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STEM Pinay of the Month

Biology and Theatre!? The Crossover We Need with Gracetine Magpantay

Crossing over doesn’t only happen in our chromosomes. Lecturer of Genetics Gracetine Magpantay recounts her journey in the sciences–from selecting a course in university because of a Taiwanovela to her teaching career today, with a few detours into the arts along the way!


One thing she was certain of was that she was good at math. The rest, although riddled with uncertainty, led her to her career today. 

Like some commitments in life, people may join for the wrong reasons but stay for the right ones. While there’s nothing exactly wrong with choosing a path because of a television series, it is quite an unusual beginning to a long-term pursuit, much like that of Gracetine Magpantay, a biologist specializing in the field of genetics. She recalls, “Because of a Taiwanovela, I chose Biology when I took the UPCAT. I passed not knowing what the course is really about.” Although a seemingly funny anecdote, this is evidence of a lack of proper career orientations for high school youths in the country, especially those who reside outside of Metro Manila.

Candidly, Gracetine admits to other times she half-heartedly trudged on. “I also did not like Biology in [high school] because it was not taught properly. I was planning to shift to either BS Mathematics or BA Communication Arts when I was in [my second year of university], but I did not want my parents’ money to go to waste, so I pushed through.” Fortunately, she eventually studied Genetics and grew to have an interest in it. Having always been intrigued by life’s mysteries, Gracetine says that studying the building blocks of life made her want to know even more.  

Feeding her curiosity, Gracetine made a career out of the Biology degree she, at first, reluctantly chose. Following her undergraduate degree, she pursued further studies and completed her MS in Genetics, Genetics cognate in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology. She has also contributed to the International Rice Research Institute’s gene editing team, particularly at their C4 Rice Center. 

An advocate for women’s representation in the sciences, Gracetine also cannot deny the pull arts has on people’s decisions. After all, it was a show that got her into Biology in the first place, but beyond the level of fascination, shows can also be used to empower women. As Gracetine puts it, to encourage women to get into STEM, we must “publicize success stories of women in science and create shows about these stories” She also hopes to participate in the production of these shows.  

No stranger to this, Gracetine also has equally impressive credentials in the field of theater. With years of experience under her belt as an actor and, occasionally as a stage manager, costume designer, and makeup artist, she is what one might consider a Renaissance woman, a clever person skilled at many things. Currently, she is balancing studying Theatre Studies with her job teaching Genetics. 

She has also found a way for her passion in the sciences and the arts to intersect. One work co-written by her is Agra, a musical which tackles issues on Philippine agriculture. Centered on the fictitious Siporia, an enhanced rice species, and with a strong female protagonist named Agra, the ethno-fantasy play makes it clear that agriculture is inseparable from the greater society. 

We must empower each other and believe in each other’s capabilities. We must build each other up.

In general, she has high hopes for interdisciplinary projects such as Agra. “My dream is to remarry science and arts as how polymaths did in the Renaissance period. Times are hard, and this is the time to join forces and empower STEAM,” referring to the integration of Arts into STEM. While not everyone can write a play and, at the same time, teach Genetics, anyone can enter the field of STEM. As Gracetine puts it, “We must empower each other and believe in each other’s capabilities. We must build each other up.”  

Her advice to girls who doubt themselves is simple: “You can!”


Gracetine Magpantay teaches Genetics at Lyceum of the Philippines University in Laguna. She is also the Secretary General for Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD). Currently, she is pursuing her Masters of Arts in Theatre Arts (Theatre Studies) in University of the Philippines Diliman. 

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STEM Pinay of the Month

Chemis-trying to Find Your Element with Herdeline Ann Ardoña

As the saying goes, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate! Learn how to make STEM a better place for women from materials chemist and professor, Herdeline Ann Ardoña.


“Developing biomaterials with optical and electronic functionalities that are compatible with excitable cells such as cardiomyocytes”–does this sound like a mouthful? For materials chemist Herdeline Ann Ardoña, there’s more to science than the textbooks and the big, highfalutin words. To her, the sciences are where different worlds collide and collaborate to make things better for others. (Speaking of which, those long words are what her team currently does! More on that later.)

Herdeline’s STEM journey began with her love of Chemistry. She mentions that while it was unusual to imagine a young girl as a scientist, she took a leap of faith despite it not being the popular choice for people like her.  She recalls, “I liked how Chemistry has so many branches—each of them is very different from one another, but all of them are towards understanding the fundamental properties and reactivity of matter. That is remarkably interesting to me.” She mentions that her interest grew while she was doing hands-on research. She learned so much from this—from organic chemistry to its applications in biomaterials engineering, this has trained her to take a more transdisciplinary approach in her lab work, as well as solving questions in science and engineering.

The sciences are so diverse that even within one field of study, there are still so many smaller branches and interests under it. This collaborative energy between and within fields is one of the things Herdeline loves the most about the world of STEM. “In graduate school, I was incredibly happy to be in an environment where interdisciplinary research is fostered.” Up to this day, she still carries the same team spirit in her current work. Remember the first words of this article? To make those a bit more digestible, her team’s task is to control cell/tissue behavior—a crossover between chemistry, engineering, and biology!

Taking a look at Herdeline’s upbringing, it’s no surprise how she ended up studying chemistry. With a mother who studied biology, now a nurse, and a grandmother who is a chemical engineer, Herdeline was raised in an environment that taught her that women have a place in the sciences. She says, “It had so much impact on me to see, from a young age, a woman working in STEM. “ Because of this, she never saw her gender as a hindrance to her work, yet some other factors made it a bit harder for her to get to where she is today. 

“One of the hindering factors for Filipino researchers is the limited availability of funding to support STEM research, as well as the facilities and equipment required to conduct research.” For this reason, Filipino scientists often look elsewhere and seek opportunities abroad to get proper hands-on training. Herdeline also mentions that there are so many skilled and talented scientists and researchers in the Philippines who are not fortunate to have the same resources. She expresses her hopes by saying, “This experience is something that equally talented undergraduates back home do not necessarily get. I wish that this situation will change eventually.”

However, not all hope is lost. She also gives credit to online avenues (and even gives our blog a little shoutout!) in inspiring aspiring Filipino scientists to take on the path to succeeding. “Platforms such as Pinays Can STEM should be continuously supported so that young Pinays can learn about the different trajectories that one can take to be successful in a STEM career.”

Always remember that those successes will not only serve you but can also open the doors for the next generation of girls behind you.


Knowing the stories of others can truly give us a better look at what options we have, but Herdeline also conversely says that our journeys could help others make sense of theirs as well. “There is no single, best path for girls who want to pursue a career in STEM. It is up to you to find and follow the path where you’ll be most excited. This is not an easy career path, but it is your enthusiasm towards small steps that will lift you towards bigger successes. Always remember that those successes will not only serve you but can also open the doors for the next generation of girls behind you.”


Herdeline Ann Ardoña is a materials chemist hailing from Valenzuela City, Philippines. She completed her BS in Chemistry at the University of the Philippines, Diliman and received her PhD in Chemistry at Johns Hopkins University, funded by Schlumberger Foundation and Howard Hughes Medical Institute. For 3 years, she was an ACS Irving Sigal Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor at the University of California, Irvine Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

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STEM Pinay of the Month

Arti-facts Only! Digging Deep into Archaeology with Dawn Satumbaga

Listen to Dawn Satumbaga as she unearths her stories as an archaeologist, wiping the dust off of myths about women in STEM!

Dawn holding her shovel during her fieldwork in Catanauan (2018).

Doctors, scientists, environmentalists. It seems that everyone in the sciences has it all figured out. For our featured Pinay of the Month, however, her career has admittedly had somewhat of a late start. “Some people already know what they want early in life and plan it out carefully until they specialize—that’s not me,” says Dawn Satumbaga, a Pinay in the field of archaeology. “I went through a math course in college, pursued archaeology for my Masters, and am currently taking Environmental Science for my Ph.D., so it’s okay to start a bit late! But what has always been constant in all this is the drive to learn new things.”

During her undergraduate years, while Dawn majored in math, she also took a minor in English literature. Her curiosity has also led her to other places both local and international. During her masters, she had been invited to join the prehSEA project in Palawan, Philippines, which eventually gave her the chance to do similar work abroad. With funding from the French Embassy, she underwent training and attended lectures and seminars at the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle in Paris, France. Throughout her stint as an archaeologist, her favorite field activity is surveying for sites because it takes her to new places, yet her favorite site is back home in the Philippines, specifically in Callao Cave. “It’s because of the beautiful river we get to swim in every day, and it’s also where I did my thesis!”

Aside from being motivated by curiosity, Dawn also gives credit to her supportive upbringing. Growing up, she had an encyclopedia set which spurred her hunger for learning. While living in the province proved to have its downsides, she also mentions that living in an environment close to nature made her more keen to the phenomena around her. Her family has also been nothing but supportive throughout shifts in her career, while the Archaeological Studies Program community in the University of the Philippines Diliman was also greatly accommodating.

Taking soil samples in Tabon Cave back in 2013.

Dawn reflects on the journey she has had with STEM so far. “When I think about it, I might not have made these leaps and planned out my education early on if I had better exposure to different STEM fields and career options.” Although she is lucky to have explored various fields and gone where her curiosity has led her, she also mentions some factors which may make it a bit harder for people like her to find a steady path in the sciences.

Dawn backfilling in Aklan back in 2014.

She brings up the lack of career counseling for scientifically inclined youths, particularly in the provinces. “I’m not sure what the situation is like in Metro Manila, but in the province where I grew up, there were hardly any career talks or fairs for high school students to explore and make more informed decisions.” Because the sciences are so diverse and there are a lot of things under the sun one may study, not having proper career counseling makes it difficult for people to know their options.

STEM is for everyone with a curious or innovative mind, regardless of gender.

The second factor she mentions is the systemic changes that have yet to come, particularly for women in the field. Archaeology is often associated with treasure hunting or wild adventures to exotic and cursed spaces, but it is a discipline that involves rigorous cultural studies and the hard sciences to make sense of our human past. While archaeology is popularized through thrill-seeking males, real archaeology has a diversity of women both in the field and in the laboratories. While it is easy to envision a future where women are celebrated in STEM, Dawn says that “there are still many things that we need to work on, like normalizing breastfeeding, work-from-home arrangements to allow mothers to spend time with their children, creating child-friendly workplaces, and understanding and creating safe spaces to talk about women’s health issues that could affect work like PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and dysmenorrhea.” Indistinct yet common to women in the field, there is much to work on in both discussing and addressing gender-based harassment. If systems were more enabling and understanding, then, Dawn bravely claims, women can rise to their fullest potential.

Dawn analyzing soil samples in the lab. Taken back in 2015.

Curiosity is the core of science, and this is what makes it exciting, but seeing it work and help others is what makes it worthwhile.

Dawn also calls on Pinays who want to follow in her footsteps. “In asking for equality, fairness, and respect, don’t forget to give the same to others. Good science is a team effort so it’s important to help others and ask for help when you need it. You have an important role, but so do others, so have faith in yourself, but don’t lose faith in other people, because Pinays can STEM just as much as anyone can!”


Dawn Satumbaga spent four years teaching World Archaeology and Heritage in the University of the Philippines Diliman, where she is currently taking her PhD in the Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology. She is  also a faculty member of the Environmental Science Department in Ateneo de Manila where she hopes to integrate the natural sciences with archaeological research.

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STEM Pinay of the Month

A Deep Dive into Marine Biology with Jean Utzurrum

Writing, doing field work, and sometimes teaching people how to swim—marine biologists do it all. Hear from Jean, one of our most passionate Filipina marine biologists.


Jean at the Visayas SEA camp talking about sharks and showing their published field guide.

Although already well-accomplished in the field of marine biology, Jean would describe her journey in STEM as never-ending. Having completed her bachelor’s and currently undergoing graduate studies, she initially never considered becoming a scientist. For various reasons, Jean felt limited to a life in academia or working for an environmental NGO after completing her bachelor’s degree. In graduate school, she saw a world beyond science where research leads to policies and action. It was then she realized that the sciences are far from fruitless.

While passionate in her pursuit of science, Jean admits to occasionally having to meet halfway between career and practicality. “There have been many times when I’ve had to re-prioritize research goals to favor jobs that pay more. Sometimes when I’m in between jobs I’ll even do some freelance as a swim instructor and writer. It’s during these between days that I’ll find myself reevaluating a career in STEM.” Although surrounded by supportive friends and family who are nothing but encouraging, the reality of having to make a living is something she also considers.

However, Jean has definitely made some notable strides in her field. She found her niche in the study of elasmobranchs, or sharks and rays as known by many. This eventually gave her the opportunity to work with the Silliman University’s Marine Laboratory Museum and their extensive collection of chondrichthyan, or cartilaginous fish, specimens, and become the co-author of the field guide. Recently this year, she was also invited to virtually participate in regional IUCN Red List Assessment Workshops for 126 species of sharks and rays in Southeast Asia.

I’ve been fortunate to have worked with and be mentored by fellow women in STEM throughout my career, and to have lived in a university town like Dumaguete City with world-renowned Filipino women scientists as role models (Dr. Hilconida Calumpong, Dr. Louella Dolar, and my aunt, Dr. Ruth Utzurrum among others).

Jean considers herself lucky because opportunities like these are hard to come by in the sciences. Beyond gender, there are other factors such as lack of opportunities, as mentioned by Jean. “Gender has not been a hindering factor, to say the least. In my case, the lack of long-term employment opportunities in the field of marine biology has been the main factor.” On a more serious note, she does acknowledge the gender gap in STEM. While it might not be as extreme a case here in the Philippines, it is still the reality of today’s time. “Sexism and harassment have not hindered my pursuit of STEM. But it exists. It happens. It can be very tiring, stressful, and traumatizing to deal with.” Nevertheless, she finds hope in initiatives to make safer spaces for women to blossom in the field.

Because of this, she is optimistic about the future of women in the sciences. “Visible, loud, and accepted.” This is how she envisions women in STEM. “You can be anything you work to achieve. It’s okay to have days when you doubt yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask questions —keep being inquisitive and curious!”

Jean Utzurrum is a marine biologist who is finishing her master’s degree in Siliman University where she also completed her undergraduate studies. While she currently works freelance, her previous field research experiences include coral reef restoration, coral reef and mesophotic fishes, and fisheries. She has volunteered with Reef Check Philippines and the World Wildlife Fund and also served as an elasmobranch specialist for the Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines.