Categories
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. 

Categories
STEMpower

Like Mother, Like Daughter: Meet the STEMoms and daughters!

It’s true when people say that parents are the first roles of support that kids need. Even when we haven’t realized it yet as kids, it’s through our moms and dads that we see the best versions of ourselves. 

For all moms’ special day today, we’re doubling up our STEM stories with these inspiring mother-daughter pairs in STEM. They share how they started out in the field, how to raise a daughter in STEM, and of course, their own Mother’s Day dedication cards to celebrate the season! 


MD Duo: Missy & Mia Santiago

Mama Missy is a registered Dermatology consultant and Medical Director, while daughter Mia is a 4th year Med Student at UST.  As two women in the medical field, Missy and Mia love sharing stories with each other and relating in terms of being on the field.  

Through her mom’s love and support, Mia hopes to someday practice her craft in rural areas and make medical care accessible in the country’s far flung areas. 

STEM Sparks 

MISSY: During my time, there was no STEM strand, and no SHS. But my interest in the field of science began very early in life through my role model, my Godparent who was a doctor. As early as 4, I envisioned myself to be a doctor and held on to this vision until it was fulfilled. 

MIA: Both of my parents are medical doctors and they brought me and my siblings with them to work, conventions, and medical missions when we were younger so I had an idea what it was like to be a doctor. During college, I attended a community service project in Samar where I met our fellow kababayans who needed medical services. I felt helpless not knowing how I could help, and that encounter sparked my interest in STEM. I wanted to help out in the future as a medical doctor. 

Supporting STEM daughters 

MISSY: Getting her involved in our activities helped. We brought her and our other children (3 boys) to our conventions so that they get to realize that it’s not all work but a balance of career advancement, lifelong learning, work, and fellowship.  

We allow our daughter to witness the work that goes into preparations, and allow her to help in composing her dad’s online virtual messages and powerpoint presentations. Our children grew up interacting with doctors. We also encouraged them to attend the hospital Christmas parties, important milestone events like anniversaries, and some departmental meetings to make them have a feel of management and administrative issues.  

MIA: Mom was there for me in all of my ups and downs in medical school, but I think allowing me to openly talk about my options and giving me the freedom to decide if I wanted to pursue medicine played a vital role in the pursuit of my STEM dreams. Both of my parents are medical doctors, but I didn’t want that to be the reason for me to enter medical school. By giving me the space and freedom to see if I really wanted to be a doctor, I was able to find my “why” for wanting to pursue medicine which has helped me power through several times. After more than 3 years of saying “Ayoko na” and then remembering my “why” this medical student is now a clerk and is hoping to graduate this 2021 in pursuit of her STEM dream. 

Mother’s Day Card


My mom, my compass: Winnie & Kaia Diola

Sometimes, all we need is a little push—and the Mother-Daughter tandem of Mommy  Winnie and Kaia Diola prove just that. As an Education Technology Coordinator and Science Teacher from De La Salle Santiago Zobel School, Mommy Winnie always knew that Kaia had something STEM-cial in her. 

After pushing her daughter to try out different fields through the years, a keen interest to join the DLSZ  Robotics Club inspired Kaia to opportunities she never thought possible, as the 8th grader has now represented the Philippines in numerous competitions in China, Japan, and more. Kaia was even dubbed as one of 2018’s ‘Wyeth Kid Innovators’. 

Aside from being the loving mother-daughter team they are, their relationship is also like a ‘tour guide and tourist’, as Winnie has always let Kaia freely explore her path and see the possible paths before her. “Just like how a tour guide brings you places and guides you all the way, my mom has brought me in STEM and continues to watch over me as time goes by,” Kaia shares. 

STEM Sparks 

WINNIE: I think that growing up on the farm is what started my interest in STEM. The environment made me discover the joy of experimenting and inventing different things with whatever materials I could find. When I was 9, I learned how to cook “sinigang” by gathering ingredients found in our backyard and using collected twigs to create fire and light up my family’s make-shift stove made up of 3 big stones. 

Testing out stuff and experimenting like that truly filled me with joy. While I may not be making “bahay-kubos” or scarecrows anymore, the fun I had while growing up on a farm is what led me to becoming interested in creation and experimentation or what otherwise is the foundation of STEM. 

KAIA: When I enrolled into DLS-Zobel at the age of 5, my mom was teaching Grade 5 Science classes and Beginner Robotics classes. Over the years, I got used to being surrounded by science, math, and robotics. However, my first true exposure to really learning robotics was when my mom held a summer workshop for programming and building NX3 kits. My mom making me sit in the class is what gave me the opportunity to learn robotics for the first time. I came to love programming over the course of the week-long workshop. The rush of joy I would get when I was able to finish all the tasks without the help of anyone else felt amazing. From then on, I continued to follow robotics so I could feel the same happiness.

Supporting STEM daughters 

WINNIE: I always wanted my daughter to find her passion. I wanted to be able to support her so that she could enjoy herself to the fullest. Even when she seemed uninterested in anything in particular, I pushed her to try out new things. When I saw she started taking interest in STEM and robotics, I did everything I could to teach her and show her more about it. I invited her to join robotics clubs and convinced her to try out for the robotics team.  

KAIA: My mother motivated and pushed me to do things outside of my comfort zone. She would always try and make me experiment with new things from a young age so that I would find something I would be able to pour my passion into. At first, I didn’t even like STEM or programming or anything of the sort. I just wanted to play with Legos and video games. But she gave me that push I needed that let me try something I never thought I could do.

Mother’s Day Card


The doctor & the marine biologist: Dr. Regina & Mia Berba

UP General Alumni Homecoming, 2018.

Regina and Mia aren’t just similar because of their rhyming names, as this mother-daughter duo are on the same boat when it comes to their STEM aspirations.  

Dr. Regina is an Infectious Disease specialist and head of Philippine General Hospital’s Infection Control Unit. Meanwhile, Mia is currently finishing her undergraduate degree in Biology at the University of the Philippines Diliman, where she’s planning to become a marine biologist. 

STEM Sparks 

DR. REGINA: I finished high school at the Philippine Science High School so it felt like there was no other choice in life but to be in a Science track. As a student, I was always awed when I stumble onto understanding some concepts within the mysteries of life sciences- they seem to put everything else into perspective of life and just how beautifully they intertwine into the mysteries of God’s creations. So even when there was a choice- like when I was applying for UPCAT, there was no other course that interested me other than the science courses. 

MIA: We had a lot of encyclopedias and Science books growing up. One literary series I remember fondly was “A Child’s First Library of Learning” by Time-Life Books. The series had books focusing on many topics in science but I would always go for the ones about the natural environment, especially animals. As I learned how to read better, I started to go through these books more thoroughly to understand exactly what those pictures and drawings represent. I believe I was naturally curious at a very young age, but it was through reading these kinds of books as a child that first sparked my interest in STEM, particularly in Life Sciences. 

Supporting STEM daughters 

DR. REGINA: When the kids were growing up, we parents naturally tried to expose them to as many things to see what would interest them—so things like musical instruments (piano), dancing (ballet), sports (football). I am glad she took into liking and loving the ocean when we signed them up to be junior divers and all the way to advanced divers. We try to support things she would like to try out for- like when she thought studying abroad would be something she wanted to do—then yes my dear child- you have my blessing!  

MIA: While my mom has always done her best to support me, I think the most significant role she has played in my pursuit to becoming a scientist has been setting herself as an example on how to break the stereotype on women in STEM. To be honest, growing up with my mom as a physician, I never thought of my gender as a hindrance to achieving my STEM dreams, even when I was a child. STEM has always been a part of my life and in my family, I was never told to choose a career that was “more suitable” for women. Instead of gender, I grew up learning that the more important things to consider in choosing and pursuing a career in STEM is what I am passionate about, what my goals and plans are, and how much effort I’m willing to put to achieve my dreams. In fact, with passion and determination, women can not only pursue STEM but thrive in it as well

Mother’s Day Card


The student and the master: Dra. Paulette & Sophia Villegas

Another entry in our inspiring mother-daughter MD tandem is Dra. Paulette Villegas, an obstetrician & gynecologist and her daughter, Sophia, a third year medical student in the UST Faculty of Medicine and Surgery.  

Despite their professions being a pretty serious one, the duo both describe their own relationship as fun as they’re more of shopping buddies (sharing the same size clothes too) rather than study buddies! Nevertheless, Sophia took inspiration from her mom likewise following her passion and not pressuring her daughter to do the same, as it simply coincidentally led her to the same path.  

Right now, Sophia aims to finish her studies and succeed in every doctor’s goal: “to help people and to save lives”—with her best friend/mom right by her side

STEM Sparks 

DRA. PAULETTE: I grew up with my father as a surgeon, and I saw how he was curing sick people and helping the poor. He inspired me to do likewise. 

SOPHIA: My mom said so. Kidding! Science was always my favorite subject growing up, and it was something I was good at. Add that to the fact that my mom is a doctor too, so I saw a way to put my love for science to good use. 

Supporting STEM daughters 

DRA. PAULETTE: When [Sophia] was in high school, because she was always doing well in her science subjects, and she seemed to be enjoying it! If truth be told, I may have sparked the interest in her, but unlike other children of doctors, she did not need any convincing. She just did things by herself. It came naturally. 

SOPHIA : I think for the most part, it was just watching her go about her job as a doctor. I would go to work with her as a kid and she would explain different cases and procedures to me, but aside from that, she just let me pursue this path on my own. She never really tutored me or helped me academically, she kinda just let me figure out what I was interested in–and it just so happened to be science, and ultimately, medicine.

Mother’s Day Card


Sister goals: Mama Madel & Joanna and Jella Carillo

Mama Madel is a member of the Research & Development team at the UL Skin Sciences, Inc. (ULSSI)  group, as she’s been continuously expanding her role to a bigger Technical Team in the company. 

Like their mother,  Joanna and Jella Carillo (nope, they’re not twins!) are the cream of the crop in their own right. Joanna is studying to be a doctor as she’s currently a 6th year INTARMED student at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine (UPCM). The 7-year course is a special program exclusive for the top 20 UPCAT passers in the country. After finishing medicine proper, Joanna has her eyes on specializing in Surgery and Otorhinolaryngology (study of the ear, nose, and throat). 

Jella is a Category Manager for food delivery app Foodpanda. She finished her Masters in Data Science and Business Analytics at ESSEC Business School in France. Equipped with her STEM skills, she hopes to be a leader in the Data Analytics field one day

STEM Sparks 

MADEL: A big influence to my inclination in STEM was my grandma. She hung her children’s grad photos in our old family library and repeatedly told stories about how they were able to establish successful technical careers overseas from their humble beginnings. So as a kid, I said to myself that maybe someday, I can be like them, too. 

JOANNA: I think we breathe math and science in the family. My parents taught me at an early age. Even before entering grade school, my older siblings were great role models for me, too. As the youngest, I witnessed them ace Math and Science contests, so I also studied hard in those subjects. When I got invited to join competitions as well, I felt so happy. My love for science was cultivated even more when I entered Philippine Science High School. During my stay there, I initially wanted to take up the same course as my mom’s, which is Chemical Engineering, but I later realized that my real love is the field of medicine. 

JELLA: My interest in STEM started when I was in grade school. My parents were really hands-on with helping us study. That gave me and my siblings the boost we needed to excel in science and math and be further interested in these subjects. Encouragement from my family and from my teachers I believe, played a key part in sparking my interest in STEM. It also helped that my talents were nurtured from a very young age. Eventually, when I started working, my work involved more and more numbers, which I grew to be very comfortable handling.

Supporting STEM daughters 

MADEL: Learning stimulates greater hunger for learning. What my husband and I did with our kids was to start the learning early. We started tickling their imagination when each of them turned 1 year old. As toddlers, we surrounded them with books and posters that stimulated their imagination on how things work. We had math games at home.

This eventually allowed them to join competitions that further increased their interest in Math and Science. Win or lose, we congratulated them for doing their best. In the case of my children, they were fortunate to get into Pisay. Aside from the scholarship, Pisay really nurtured their inclination in Science and Math. One thing we were careful about was not to compare our kids with each other. Although they are all good in Math and Science, every person is unique and we value that uniqueness. Now that they are mature enough (both in their early 20s), it is the other way around. I learn a lot from them more than they learn from me. It’s normal to hear medical jargons and show medical ebook photos over dinner. 

JOANNA: My mom has been supportive of my dreams since day 1. I remember that she would tutor me almost everyday when I was in grade school—she was very hands-on during my formative years, and I believe that made a huge impact on me.

JELLA: [Mom] played a driving role. Without her, I would not have taken an interest in STEM in grade school. If not for her, I would not have gone to Philippine Science High School, which is also a pivotal point in my life that helped me pursue a STEM career path. She also sets a great example in her career, as my siblings and I have seen that the path that Mom has taken is a viable one and can lead to success with the right attitude and mindset.

Mother’s Day Card


Parents just aren’t our first teachers, they’re also our lifelong support systems when it comes to learning the ropes in the world—and there’s just something refreshing about seeing not one, but two women of STEM in a single family. Role models also have a huge impact in a girl’s STEM dreams—and it pays to have a mom who’s always one call away!  

Whether or not you choose to carve out your own path or take inspiration from her, let’s all give our moms a big hug today for molding us into the women we are now! 

Categories
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.

Categories
STEMpower

I CAN: Bloom Where I Grow

Within every girl is the power to turn the “I cans” to “I haves”.  International Women’s Month may be over but we’re still here to lend some valuable ‘I CAN’ phrases to help us girls to not just bloom where you’re planted, but bloom where you belong.


The excitement and anticipation of discovering who you are and the kind of woman you want to be is one of the best parts of being a teen girl.  After all, this is the moment where anything and everything can happen (No pressure, though!)

Though everyone’s journey is different, we’re here to lend some valuable ‘I CAN’ phrases to help girls not just bloom where you’re planted, but bloom where you belong.


I can curate my social media POV

Social media may seem like a sprawling scary space, but the truth is we can have the power to curate what we actually want to see in our feeds. A timeline can become a safe space if you follow the interests you deem worthy and filter the negativities out. Who knows, you might slowly build your own advocacies and start your own initiatives!

So don’t be afraid to explore, there’s tons of communities out there that can connect girls to girls – like hey, Pinays Can STEM!

I can invest in myself

Now more than ever is the best time to hone your skills! Whether it be in STEM or not, as a teenager, you have loads of time to try out new hobbies, find your tribe, and get to know what you really want.

Growing up is a series of trial and error anyway, so don’t be afraid to give your interests a shot! You’ll never know what can turn into a true calling.

I can be financially aware

We get it, money’s not a particularly fun topic. People either treat it lightly or shy away from the conversation altogether. But for young girls, something as simple as learning about saving and budgeting can give you confidence for the future. 

With as many as 51.2M Filipinos not having a savings account, it’s high time we start being smart with $$$, even if it’s just through being aware of where it goes right now.

P.S. Just a tip, maybe it’s time to show interest in your math subjects too! *wink*

I can trust the process

Following your dreams will be a bumpy road, but you have to understand that nothing good ever comes easy. When in doubt, remember that there’s no need to compare your growth with others—we all have different paths at the end of the day.

As Nobel Prize-winning cytogeneticist Barbara McClintock puts it, “If you know you are on the right track, if you have this inner knowledge, then nobody can turn you off.”

I can accomplish my dreams

As cliche as it may sound, we all know there’s a purpose inside of us just waiting to be discovered. Yet it’s not as simple as following your dreams, you have to consistently hustle and put in the work as you grow up. 

Luckily, within each girl lies the dedication and determination to achieve anything they set their minds to—we just need to trust ourselves along the way.


There’s no blueprint on how to become your own person, but believing in your capabilities is the first step in finding who you are and what you’re meant to achieve. Though there may be odds stacked against women in the field now, the world is still depending on the new generation of teen girls to turn all the ‘I cans’ to ‘I haves’!


Here in Pinays Can STEM,  we build every Pinay’s confidence in STEM while providing a platform for them to be the best version of themselves.

Have a story to share? Let’s celebrate together, because YOU CAN.

Submit to our A Life Well-Lived series, which is a monthly celebration of every Pinay’s journey in STEM. Grounded on UL Skin Science’s messaging “A Life Well-Lived”, we encourage women to live their best life by pursuing their dreams, no matter how big or small.

Stay updated through our newsletter! If you’re interested in partnering with us, you may reach us at pinayscanstem@gmail.com or through our Facebook and Instagram pages.

Categories
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.

Categories
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.