Women of STEM

A profile series highlighting women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

Bianca Rodríguez-Cardona, Graduate Student and Doctoral Candidate at the University of New Hampshire

Bianca Rodríguez-Cardona, Graduate Student and Doctoral Candidate at the University of New Hampshire

Bianca Rodríguez-Cardona, Graduate Student and Doctoral Candidate at the University of New Hampshire

Connect with Bianca on Twitter or Instagram

What do you do?

I study aquatic biogeochemistry where I focus on the relationship between organic matter (a major energy source for aquatic organisms) and nitrogen (an important nutrient source in aquatic systems) in streams in the arctic and the tropics.

When I am on campus, my days usually involve working in the lab analyzing samples, doing data analysis, or working on a paper. Days when I get to be out in the field are a lot more fun. I typically spend most of the day by a stream collecting samples where I reach the stream by foot, car, boat, or helicopter at more remote study sites.

What is the most exciting part of what you do?

One of the most exciting parts of my research is the opportunity to work in very diverse systems. My research has allowed me to travel to Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, central Siberia, and southwest Alaska as well as work in New Hampshire and Maine. All of these different systems span longitudinal gradients in which the characteristics of the streams vary widely. One of the stream chemistry parameters that is most exciting for me is dissolved organic carbon (DOC) which is the major energy source for aquatic organisms. These different systems that I have been able to work in span a DOC gradient from 1 - 40 mg/L!! That is very very cool!

How did you become interested in your field?

I was involved in a pre-college science program for high school students where my first research project was studying the water quality of the outlet of a major reservoir in Puerto Rico. This experience got me very interested in science and motivated me to continue participating in similar programs throughout high school as well as summer research opportunities when I as an undergraduate student.

Did anyone inspire you to get active in STEM or help you along the way?

My mentors in the pre-college program as well as summer research opportunities helped me determine at a young age that I wanted to pursue a career in something science and math related. However, most of the research experiences I was a part of as an undergrad I found myself and carved my own path. Not because someone told me that is what I needed to do to get into grad school but because I felt like I needed it, but also I enjoyed doing the work.

What kinds of challenges did you overcome/face to get to where you are now?

As a minority and female in a STEM field, it's sometimes tough to be one of the few females in a male-dominated field. But I think I have been lucky in that all the mentors/advisers/colleagues I have had throughout my career, which have been mostly men, have never made me uncomfortable or "boxed me in" for being a female or even because I am Hispanic. Or at least, they have not been overly explicit about it that I have noticed. I do get the occasional comment of "wow, your English is very good, I can hardly detect an accent.”

As an undergrad I always participated in research programs which provide stipends for students and that helped me pay for my undergraduate tuition. As a grad student I have been lucky to be supported through different assistantships and grants so I have been lucky that I have not faced any financial hardships that made impede me in my career. (Knock on wood it stays that way!)

My family has also been very supportive throughout my career. Granted they still have no idea what is that I do ("she does something with water") but they are supportive nonetheless.

Hopefully this does not come off as pompous, but I think I have genuinely been really lucky or blessed to have always encountered good people throughout my developing career that have helped me move forward in a positive way.

What advice would you give a high school student looking to go into your field?

Get involved in activities related to what you're interested in and even get involved in things that you're not sure about. Weed out what you are and are not interested in. Basically, get out there, get involved, and try.

Another suggestion not so much for students, but for high school science and math teachers, is to reach out to local universities, research groups, companies, etc. and invite professors and students to their classrooms. That way students can have an idea of what a career in STEM looks like.

One thing students should keep in mind is to not be afraid to fail; even the most successful person in ANY field has failed at some point. We all get rejection letters. If you're worried about "I'm not good enough” or “I won't get it," you'll never try. You'll be surprised at what you can actually accomplish and are capable of. As cliche as it might sound, it's true. I have experienced it firsthand.


 

Osnat Katz, Master of Physics Student at the University of Manchester

Osnat Katz, Master of Physics Student at the University of Manchester

Carina Laroza, STEM Communicator at Scienkidfic Xplorers, based in the Philippines

Carina Laroza, STEM Communicator at Scienkidfic Xplorers, based in the Philippines