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Interviews - Alexa Garin-Fernandez


Alexa Garin-Fernandez, PhD

Scientist and scientific cartoonist

Chilean woman living in Germany


What is your job?


I just finished my PhD in Marine Microbiology, which I focused

on phage ecology. I am fascinated by the microbial world,

these invisible inhabitants that are present in every

environment. In my thesis, I studied phages (viruses of bacteria)

present the North Sea, and also how certain phages could give

new features to infected bacteria.

Currently, I just started working as a freelance in science

communication. Through comics and cartoons, I highlight the

diversity of the microbial world and show the diversity of

people in science.



When did you first realize you wanted to

do STEM?


Since I can remember I was interested in science and art, and I

was always interested to understand our world (and beyond!).

My mom is a nurse, so I got amazed by the importance and

power of microorganisms while hearing her work-related

stories. I was ~10 years old when Dolly the sheep was cloned,

and then I wanted to be a genetic engineer, but that study was

not available in my region, so I enrolled in Biotechnology.



Who were your role models growing up?


From my family were my mom and my grandpa, who is a teacher

and also really active to keep our Aymara’s culture (indigenous

community). Both gave me the support to be proud of who I

am and taught me that no one should tell us that we are not

able to do something because of our heritage, gender, social

context, etc. We are valid and able to reach our dreams! They

inspired and supported me to be a scientist and study abroad.



Did you ever want to do anything else?


Artist. Therefore, I am really glad that I could follow my dream

to study science and now I can bring it together with arts in

scientific communication.



Have you ever had any setbacks or been

told you are a girl so cannot do tech?


Many times, not only of my gender but also for my heritage.

Unfortunately, the sexist and misogynist comments are

common in our culture. Sometimes I felt angry about, but I took

that energy to probe them that they are wrong and a girl is

completely able to do STEM! Nowadays I simply do not hear

that prejudicial people and I hear more to inspiring women and

girls.



What’s one thing you’d like to change

about the STEM community?


The competition and elitism in academia, which give the feel

e.g. that you are better by the number of publications is

something I would like to change.



Is there a problem with sexism in the

STEM community?


Yes. The support and inclusion in STEM still need a lot of work

for gender equality. I feel lucky that I never have major

discrimination issues (except comments mentioned above).

But especially for mothers, it can be hard to stay in science, more

now in quarantine times. While men are publishing more

frequent, women scientist are reducing the number of

published papers. This is “surprising” for many editors, but this

is only a consequence of gender equality issues in the STEM

community.



What’s your message for young girls

wanting to do STEM?


Just go for it! It is an awesome path.

Does not matter what you would do in your life as a woman,

someone will criticize you. So, please do not hear them and go

to find something that makes you happy, your dreams are valid

and more important ;)



What is your favourite science joke?


I do not know if this is a joke, but I love the quotes: “Bacteria,

It's the Only Culture Some People Have!” and “If you feel alone,

remember there are thousands of microorganisms living with

and for you”



What is the most embarrassing

moment in your life?


Uff…I have many embarrassing moments. But right now I

remember that after a sampling campaign, some samples got

lost and years afterwards they appeared… in my samples box!

We never knew if they were there since the beginning, but I felt

really embarrassed about. At least, they still could use those

samples.



What is your favourite food?


Not any specific dish, but I love all the street-food from my

hometown.



What is your favourite shop?


I have three places I love to go when I want to shop: local Flea

markets, stationery shop, and Zine libraries.


Wow, thank you so much for taking the time to interview with us! It has been incredible to hear about your experiences within the STEM community! It is so inspiring to read about! we wish you all the best in the future and thank you again! Another thank you to our readers - stay tuned for future interviews!

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