Verónica Contreras-Shannon, Ph.D.
Professor of Biological Sciences and MARC U*STAR Program Director
St. Mary’s University
One Camino Santa Maria
San Antonio, TX 78228
1. What path led you to where you are in your career/education today?
As an undergraduate student, I had a work-study position in an ecology research lab studying various agricultural pests. I attended the weekly lab meeting, where I was intrigued by the back and forth between the researchers even though I didn’t fully understand all of the science. However, in those meetings, I was keenly aware that these scientists were generating ideas and trying to solve a puzzle. I love puzzles and knew, in that moment, that I wanted to be an idea maker and have a career solving puzzles. The puzzles I solve today focus on understanding how certain changes in cells can lead to disease or how to best train the next generation of biomedical scientists.
2. What do you love most about your career/education?
My job as a biomedical scientist and educator allows me to be creative and technical, express myself in words and also be a “number cruncher,” an expert while reimagining myself as a beginner. Every experiment, each day in the classroom, and each student I encounter is another chance to do better. I love this duality, variety, and opportunity. It means that dull moments are rare. I love interacting with students and helping them make connections between ideas in a book and the world we live in.
3. What advice do you have for a young woman considering a career/education in a STEM-related field?
The stereotypical scientist is a myth. The many scientists I know have their own unique combination of talents and personal qualities. They have varied and personally fulfilling lives. If you hear yourself saying or thinking that you’re not the right type of person to be in STEM, think about why you are disqualifying yourself. If you feel you don’t fit the mold, then that is precisely the reason why you belong in STEM. STEM-related fields need a diversity of ideas, abilities, and approaches to solve the world’s problems.