolivia through German volunteering.

I am pretty sure, the understanding of origin of life through chemistry laws would be the next breakthrough in science.

What advice do you have for other women interested in science/chemistry?

Take risks in scientific life. Don’t be shy or afraid to express your own ideas even if you are mistaken. Try your best in everything you perform and overcome fear of complexities, of academic inferiority, of the unknown and of failure. Trust yourself and keep on moving even when it means that you only advance little by little. Scientific research has obstacles and the time one invests may extend too many years but the results are a lifetime achievement, a satisfaction that your ideas could encourage the welfare of humanity and the development of one’s country. This fills you with happiness. We are not Marie Curies – of course not. It is time that we write our own history in science!

 

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In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in science/chemistry?

Regarding my particular interests in organic synthesis, we always have to deal with chiral molecules which are present in nature as single enantiomers. I have completed my bachelor thesis in mathematics related to group and graph theories in order to simplify our understanding of symmetry in organic molecules through mathematics. Unfortunately, it is not simple to reach a general explanation. Most of the complex molecules of life are chiral so there is no way to apply these mathematical models to them. I am pretty sure, the understanding of origin of life through chemistry laws would be the next breakthrough in science.

 the number of women who don’t show interest in academic careers has increased

What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?

Since I have been in Germany for six months, I have realised that there is no big gap between women and men pursuing a scientific career. Both have the same opportunities and support in the first stage of their scientific careers. The numbers of women are even bigger in PhD research groups compared to men, according to my experience working in the lab. Over the last few years, the gap has been narrowed considerably in developed countries. Nevertheless, the number of women who don’t show interest in academic careers has increased. I think that there are still some prejudices related to the balance between family and academia in women’s lives – that is another reason why some women speed up their graduate studies in order to get a stable position at the university before deciding to have a family. There must be some guarantee that a woman who decides to have children could continue in the same charge after taking a semester off, but, unfortunately, women cannot recover the same opportunities they had before they decided to start a family. Universities or academic institutions must adopt special programmes or work-family policies to support women who decide to start a family before getting tenure and not put their later chances at risk.

Ulrike Böhm

About Ulrike Böhm

Ulrike Boehm, Ph.D. is a physicist and science enthusiast. She works as a postdoctoral researcher in the United States and lives in Washington, DC. She did her PhD studies at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen in the Department of NanoBiophotonics of Nobel Laureate Stefan Hell. She loves to develop and build new physical tools to image, probe and manipulate biological structures. Furthermore, she is passionate about science communication and a huge advocate for women in science.

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