“I strongly believe that women can do everything that men can do; therefore, there is a need to encourage women to follow their passion”
As a kid I used to say to my mum that I wanted to be a scientist when I grow up, then I discovered the encyclopaedia of science that my dad had bought us and spent the afternoons after school reading about chemistry, biology and physics feeding my curiosity in understanding how our world and the body works. Since then I’ve had a love for science.
I studied a bachelor of Agro-Industrial engineering at my home country (Colombia) but I decided to leave the comfort of my home to pursue my dreams. I received an Excellence Scholarship to complete a Masters in Biotechnology and Bioinformatics at La Trobe University which gave me the foundations for my PhD in clinical research. Funded through a La Trobe Postgraduate Research Scholarship, my PhD project aimed to identify the health benefits of quinoa seeds consumption on metabolic markers in overweight and obese subjects, following a randomised controlled clinical trial design. This has significantly developed my skills as a clinical trial coordinator and project manager. I have published the main results of this research in the journal Current Development in Nutrition (CDN, 2017) proudly as a first author. This project was very special for me because I could merge my South American roots, studying a crop originated there, with the complexity of clinical trials.
My other passion along with science is performing arts, in fact I was a professional ballerina for 10 years and now I learn circus arts, especially tissue or silk.
What is the biggest barrier you have faced in your career and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge or barrier has been moving to Australia, learning the English language and then furthering my postgraduate education. However, with my determination to study I was able to push myself whilst enjoying research.
What do you think is the most important character trait in a successful scientist?
The most important trait for me is “being curious” always asking why. Critical thinking is also very important, but you can learn this along with research.
What was the key thing that helped you get where you are today.
I think it was a combination of factors. First you should always follow your passion. Second, set up your goals and work towards them. Finally, you need to be persistent, overcoming any obstacles and follow your path.
How do we keep more females engaged in STEMM-related careers?
I think that having role models are crucial. Women in STEMM should be recognised publically for their passion, research, achievements and contributions to society, so the younger generation can identify themselves within these roles. I also think it is necessary to break the old paradigm of gender specific jobs. I strongly believe that women can do everything that men can do; therefore, there is a need to encourage women to follow their passion.
Do you have a mentor? What is the most important piece of advice he has given you?
I have been lucky to be part of the MedTech-Pharma program with the Industry Mentoring Network in STEM (IMNIS). My mentor Greg has been crucial in the latter stages of my PhD life through his advice and encouragement, for example helping me to remain focused whilst writing, highlight the disadvantages and cost of not finishing on time and thus having a privilege position allowing me to look where I want to go.
LinkedIn: Diana Navarro-Perez