My interest in science and conservation began on an island surrounded by the blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. I spent my weekends hiking, camping, and cave exploring, and developed an interest in the ocean while getting SCUBA-certified. This led me to pursue a degree in Marine Sciences at the University of Florida. At the time, I had little direction for my academic and professional future. This changed in my sophomore year, when I took a brand-new course titled Introduction to Natural History Museums, created and taught by Adania Flemming. I knew about museums before the class, but I never realized that people could work in them as scientists, much less people like me. With this behind-the-scenes glimpse into the world of museums, I began to understand the role of collections as libraries of biodiversity and their importance to our understanding of past and present life. This class compelled me to continue working at the museum, hoping to expand my knowledge of natural history collections.
However, despite many opportunities to engage in the scientific process as an undergrad, I always felt like an outsider in the sea of whiteness, where I was one of the two BIPOC students in my cohort. My experience as an aspiring scientist led me to assimilate into “white academia”. I shortened my name, and downplayed my Puerto Rican heritage, my blackness, and my sexuality, becoming a shell of myself.
Regardless of my negative experiences, I could not shake my love for science. With the support of my mentor, one of the only Black women at the Florida Museum of Natural History and the only other one in Ichthyology, I explored other opportunities and earned a position in the 2019 cohort of the Smithsonian’s REU program. During that summer, I collaborated with other diverse young scientists who embraced their identities, and learned that I did not have to suppress parts of myself to be a scientist. I returned to Florida with a new outlook on life, but found yet another paid position I had expressed interest in filled by another white-presenting male with comparable experience to my own. I later learned that I had not been considered for that position – years of volunteering, maintaining a high academic standard while employed part-time, and an internship at one of the most prestigious museums in the world meant absolutely nothing. I eventually earned various positions at the FLMNH, working in the Environmental Archaeology and Ichthyology collections, the oVert project, and the front desk throughout my last year in Florida.
During the fall semester of 2020, I began looking at graduate schools and applied, excited to pursue a career as a scientist in the field of natural history. I eventually declined a fully-funded graduate admissions offer. I could not stay within a system that continued to devalue my very humanity and willfully ignore the concerns of people like me. My experiences as a BIPOC student in academia have made me realize that a traditional, linear path to becoming a scientist is not for me.
I moved to Boston on a whim about two months ago. I’m currently working as the MOS en Español Fellow at the Museum of Science as part of a diverse group of educators developing and presenting educational science programs in person and online. We’re also working on developing similar programs for spanish-speaking audiences. On top of that, I’m also a graduate student at Simmons University, pursuing a Master’s degree in Library and Information Sciences with a concentration in Cultural Heritage. I want to learn more about how museums, archives, and other cultural institutions can collaborate and engage with diverse and historically excluded communities in significant ways. I don’t know what the next few years have in store for me, but I find that I don’t mind the uncertainty as much these days.