Women in Stem Interview Series - Edith Hernandez



Edith is a UCSD Graduate with a B.S in Microbiology. She is currently a research associate who studies inflammatory autoimmune diseases in animal models including the following diseases: Multiple Sclerosis, IBD, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, and Type 1 Diabetes. Please join us in welcoming Edith to the lineup of Women in STEM!

May Interviews - #WomeninSTEM

The Interview - Edith Hernandez

  • Name: Edith Hernandez
  • STEM Field of Study (or profession): Inflammation In Vivo Research Associate

Do you have a favorite quote? What is it and who is it from?

“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” - Elbert Hubbard

Personal Experience

Q: What was (or is) your favorite subject in school and why?

Edith: “Microbiology, learning about microbes and how they play a role in our daily life was fascinating. “

Q: What was your daily routine like (in school, work, or at home). How might this have impacted/influenced your participation in STEM?

Edith: “My day always starts early. Whether it was getting ready for school, studying, or preparing for work my day consisted of waking up at 4:30am. Having an early start meant having to plan/organize my day in order to make the best of my time. This habit was and is extremely helpful when it come to my career. Organization is key when working in STEM.”

Q: Describe the first time you heard about STEM, why was this an appealing thing to be a part of?

Edith: “The first time I heard about STEM I was in high school; it started with M.E.S.A (Mathematics, Engineering, Science, Achievement) Program. Our mentor was a former biologist now biology teacher who encouraged us to learn and explore the world of science. I love the curiosity that STEM gave me to research and explore new ideas.”

Q: When was the first time you became actively involved in STEM? Do you recall a specific project or initiative?

Edith: “I remained in the M.E.S.A Program through out my high school years. I remember my first project was designing a balsa wood glider from scratch. We spent months designing, calculating, and testing out glider in order to compete in regionals. All our hard work paid off when we won first place.”

Q: How have your beliefs, motivations and aspirations changed over time? When did a career in STEM become a priority or choice?

Edith: “My interest for medical research blossomed the more I learned about animal models and the reasons behind why they play such a crucial role in research development. I absolutely love what I do! Being able to work closely with animals and observe the progression of disease keeps me motivated to pursue cures for the autoimmune disease that I study.”

Q: Who has served as an ‘influencer’ in your path to a STEM focused education and/or career?

Edith: “I would say a lot of people have influenced me throughout my STEM education and career. It started with my mom who worked in a lab making medical devices. She would bring some of these devices home and explain to me how they were used; It fascinated me! From there teachers and professors that further supported me by exposing me to different fields of research such as metabolic research, animal research, medical microbiology, virology, and so much more. Currently my department director, Dr. Michelle Solomon influences me everyday to learn more about our models and how they operate. Her intellect and years of experience inspire me to become a better researcher in my field.”

Q: What is your dream job? Can you see any roadblocks or challenges which might be influenced by your gender?

Edith: “I want to become a skilled and knowledgeable research scientist specializing in immunology and autoimmune diseases. In order to achieve this involves time and experience. I know in order to obtain such opportunities and experience will be a tough battle that may require a lot of scarifies. However, the fight for equality in STEM is very important.”

Q: Are hobbies in STEM important? What about hobbies in general? Can you share some of your hobbies that may (or may not) have contributed to your STEM involvement?

Edith: “Definitely! They are much needed in STEM to keep you motivated and engaged. Hobbies in general are also needed to balance your work and social life. For example my STEM hobby is to research different autoimmune animals models or further dive into individual animal strains and why they are used. This helps to keep me curious and engaged in my research. As for non-STEM hobbies, I love to hike or run. It keeps me refreshed and ready for my next adventure.”

Q: Has there been any point when you (or someone close to you) wanted to give up STEM (work, hobby, both)? What made you stay?

Edith: “There has been times of frustration when I’ve wanted to give up STEM. I remember It was difficult to obtain any kind of laboratory experience while I was at UCSD. I felt inexperienced and unprepared for the field I was studying to be in. Many of the internships required a minimum of 1 year experience or were scarce. However, I knew this was the field for me and I fought for anyone to give me a chance to prove myself; Luckily, my post-doc at the time gave me that chance to shine. He encouraged me to work hard and not give up on my field of study.”

Women in STEM Impact

Q: What does STEM mean to you?

Edith: “To me STEM is the power to discover and explore the endless possibilities that the universe holds.”

Q: Can you recall any times when you questioned your involvement in STEM because of your gender?

Edith: “Yes, I remember when I first got involved in animals work people would question why I was in such a field; its a career that requires hard work and nerves of steel to be able to see how the diseases we study affect our animal models on a daily basis. However, I still thought if I worked just as hard as my male co-workers than together we can do the same job regardless of gender.”

Q: What are some of the personal experiences - or compelling arguments - that have influenced your thinking around gender and STEM, and have motivated you to get involved in being an advocate for change?

Edith: “The ‘science world’ can sometimes seem like it is a predominantly male industry and this can be intimidating. However, over the course of my career I have met many strong female scientist that stand their ground and aren’t afraid to fight for equality and their right to have their voice heard in the industry. This is what motivates me to get involved! They stand up for me and pave the way for my future and I want to do the same.”

Q: Can you talk a bit about some of the specific ways you have advocated for change? If so, please tell us more about the successes and challenges you faced?

Edith: “At any laboratory I have worked in I have always reached out to other members within my companies to spread the knowledge and experiences I have learned over the years. I am more than happy to teach and train anyone who is interested in learning about what I do. We even accept interns from time to time to help grow the In Vivo field.”

Q: Do you have a mentor or friend who inspires you? How/Why? (someone you know personally)

Edith: “Yes, many actually. My husband’s love and dedication for his patients motivates me to continue to search for cures for the autoimmune disease I research and my department director who has over 20 years of experience pushes me to continue to do learn about what I love to do best.”

Q: Can you name any women who have made a strong impact in the STEM community? How has their impact made an influenced your life?

Edith: “Esther Zimmer Lederberg; she is known as one of the great pioneers in bacterial genetics for her discovery of lambda phage. Being able to make such vital discovery motivates me to continue my work.”

Q: Top three changes which could make life easier for Women in STEM?

Edith: “1. More outreach programs with opportunities in STEM

  1. Confidence! No matter how intimidating a STEM field is always be confident. If this is what you love to do then show everyone your dedication to the field.
  2. More speakers for women in STEM; I think its important to hear other women’s experiences in STEM to show future STEM women that they are not alone. “

Advice to the younger you and women considering a career in STEM

Q: Which achievement do you look at and think “I’d love to go back in time and tell younger me that this was possible”?

Edith: “Being able to set up and run my own studies. I would have never dreamed of getting this far in my career. I would love to tell my younger self to not feel discouraged. that their time will come when all their hard work pays off. “

Q: If you could go back and change one thing in your STEM path, what would that be?

Edith: “To feel more confident in myself and doubt my knowledge. My fear of failing limited me at time and prevented me from being able to accept opportunities.”

Edith: “Communication and networking means a lot in STEM. STEM is about who you know, so don’t be afraid to chat and ask question; you never know who you will meet. There are so many wonder men and women in STEM related careers, many of which are more than happy in sharing their knowledge and expertise.”

What’s Next?!

Check out the Women in STEM page for all the other interviews and events you may have missed!

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