Un Vistazo al Laboratorio: Celebrating Hispanic & Latinx Scientists

For the third year in a row, Science at Cal(link is external) partnered with the Consulate General of Mexico in San Francisco and the Bay Area Science Festival to host “Dia de la Ciencia,” a public event aimed at highlighting the diverse experiences of Latinx UC Berkeley researchers in STEM fields. In June 2022, Pew Research Center released a report stating that “most Latinos see scientific professions as potentially ‘unwelcoming’ to Latino people,” underscoring that greater visibility among Hispanic communities is a potential driver of STEM engagement. As part of Dia de la Ciencia, Science at Cal created Un Vistazo al Laboratorio(link is external), a Spanish-language video lab tour series shown to a live audience in a public event. Over the course of a month and a half, viewers were invited into the labs and lives of six Hispanic and Latinx scientists from UC Berkeley:

  • Dr. Juan Carlos Martinez Oliveros, Astronomer, Space Sciences Lab

  • Ixchel González-Ramírez, PhD candidate, Integrative Biology 

  • Dr. Javier A. Ceja-Navarro, Research Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

  • Kirsten Isabel Verster, PhD candidate, Integrative Biology

  • Luis E. Valentin-Alvarado, PhD candidate, Microbiology

  • Dr. Patricia Valdespino Castillo, Postdoc, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Dia de la Ciencia culminated in a live-streamed group forum with all six scientists to “answer questions about their work, describe their path to science and academia, and talk openly with one another about their successes and the challenges facing the Latinx community in STEM.” The panel discussion, which was conducted entirely in Spanish (with English subtitles available) and the six-part video series are now available on YouTube(link is external), garnering over 1500 views in total.

Kirsten Isabel Verster, a PhD candidate in Integrative Biology, returned to participate in this event for a second year. Verster applauded the event’s accessibility: “I like the fact that the event is disseminated on Facebook Live to get engaged viewership through social media, using a medium that the majority of Latinos in the US use.” Said Verster, “You can tell that the people organizing it are very passionate and believe in what they are doing - bringing scientists from Latinx backgrounds into the forefront, and making them accessible to their community so they can answer questions and just chat in a more casual context - really demystifying the idea of what a scientist is.”

Screen Grab of Ixchel González-Ramírez from the Video

Scientist Ixchel González-Ramírez

Scientist Javier Ceja-Navarro Looking off Camera during Filming

Scientist Javier Ceja-Navarro 

October 2, 2022

Berkeley Letters & Science also spoke to Ixchel González-Ramírez, a PhD candidate in Integrative Biology. González-Ramírez is a plant evolutionary biologist who describes her work as being similar to that of a detective: “My work…pieces together the series of events that had to happen for us to have the diversity of plants that we have today. But unlike a detective, I work on much longer time scales - even before the dinosaurs existed! Since working in evolutionary time is complicated, I use different sources of information (genes, fossils, living plants) and models and statistics that help me fill in the information gaps.” 

L&S: What did you value most about participating in this series? 

González-Ramírez: I appreciate any opportunity to communicate my work, but in this case, I was really excited about the opportunity to share what I do in Spanish, which is my native language! The team at Science at Cal was excellent in giving us tools to communicate effectively. It is beautiful how everybody brought in their expertise to make these videos.

L&S: Why do you think it is important to encourage the Spanish-speaking community to engage with science?

González-Ramírez: I think it is important to engage every member of the community with science. Nature is intrinsically amazing and interesting and everyone deserves to enjoy it! It is really important to create roads to access science that are as diverse as our communities are. 

L&S: Do you have any words of advice for Spanish-speaking students considering a career in science?

González-Ramírez: You are welcome and we need you! Science has changed through time; the kinds of questions we are addressing now require the work of often large, interdisciplinary, and multilingual teams --- more diverse teams make for better science! Don't be afraid to ask questions and approach people you want to work with, as most scientists are often thrilled to be asked about their work.

Science at Cal connects UC Berkeley STEM researchers with diverse community groups of all ages and backgrounds for science engagement and learning. Caminos de la Ciencia is another effort to bring STEM research to the Spanish-speaking community, with science talks and bilingual hands-on activities available every fourth Tuesday at 5:30 pm PT at the Oakland Public Library (Cesar E. Chavez branch). To learn more about Science at Cal or to join an upcoming event, please visit https://scienceatcal.berkeley.edu/

Photo of Kirsten Isabel Verster Posing for Flyer Graphic

Scientist Kirsten Isabel Verster

Close up Shot of Javier Ceja Navarro

Scientist Javier Ceja-Navarro 

Scientist Juan Carlos Martínez Oliveros Behind the Scenes Shot of Filming

Scientist Juan Carlos Martínez Oliveros 

Ixchel González-Ramírez Mid-Shot

Scientist Ixchel González-Ramírez