Unique Scientist: Dr. Semarhy Quiñones-Soto

Meet bacterial geneticist Dr. Semarhy Quiñones-Soto (She/her)! Dr. Quiñones-Soto was born in Puerto Rico and now works as a lecturer at Sacramento State (@sacstate) in California, USA!

What kind of scientist are you?
I am a bacterial geneticist. I was trained in microbiology and genetics with an emphasis on adaptive mutagenesis. However, I no longer work in a lab. Now, I teach genetics at the undergraduate level and work as coordinator for programs that aim to increase diversity in STEM fields. 

What made you want to become a scientist?
My parents were my inspiration. My dad taught me about diversity and to love all nature, My mom taught me to love microbes. She worked as a lab technician preparing materials for several microbiology lab courses at the University of Puerto Rico, Humacao. As a kid, I would help her prepare media (food) to grow bacteria, I would organize the tools the undergraduates would use in their courses and I would help clean the materials. These lab experiences led me to pursue a degree in microbiology.

“To be a scientist, you do not need to be working in research.”

Dr. Semarhy Quiñones-Soto

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
I am a trained scientist but I do not have a research lab – and that is OK! To be a scientist, you do not need to be working in research. There are other #TypesOfScientists out there! I use my problem-solving skills to run research-training programs that promote diversity and inclusion in STEM. I also use the little power I have because of my PhD to empower those who feel like they do not belong. I am a Teacher Scientist.

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
I like to draw. Currently, I am working on a series of illustrations highlighting different types of scientists and science fields. I am learning how to play the cello (and my cello instructor is a former genetics student from one of my classes). I am also a speaker and have been invited to several venues to talk about my experiences as a woman in science, diversity and inclusion efforts, and how to empower underrepresented undergraduate students.

“My wish is for other scientists to recognize, uplift and support all types of scientists, including individuals whose jobs limit them to just teaching.”

Dr. Semarhy Quiñones-Soto

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
Because I am a lecturer (adjunct professor), I am constantly made to feel like I do not belong in science because I do not have a research lab. This experience makes me doubt myself, become stressed and it affects my performance at work every time someone brings this up (which is more often than I would like). My wish is for other scientists (including federal agencies) to recognize, uplift and support all types of scientists, including individuals whose jobs limit them to just teaching. Lab research is not the only path to be a professional scientist and it should not be used as the only measure of success. 

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
I have been inspired by many women in science, all the way from Rosalind Franklin to my female colleagues and students. But, my role model and inspiration is my Mom – a strong, Puerto Rican woman in science, who raised two kids and taught us to be ourselves. 

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
Recently, I moved into a new space – Science Art. As a kid, I liked to draw and color, but never gave it too much thought as an adult. Lately, I used my art as a way to escape my daily science-related worries and, as a result, it has brought me more satisfaction than my science ever did. To top it off with a happy note, I was asked to do scientific illustrations highlighting Puerto Rican reptiles! This made my day! Now, I draw almost every night!


#TypesOfScientists, #WomenInSTEM, #WomenInScience, #LatinasInSTEM

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