The scientists who inspired us (IX): those who have touched our lives

In honour of Women in Science, at the Basque Center for Applied Mathematics - BCAM we have come up with the idea of sharing some stories about the women that inspired our researchers to pursue a career in science. Keep reading to understand why Diana Perez claims the value of those scientists who touch her life. She has decided to write their names, which can serve as inspiration to do the same:

About the author:

Diana Perez

PhD Student (Predoc Severo Ochoa 2017)


Diana is a third year PhD student in the Applied Statistics group at BCAM. Her project focuses on the modelling of spatial-temporal processes for applications in agriculture.

When I started thinking about this writing, I thought about which character I would like to highlight. Motivated by the name of our cluster in BCAM, I thought of the Greek mathematician and philosopher Hippatia, who is credited with being the first woman mathematician and scientist. However, I did not feel very comfortable writing about someone with an extraordinary life, but with whom I have never had contact. My second step was to think about spreading a little about women in science in my country, Colombia. However, I refuse to speak from a position of ignorance. Besides, when we think of science (or at least that is what I thought when I started my journey), we think of people with exceptional abilities and lives that are alien to us. So, I prefer to tell a little about those who have touched my life.

Remembering women in science who have inspired my career is remembering my path. Since high school I was attracted by mathematics, in fact it was always women (Blanquita and Maria Helena) who educated me in this science. So, I decided that when I entered university I would study mathematics. It was not until my last year in high school that my physics teacher motivated us to study statistics. A career that I would never have approached if it had not been for the influence of his wife, Liliam Cardeño, a mathematician and Doctor of Statistics from the University of Sao Paulo, who in a personal conversation spoke to us about the benefits of this wonderful career, which until then had been emerging in Colombia and which she would describe as "the career of the future"... and I believe that she was not wrong in her prediction!

Later, when I start my career, I realize that many of my teachers, or even their mothers, were pioneers in their professions as engineers, physicists, mathematicians... as scientists in general. I remember in particular my professor of Calculus I, Debora Tejada, the first woman to graduate in mathematics from the National University of Colombia in Medellin, a doctor in Algebra from the University of Science and Technology in Montpellier and a doctor in Topology from the University of Texas. Her real passion has been topology and specifically knots theory. Digging a little bit into her life, I find out that she is the daughter of two renowned engineers from our city (Medellín) and her mother was the first civil engineer in Colombia. I always remember her classes: she would arrive in her white coat and colored chalk; we were an audience of very young minds wanting to be physicists, mathematicians and statisticians and she would trace her works of art on the blackboard gently and patiently. It was impossible for anyone not to be impressed by her talent!

Finally, taking a great temporary leap in my life, I cannot stop writing about my doctoral experience. It has given me the opportunity to meet many talented and inspiring women scientists. I would especially like to name my advisor: a tireless, disciplined, meticulous woman. María-Xosé Rodríguez Álvarez, better known as Coté, is a Mathematician and PhD in Mathematics from the University of Santiago de Compostela. Together we work on the modeling of spatial-temporal processes for applications in agriculture; but additionally, she works on two other topics that have application in the health field: the statistical evaluation of the diagnostic and/or prognostic value of clinical biomarkers, and the development of efficient algorithms for the estimation of flexible regression models. This has motivated us to open the chapter of R-Ladies Bilbao, an initiative that seeks to empower women in the scientific field through the use of specialised software (specifically R). She has worked tirelessly with her colleagues to estimate hospital admissions, infections and under-recording of cases in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Basque Country. She is a woman who could have infinite limits. This week I was saying to her: Coté, how do you work on so many things and have the detail of each one of them in your mind without fear of getting confused?

I hope that my path in science will continue, and that I will have the opportunity to continue to meet, connect, and network with wonderful, but above all human, flesh and blood, achievable women... being aware that only with discipline and passion can you follow in their footsteps.

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