My Stem Story

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Maria L. CerĂ³n From Peru

Experiences in my Profession as Physicist

I often remember that I did not know what to study, whether chemistry or physics! From college preparation, I knew that I would like experimental procedures I think that was it along with the advice of my high-school teachers. When I entered into university, I felt lucky and I said to myself with a bit of fear: “Now I must stay here!” I perceived university as being a place that is very competitive, especially concerning grades. Guys usually would obtain the highest grades. But by studying a lot, sooner, my women classmates and I would be equal to the guys; so soon, all members of our classroom were on the same level.

After finishing undergraduate studies, I had to face the labor situation. In those years people usually asked: Where are you going to work? Physical sciences, what is it? Is it useful? In spite of pessimism, I searched for ways to create my opportunities. I attempted to be smart; 'ser pilas' is a Latin American idiom that synthesizes my attitude in those years. One day a professor advised me to apply for the Peruvian Geophysical Institute (IGP is its Spanish acronym). At the same time, I began to participate in a project in which another professor had included me. Those were my first steps in deep scientific research. I participated actively in the creation of the Solis Analysis laboratory (LAS is its Spanish acronym) of San Marcos University, UNMSM. However, the work environment for a woman is not easy. Professional jealousy would come not only from men but from women too. Harassment, machismo and lack of acceptancce were common.. Nonetheless, I faced, understood and learned from those obstacles. In these circumstances, I obtained my licentiate thesis in the faculty of physical sciences in UNMSM.

Next, I got married, and after several months I had my first child. My life, as far as personal relationships and family affairs are concerned, was stable. However, in parallel to this, I realized that the professional relationship aspects showed an exponential decay. Many times people who should have supported me decided instead that they considered that being a first-time mother was an obstacle to good performance at work because, allegedly, I would not count on much time. Those attitudes hurt me, and I felt a bit of loneliness; fortunately, I overcame these adverse situations since I had decided that I was able to choose my own destiny. Soon, I looked for information useful to me: in social networks, scholarships (sandwiches) announcements, and websites of organizations supporting women; luckily, I found what I was searching for. At that time, coincidentally, the second ICWIP was being held in Brazil.. I contacted the organizers, and then I submitted a statistical work. They accepted me, and I attended the meeting. This fact encouraged me, and it also was very interesting, as I perceived that many women were in the same situation as mine.

In 2013, I attempted to organize a similar event; I asked for support from both the Peruvian Ministry of Women's Affairs and the Peruvian Ministry of Education, but unhappily both entities replied that they are short of funds. This year, 2014, I formed a committee to work for this again and I requested financial support from Concytec (National Council of Science and Technology) and businesses whose work involves some physics. They responded positively, but the matter ended up with the same ministries, which did not respond. . The SOPERFI (Peruvian Society of Physics) and our Faculty of Physical Sciences, through our Dean, Dr. Angel D. Bustamante also supported the organization, and managed to make this major event “First Physical Meeting Women of Peru” possible.

Finally, I want to say that I love scientific research, although the salary is meager, and that I will continue on this way which is not finished yet.