In case you didn’t know: STEM is pretty much everywhere! Anywhere we turn, some facet of Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math have made our lives the way it is now. But in fact, there’s more to the field than the usual jobs that come to mind.
In case being a scientist or a doctor isn’t for you, we’re here to list down some of not-so-common STEM careers that may just be your unsung calling.
Ever wonder who gave the green light to your fave makeup? Look no further than Cosmetic Scientists! These specific types of scientistsdevelop and perform trials on the makeup products, toiletries, perfumes, and beauty products we use on a regular basis. One such example in the country is Unilab’s UL Skin Sciences, Inc. (ULSSI), who’s in charge of everyday hygiene products like pH Care, Myra, and more.
Though they may not be part of our vocabulary now, the number of cosmetic chemists is expected to grow in the workforce between 2016 and 2026.
How can I start?
Cosmetic scientists/chemists are likely working on R&D teams of cosmetic companies. If you’re looking for a specific course, Centro Escolar University in Manila is the first and the only university that offers BS Cosmetic Science in the PH.
With food security in the country turning into a food insecurity, the art of learning how to grow food in the modern world is a must. Food technologists combine modern tech and food science to the process of selection, preservation, packaging, and distribution of safe food for everyone!
With the Philippines being abundant with natural resources, food technology can be a key process in helping our farmers bring sustainable food to the table.
How can I start?
Food technologists’ related fields include analytical chemistry, biotechnology, engineering, nutrition, quality control, and food safety management. The University of the Philippines also has a 4-year program in BS Food Technology.
Forestry & Agriculture
Just like with Food Tech, you don’t have to look far to find STEM’s benefits in agriculture and our natural resources.
Remember the typhoons Rolly and Ulysses? It’s widely debated that a thriving Sierra Madre mountain range would haveprevented the extreme floodings. That’s where the role of STEM comes in, as the country’s forestry and agriculture need scientific data to shift public attention to what’s really happening.
How can I start?
The Department of Environmental Resources has its own Forest Management Bureau (FMB), with positions like Forest Management Specialists, Information Analysts, and more. There are also numerous universities offering programs with BS in Forestry.
Did you know that fast fashion is hurting our environment everyday? In exchange for fast and cheap clothes churned out by trendy brands, the Earth is paying the price through the process’ harmful carbon footprint.
That’s where the role of smart clothing technologists/designers comes in, as their job is to introduce innovative advancements in clothing to make the industry sustainable, durable, and of course, still fashionable.
How can I start?
A number of schools offer BS in Clothing Technology, such as SoFA Design Institute, University of the Philippines Diliman, and the Technological University of the Philippines.
Yes, there are archaeologists in the country! With the Philippines having a rich culture taking back thousands of years, our own archaeologists have been discovering artifacts that have made the country a vital research ground on human evolution!
University of the Philippines Diliman offers a complete Archaeological Studies Program, where you can attain your Bachelors, Masters, and Doctorate in the field.
Forensic science, also known as criminalistics, is the role of science during criminal investigations. It isn’t as simple as watching crime shows though, as forensics is a broad field that can range from Forensic anthropologists, Digital forensic examiners, Forensic engineers, Forensic pathologists, and Forensic document examiners.
How can I start?
Most forensic science careers can start from any bachelor’s degree, though a program in Criminology could get you a leg up on working in the scene. The Philippine College of Criminology in Manila offers a wide array of courses, while there are some universities that also offer the course alone.
Forensic science, also known as criminalistics, is the role of science during
The future is now! Being a Robotics Engineer is essentially an interdisciplinary research area between computer science and engineering. The goal of the job is to design intelligent machines that can make human lives easier and safe – more on Sophia the Robot, less ‘I, Robot’.
With the growing need for advanced AI in the future, the field of robotics engineering is also on its way up.
How can I start?
Most forensic science careers can start from any bachelor’s degree, though arobotiq.com says that Electrical engineering is one of the best majors to pursue to help a career in robotics, though you can get started through any related course like Mechanical Engineering, Computer science, Mathematics, or Programming.
Carnivore ecologists study, you guessed it, carnivores! The ecologist part of the job description involves exploring how carnivorous animal and plant species affect each other and their environment. They also research how human-modified landscapes can affect carnivores’ behaviour patterns.
One of the most prominent Carnivore Biologists in the world is Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant. She’s currently studying the ecological and social drivers of human-carnivore conflict.
How can I start?
Since the job is still a rare one in the country, it’s best to start with learning about Ecology as a whole through STEM-related courses and research.
The world moves at a fast pace – and so does the demand for more nuanced workers in pretty much any field.
We can’t predict what’s to come in the next 10 or twenty years, but with today’s new callings like gamer, vlogger, and streamer bringing in new talents and opening new doors, it’s high time for the non-traditional and unusual passions to bloom in STEM too!
It’s not just girls needing each other’s support! Here’s 5 ways men can stand in solidarity with women – because gender equality extends to STEM and beyond.
It’s not just girls that need each other’s support! Men need to have a stand with us in the fight for women empowerment too. While equality and equal representation being the goal, this can’t happen while we live in a patriarchal society that gives men more access than their women counterparts – and men need to realize this too.
With an equal world in mind, here’s how men can become allies.
Start them young!
As much as we hate to admit it, the undermining of women starts out way too young. Seemingly innocent sayings like ‘boys will be boys’ can inflict harmful gender stereotypes on kids and cause them to carry it out until adulthood.
We can change the pattern by introducing little kids to gender-equal forms of media that don’t inflict gender stereotypes or something as simple as explaining these mediums to them at a young age. After all, toxic masculinity isn’t just taught, but honed at home.
Check your privilege
To heal the roots of patriarchy, men also have to be aware of the privilege they have. Though being privileged differs between context and situation, one can’t argue that men have long been given excuses that just won’t slide for women.
leanin.org says that ‘men will apply for jobs when they meet 60 percent of the hiring criteria, while women wait until they meet 100 percent.’ This gap alone shows how male entitlement hurts women in the field – whether men realize it or not.
Hold other men accountable
It’s not enough to keep yourself in check, men have to keep their circle well-aware too. Psychology Today says that most men know that there’s something wrong about speaking about women degradingly, but the pressure to succumb to so-called “locker room talk” makes them incapable of challenging their peers in fear of being shunned.
When in doubt, consider this: you don’t defend women just because they’re wives, girlfriend, mothers, or sisters, but because they’re individual human beings who are worthy of respect.
Join feminist causes
Being an ally doesn’t end with being kind to the girl next to you, men ought to call for equality for women of all walks of life! With that, it’s only fair that allies be informed on the kind of issues women are dealing with – like harassment, unfair wages, misogyny, and more.
Men getting engaged and lending their voice to women advocacies doesn’t just make them better well-rounded allies, it’s also a way to know what they’re standing up for.
Give girls the mic
Lo and behold, the final step that some just can’t seem to overcome: actually giving space to women. With patriarchy being the unspoken cultural norm, it can be a challenge to lend your space for others.
Giving girls the mic also extends to little things like ‘mansplaining’, or talking to women in a degrading way about something they’re actually knowledgeable about. It’s also a huge leap to actually give women credit where the credit is due.
After everything, men have to realize that being an ally is not about them.
Achieving a gender-equal world can only work once we all start getting involved for the better. What we mentioned is only the bare minimum in giving fair wages, opportunities, and removing the longstanding systemic sexism against women – but it can be a start.
Because the truth is: women don’t need anyone to be their saving grace in the fight for equality, men just have to stand back and make it possible for women to shine. It’s about time, anyway.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Listen to Dawn Satumbaga as she unearths her stories as an archaeologist, wiping the dust off of myths about women in STEM!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
STEM doesn’t just happen in the confines of your room or inside a lab! We peek through the Field Notes of these STEM women on the field —and find out what happens right where the action is!
Through these past few months, we’ve gathered notable Pinays, (friendly) girl gangs, and SHS ates that can help us pave the way for our STEM journey. This time around, we’re sharing the spotlight with the women working right where the action is.
These longtime scientists, researchers, and everything-ists have been living the dream—and now, they’re sharing vital ‘field notes’ to us. Who knows? They could well be your mentors someday.
Science Researcher, National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP)
Gracile has been a longtime researcher at the NCHP, involved in the conservation of tangible heritage in the country. Through her multidisciplinary work, the NCHP is able to recognize material and come up with conservation efforts on important artifacts like documents, books, clothes, artworks and furniture in 27 museums.
She pursued STEM not because of the love for Science or Math, but actually because of Jose Rizal! Gracile was inspired by the national hero’s selfless deeds in introducing new medicinal techniques to farmers, tutoring young kids, and studying animals. Since then, cultural heritage conservation has been her calling.
Gracile’s Field Notes on becoming a multidisciplinary scientist
‘Conservation of tangible cultural heritage is multidisciplinary in nature—it cannot be classified as a purely artistic endeavor nor purely scientific because it considers the integrity of the material components a heritage object as well as its historic, artistic and cultural value. I get to work with people coming from different educational backgrounds and experiences, not only within NHCP but also in the communities we are serving.’
Gracile’s Field Notes on her early years
‘I realized that I should go beyond that if I really want to become a good conservation science researcher. For example, if you want to study a painting, it helps if you know how to paint and are familiar with materials used by painters. If you want to document and assess the condition of a vintage terno, you would less likely miss the most important details if you are familiar with garment construction. Until now, I have been taking every opportunity to improve my artistic skills and learn new crafting techniques that might help me in research and conservation work.’
Aiko del Rosario
Marine Scientist, UP MSI Physical Oceanography Laboratory
Aiko is a champ in the field of physical oceanography, as she analyzes the ever-changing physical attributes of the ocean (‘swirls and blobs’ she describes) using satellite data, oceanographic equipment, and high-frequency radars.
She frequently visits the Cagayan coasts for field work, maintaining two radars in monitoring the ocean currents of the Luzon Strait located between Taiwan and the Philippine islands.
Aiko’s Field Notes on being confident on the job
‘I did my first fieldwork [in] February 2018. [We] had to scour the coasts of Cagayan to find a good spot for our ocean monitoring site. Rain or shine, we walked along the coasts of different barangays. I used to fear talking to people I do not know.’
‘These days, I now have a go-bag with a week’s worth of fieldwork clothes in case we need to go to the field to troubleshoot our sites. I am also already used to the locals now and I love every chance I get to talk to them about the science behind the work we do. I also now have a mental map of the place, most of it are places where we get to taste local delicacies!’
Aiko’s Field Notes on the best part of being on the field
‘Doing fieldwork means you have to think on your toes and be present most of the time. We had to make decisions and think of solutions on the spot. One time, we had to lay 500 meters of heavy electrical cable under muddy soil. We did not have a vehicle to pull all of that, so we made a “Pajero”. Basically, we used a carabao with a cart at the back to lay the cables. We also have to be weatherproof. Rain or shine. Day or night.’
Sarah is a Geophysicist who achieved her PhD at Tulane University in Louisiana. She pursued the field because it was a ‘marriage’ of her two favorite fields: Physics and the Earth.
Before she heads on site, Sarah first does most of her work in front of the computer, detecting and extracting earthquake waves using waveform analysis. When she is needed on the field, she’s in charge of installing and maintaining seismometers so they can accurately record incoming earthquakes. She’s since done fieldwork in Tanzania, Kenya, Ecuador, and Galápagos.
Sarah’s Field Notes on doing field work in a different country
‘I was a first year PhD student and new to the US. It all happened so fast and I had to learn most things on the spot in the field. I remember I did not even have the proper gear and they had to drive me over to Walmart to buy some gloves and an extra pair of non-jeans pants. We stayed in a small town and every morning we had to drive a few hours to the middle-of-nowhere where there was nothing but farmland for miles and miles.’
‘Within those few days, I met a lot of interesting people, including many chatty folks. Overall, those few days of fieldwork made quite an impact to me, in terms of learning actual hands-on fieldwork but also in getting to know a bit more of the country I was in. If it hadn’t been for that experience, succeeding fieldwork travels might have turned out different.’
Sarah’s Field Notes on her biggest inspiration
‘The largest contributing factors to my pursuit of STEM are my supportive parents and teachers throughout the years. Thanks to them, my environment growing up was conducive to curiosity-driven pursuits and science. I had volumes of illustrated science books and encyclopedias at home. For some time, my dad grilled me regularly with tedious, repetitive, math exercises until I could quickly do calculations in my head (I did not enjoy those, but I benefited greatly from them).’
‘This might sound trivial to some, but in the simplest sense, one important contributing factor to my pursuit of STEM is that nobody told me I couldn’t.’
She adds, ‘Surround yourself with supportive like-minded people. Reach out to local STEM people that inspire you, they might become your mentor and guide you through your own career. Approach us. We were once novices like you and most of us would jump at an opportunity to help you make an informed decision on whether or not to pursue our field as a career. Ask. Ask questions. Ask for help. Communicate.’
Dr. Aimee Dupo
Entomologist & professor at the Institute of Biological Science, UPLB
Dr. Aimee is an entomologist who graduated in Agriculture, majoring in Entomology, from UPLB back in 1999. She now serves as professor at UPLB, as her work in the classification of insect life earned her the 2015 NAST Outstanding Young Scientist award and the 2017 Bato Balani Many Faces of a Teacher Award.
She started her fieldwork when she served as the University Extension Associate of the UPLB Museum of Natural History, curating samples of spiders and moths for the gallery. With fieldwork being her position’s norm, she shares that there were quite a few days when I was not out on the field.’
Dr. Aimee’s Field Notes on the freedom of field work
‘Going on field always feels like an adventure. You would never know what you are going to discover next. All of your senses are exposed to so many stimuli but at the same time you are also worried about what would happen in case of an accident. Fieldwork tends to bring you to places where hospitals are far away.’
Dr. Aimee’s Field Notes on the power of mentors
‘I had a lot of mentors and colleagues who helped create and enable [the] environment for me to pursue STEM. They pushed and encouraged me to do more because they were that supportive. There were no words like, “You can’t do that,” only, “Try and see what you can learn from it.” More importantly, there was no mention of the concept, “You’re just a girl.”’
Noreen “Kubi” Follosco
Coastal Systems researcher, Marine Environment & Resources Foundation, UP Diliman
Noreen is a researcher working on the resilience of local coastal adaptation, marine protected areas, and ecosystem services in the Philippines. She mostly works as a trainer, developing resources and building capacity on climate change adaptation for coastal communities.
She studied Biology at the University of the Philippines Baguio for her undergraduate degree, and Environmental Science at the Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology at the University of the Philippines Diliman for her master’s.
Noreen’s Field Notes on changing roles on site
‘When I began doing fieldwork, it was mostly for biophysical surveys. For example, I’ve joined surveys for both upland, as well as mangrove, forests. The surveys in mangroves were to better understand how they stabilize the coast, and protect coastal communities.’
‘Over the years, my work transformed into communicating, and finding ways to apply science meaningfully in conservation & management. So, I found myself interacting more with local governments and communities, rather than being in the water (or the mud, as is often the case in mangroves).’
‘I always look forward to what I can learn in the field. Spending time in coastal and fisher communities is an instructive and humbling experience—I’m reminded that I actually know so little. We have much to learn from indigenous and local knowledge.’
Noreen’s Field Notes on the goal of the job
‘In my work, one of the challenges is effectively translating technical information for practical use. A key aim of our work is to transfer knowledge generated through scientific research to settings where people are directly interacting with their environment. My ultimate goal is to build capacity so effectively that the coastal communities (we’ve worked with) can self-sustain, and are empowered to continue sharing the knowledge forward themselves.’
Irene is a jill of all trades in the STEM world, as she’s hailed from the different fields of Physics, Geology, then Geoecology. While attending a workshop on weather radars, she said to herself: “This is it! This is what I want to do.”
Since then, Irene has been in the US focusing on studying the rainfall-measuring instruments called weather radars. She researches the data that weather radars collect, and develops possibilities to reduce errors in measurement and interpretation. Her postdoctoral project involves looking at strong winter storms in the West Coast.
Irene’s Field Notes on the rush of being on site
‘Doing a masters in Geology introduced me to doing fieldworks. It was incredibly exciting, going to different places and being able to physically touch the things I’m studying in their natural location. As a young student then, the added bonus of traveling to obscure locations that I would not have otherwise reached gave a big sense of adventure.’
‘On top of that, I had good company with my labmates. Doing fieldwork with other people forms bonds with them, as you see each other in various modes of being human—from the work mode in planning and coordinating, to seeing each other exhausted from walking all day and carrying rocks or water samples, to knowing what they are like when you’re all hungry and stinky after a long day of work.’
Irene’s Field Notes on fieldwork’s little learnings
‘No two fieldworks are the same. Even if you’re going to the same location twice, to collect the same data (whether it’s rocks, soil, water, temperature), the environment is always changing because nature is unpredictable. But all these challenges also teach you how to adapt to different situations. It teaches you how to be flexible, and to think fast and make quick decisions, and knowing the priority of the group (for example, safety).’
Dr. Deborah is an experienced Geologist with expertise in micropaleontology, biogeochemistry, and paleoclimatology. Her work literally goes way back, as she studies the tiniest of Earth’s fossils to get history’s answers on today’s climate crisis.
Under the University of the Philippine’s National Institute of Geological Sciences, most of her fieldwork happened on land. Later on, she focused on studying marine sediment cores in places like Bohol, Sulu, the Sibuyan sea, and even the Pacific Ocean. With a geologist’s laboratory essentially being “the Earth”, Deborah has literally done her work across the border.
Deborah’s Field Notes on the country’s STEM challenges
‘Of course, there’s always the problem of limited funding allotted for research, or science in general—in the Philippines. When I went abroad for my Ph.D. and eventually for Post Docs, there were a lot of funding grants and opportunities but competition is too high. It’s difficult when you are just beginning to establish a “home” in one place and then realize that you have to move out again. Well, with a lot of opportunities for scientists here, I was never afraid to try anything.’
Deborah’s Field Notes on the thrill of exploring
‘There are a number of exciting parts to being a geologist, especially with my field of specialization: I get to travel to places I never imagine I could ever go to. I have travelled to many Philippine provinces, a number of countries, and oceans. A memorable one was the equator crossing when we were sailing in the Pacific Ocean. Research expeditions at sea for several weeks or months have allowed me to meet and work with fantastic people and scientists onboard, some of them became my mentors and collaborators in my future research endeavors.’
She adds, ‘One example is how I got my Ph.D. position in Germany. I was half-way down my MS degree program when I met this scientist whose papers I’ve been reading for a while. Several months past and I was set that I wanted him to be my Ph.D. supervisor so I wrote an email asking him if by any chance, there will be an open Ph.D. position in his university. He gave me advice and reminded me that even if he already “wanted” me for the position, I still need to convince the other members of the panel that I deserve the position. I got the position.
You cannot work alone. Collaboration and networking are key components of doing science.’
It’s not everyday that we can take a peek into the field notes of our idols, but if their notes could talk, they’d likely say that though every field of work will be difficult, following your passion requires love and passion that just comes easy.
A young public health professional, Erika Modina offers insight into her one-of-a-kind STEM journey!
“I want to shatter the notion that you have to fit a certain criterion to pursue a career here, that you can wear head-to-toe pink and still be taken seriously.
These are the words of Erika Modina, a public health professional from the Philippines.
Growing up, she initially wanted to become a doctor because of her proficiency in science, but more so because she did not realize she had other options as well. While she once considered either working for the government or managing a children’s hospital, she was enlightened to pursue public health research after she graduated from college with a degree in BS Health Sciences. Eventually, she saw to it to enhance her skills and knowledge needed in the field, particularly through further studies. She has since studied in the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the University of London and is completing her Masters of Science in Public Health in the said university.
Despite being well-accomplished, Erika has still had her fair share of difficulties. Having completed her bachelor’s degree in 2016, she is a relatively fresh face in the industry, which sometimes leads people to believe that she is too young or lacks experience. The fields of public health and medicine are still quite traditional in the Philippines, which gives her quite the amount of naysayers who doubt her skills. However, like the headstrong woman that she is, she chose to prevail and simply let her work speak for herself.
Erika finds motivation in knowing the stories of others. Instead of self-help books, she looks to memoirs to appreciate what others have been through which, in turn, makes her excited for her own story to unfold. She encourages women to never hide their accomplishments. Given the current health crisis, her advice is to also use this time to make conversation with other people. “This is the perfect time to reach out to other women you look up to or people you want to work with. Take this time to find your tribe and surround yourself with people who make you kinder and better, not just in your career but in all aspects of your life.”
Her advice to young Pinays? “If one person belittles you, look around–ten more people will be cheering you on.” Each person’s STEM journey is unique. For Erika, it is a journey “towards health equity, lined with peonies, [with] ‘What Dreams Are Made Of’ by Hilary Duff blasting in the background.”
Erika Modina is currently the president of EpiMetrics, Inc., a health research institution geared towards the achievement of health equity through rigorous and creative conception, execution, translation, and communication of health systems and policy research. She is also the Chief Health Officer of Day3 Innovations and a part-time lecturer at Ateneo de Manila University.
Throughout history, women have long been cast in the shadows of their male counterparts—and the same can be said for our Filipina STEM pioneers. Even though we might not know them by name (yet), they’ve undoubtedly paved the way in introducing women in spaces that were once taken up by the men.
Like any worthy superhero, we’re here to get to know their awe-inspiring origin stories—and what we can learn from our STEM founding mothers.
Fe del Mundo, PhD
You might have heard of Fe from her 107th birthday Google Doodle back in 2019. Aside from that, Fe left behind a groundbreaking legacy as the first woman student in Harvard Medical School and first Filipina awarded as a National Scientist.
Also known as ‘The Angel of Santo Tomas’, Dr. Del Mundo spent her life taking care of children, as she founded the first pediatric hospital in the country and established the Institute of Maternal and Child Health.
Dr. Angelita Castro-Kelly
Angelita was first NASA’s first woman physicist—proudly called as MOM, for Missions Operations Manager. She worked in the bureau’s Earth Observing System (EOS) project back in the 1990’s, where she developed overall mission concepts and worked with spacecraft and ground system developers to successfully accomplish NASA missions from Earth.
“I’m the first woman MOM, so I cracked the glass ceiling. Before me, all the MOMs were men,’ she once said. Talk about being everyone’s MOM.
Fritzie Arce-McShane, PhD
Fritzie is a systems neuroscientist and was one of the first Filipina to be granted with not one, but two National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants. She was granted almost $9 billion to enhance human life with her two projects “The neural basis of touch and proprioception in the orofacial sensorimotor cortex”and“The disambiguating natural aging from Alzheimer’s disease through changes in oral neuromechanics”.
An academic through and through, she now serves as a Research Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago, where she also achieved her fellowship back in 2015.
Jenny Anne Barretto, PhD
In 2019, Jenny and two other scientists discovered the largest caldera (volcanic crater) in the world located in the Philippine Rise. With a diameter of 150 km, the newly-discovered Caldera countered USA’s 60 km Yellowstone Caldera.
Taking to her Pinoy roots, Jenny and her fellow researchers dubbed their discovery as “Apolaki Caldera” after Apolaki, the Filipino mythical god of the sun and war.
Dr. Carla Dimalanta
Carla is the country’s sole woman Exploration Geophysicist with a Doctoral Degree. Her contributions in climate change and disaster risk reduction have been implemented in the UP General Education curriculum, with all of the university’s students learning about her and her life’s work.
She was also one of the ten recipients of 2019’s Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos. She now serves as an Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs (Research) at the UP System.
Aletta Yñiguez, PhD
Aletta is a marine biologist who spearheaded the development of the first integrated biophysical models for harmful algal blooms (HAB) in the Philippines. Her research aimed to make computer models to help local communities avoid red tide.
Aletta’s long-term goal is to introduce automated oceanography techniques and real-time models for decision-support systems to create sustainable fisheries in the Philippines. She now works at the UP Marine Science Institute to do just that.
Although their journey might sound daunting, their STEM journeys likely weren’t so different from the rest of us. Thanks to their dedication, grit, and perseverance, we likely wouldn’t be where we are now without these superheroes. And just like them, we too can achieve anything we put our minds to.
A Pinay in the field of electronics engineering, Angelina talks about her ups and downs as a woman in STEM.
Angelina Aquino has had an admiration for math and the sciences since her childhood. As a young girl, Angelina would join math competitions, and it helped that her parents were both engineering graduates who were supportive of this passion of hers. “[My parents] fostered my curiosity about the world, explained new concepts well, and encouraged me to read books and watch documentaries,” says Angelina. Later on, she found herself in a community of like-minded people, particularly during the math competitions at which she would occasionally place and during her years at a science high school. It was then that she found her love for programming.
Although she initially thought she would pursue medicine, through her interactions with her teachers, she later realized that another field was more suited for someone as logical and critical-minded as herself. “I soon realized that I couldn’t imagine myself working in a field without problem-solving, where you encounter questions and are able to break them down into logical, step-by-step solutions.” Eventually, this led her to pursue studies, both a bachelor’s and master’s degree, in engineering.
Her current focus is called natural language processing, or NLP for short. Although people may not realize it, this is something they use daily. To put it simply, NLP makes use of language data, whether it be written or spoken, and this is often used to develop apps such as Siri or Alexa, Google Translate, search engines, spam filters, chatbots, speech recognizers–you name it! An interdisciplinary field, NLP pools together the fields of electrical engineering, computer science, linguistics, and many others.
Angelina hopes for this spirit of collaboration for the local science community since she believes this is how new knowledge is formed. “When you come across a question that hasn’t been answered before and you start finding new answers–now that’s science!” Because of this, there should be more opportunities for women in STEM. While she mentions that the gender gap in the Philippines is relatively smaller compared to other countries, nonetheless, it is a reality that must be overturned for the better. Throughout her years in engineering, she has often heard that this is a man’s field, yet she still persevered and succeeded despite society’s archaic views on the matter.
She has nothing but hope for Pinays in the sciences. “In the future, I envision women to be and feel as welcome in STEM as in any other discipline.” Her advice to young girls is to live curiously and keep asking questions. “Don’t let anyone ever think that you don’t have a place in this field. Like this year’s Nobel Prize laureates in Chemistry, Emanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, you can be trailblazers in your own way.”
Angelina Aquino is currently a Teaching Associate under the Electrical and Electronics Engineering Institute at University of the Philippines. In her spare time, she enjoys singing and listening to choral music, as well as playing video games.