As the first piece in our new series, The Human Side of STEM, Científico Latino is featuring Dr. Patricia Silveyra, an Assistant Professor and head of lab at Pennsylvania State University. We asked her what role has diversity played in her career.
About 20 years ago, I walked into a science laboratory for the first time. As a high school student, I had the chance to participate in a science outreach activity where we could see how science was done in a “real” lab. I was fascinated, not only by the novelty of so many chemicals and lab equipment, as well as the variety of projects ranging from plant biology to human genetics, but also because for the first time in my life, I saw people from all over the world working together. I had never seen anything like that before, even though in my native Argentina we have lots of immigrants. In a conversation with one of the scientists, a woman studying plant molecular physiology, she explained to me that it was very common for scientists to travel and work in different parts of the world. “I have worked in four different countries,” she said. I started asking more questions (I had never been abroad myself, so I was quite intrigued!). She laughed. “Scientists are used to work in diverse groups. That’s how we solve problems more efficiently.”
I remember this conversation as if was yesterday. At age 16, I was already in love with science. I knew I wanted to learn more about nature, but I was also excited to be part of a “diverse” team at some point in the future. Without knowing much about it, diversity was already playing a role in my STEM career, by motivating me to pursue a career in science.
Today, I am the head of a research team that studies mechanisms of lung inflammation triggered by air pollution. Our lab is interested in the specific pathways that are activated in the lungs of men and women upon exposure to ambient ozone and small particulate matter, the principal components of smog. We know that women are disproportionally affected by air pollution, and we also know that some lung diseases affect more women than men. This is why, we pay special attention to the role of sex hormones in lung inflammatory mechanisms. Currently, my research team includes trainees and professionals from the United States, Puerto Rico, Haiti, India, China, Greece, Ecuador, and Argentina. This means that on a daily basis, I work with people from all over the world (how great is that?!). I consider this very important, because the problems we aim to solve as scientists affect people from across the globe. As a diverse team, we learn from each other, and we provide input based on our backgrounds and past experiences. So, today, knowing more about it, diversity continues to play a key role in my STEM career, by positively influencing the quality of my research. I read once that “Diversity in science refers to cultivating talent, and promoting the full inclusion of excellence across the social spectrum.” I could not agree more.
"Diversity in science drives excellence, and provides teams with a variety of perspectives that can help solve complex problems more efficiently. By nature, diversity promotes innovation."
We hear on a regular basis about programs aimed to increase representation of different groups in science. These have the ultimate goal of bringing talent from all backgrounds to the table. As a faculty member, I spend a lot of time working with organizations that help students and professionals from underrepresented backgrounds to join science programs and receive mentoring. I believe expanding our workforce talent pool, and creating a more diverse science workforce will result in nothing but excellence. Mentoring is one of the most rewarding and impactful activities I have been able to do as a scientist. This is why I know that diversity will continue to play a role in my STEM career, by providing me with opportunities to give back and positively impact the future of science.
PATRICA SILVEYRA, M.Sc., Ph.D.
Dr. Silveyra is an Assistant Professor at Penn State College of Medicine. Her laboratory studies mechanisms of lung inflammation induced by air pollution, with an emphasis on sex differences and the role of sex hormones. She received her Master’s degree in Molecular Biology and her Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and she did her postdoctoral training at Penn State University. She joined the faculty at Penn State College of Medicine in 2013 after receiving an NIH BIRCWH award, and she has been funded by NIH and multiple research foundations since then. She currently holds a K01 award from NHLBI to study sex differences in ozone-induced lung inflammation. Dr. Silveyra is a mentor and advocate for women in science and underrepresented students, and she serves in several national organization committees and boards.