Unique Scientist: Alyssa Anderson

Let’s welcome Alyssa Anderson (She/Her) to our unique family! Alyssa is an alumna from Arizona State University in the USA where she majored in biology.

What kind of scientist are you?
You know, I’m not quite an “official” scientist yet, but if I would consider myself any type of “-ist” it would be a biologist (with aspirations towards becoming an ecologist). While pursuing my undergraduate degree at Arizona State University, I had the opportunity to teach a general biology lab for a total of nine semesters. In that lab, I taught about the evolution of “big” biology starting with bacteria and ending with vertebrate anatomy; with protists, fungi, plants, and animals in between. It was this opportunity, along with my overall love for the living world, that has me feeling that “biologist” is the identification that is most fitting for me. In the next few years though? Stay tuned, that may just change a tad!

What made you want to become a scientist?
My route to becoming a scientist hasn’t been linear. I didn’t wake up one day when I was six years old and think “When I grow up, I want to be a scientist!” In fact, I have explored a wide variety of fields and passions thinking that they are where I am supposed to be. From veterinarian to historian to marine biologist and doctor, my passions are just all over the place. However, a common theme between most of my career aspirations were: 1. wanting to continue to learn, 2. curiosity for the living world, and 3. compassion for the living world. So with that, I decided in high school I wanted to help human beings by becoming a medical doctor, and I pursued a Health Sciences degree at Arizona State University. However, *spoiler*, I don’t want to be a medical doctor any more, but rather want to be a wildlife ecologist/conservation biologist. So… why do I want to become a scientist? It’s a combination of my sixth-grade dreams to be a marine biologist, the opportunity to teach biology and learning from an amazing mentor (who is a cellular and molecular biologist). What can I say? I’m a passionate and inspired gal whose experiences have guided me to what I am pursuing now.

“My route to becoming a scientist hasn’t been linear. I didn’t wake up one day when I was six years old and think “When I grow up, I want to be a scientist!””

Alyssa Anderson

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?

I am a #UniqueScientist because I am Latina woman pursuing science. I am also a #UniqueScientist because I haven’t followed the “typical” path towards science. I entered my undergraduate career with a heart towards medicine, but in typical Alyssa fashion, I decided to pursue a completely different path during the fall semester of my senior year. 

From high school to college (a total of about seven years) I pursued medicine relentlessly. I mean, I had connections with medical schools, I volunteered, I made connections with physicians… I tried hard to make sure I was doing what I needed to be accepted into medical school. But when you’re not following what truly makes you happy, your heart just knows. So I had a heart-to-heart with myself and decided that I was going to fight for the oceans. With that I found research in plastic pollution, partnered with The Nature Conservancy, and am now heading to Costa Rica (soon) to teach science and Ocean Awareness to elementary and secondary school kids. I didn’t pursue an undergraduate degree in biology or ecology and I’m not going straight to graduate school, but that’s okay. In fact, that’s what makes me a #UniqueScientist.

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
I love to go hiking! Thankfully being born and raised in the beautiful state of Arizona, I have the opportunity to go hiking quite literally whenever I would like. Whether it’s in the middle of the desert or in the middle of the woods, Arizona is home to beautiful mountains and trails. What’s even better, is that I get to do it in my pink hiking boots (which, as obnoxious as it sounds, I think make me a better hiker). Besides hiking and exploring the outdoors, additional interests include journaling, diving into a book, and venturing into different coffee shops. Nothing quite makes me feel more in touch with myself and connected with others than nature and a good cup o’ joe in a quaint and busy coffee shop.

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
I believe [1.] more people need to be given a chance and [2.] stereotypes need to be addressed and the truth surrounding them told (so thank you #UniqueScientists). I’m going to write in general terms here, as there are always places and institutions that do exactly what they should to ensure they are giving individuals a chance to pursue science. But, I think all too frequently there are numerical limitations placed on individuals with the capacity for greatness. Some of these examples are: grade point averages, standardized test scores, grades, etc. I say this as someone who has observed and felt the exclusion due to this. Now, it’s important to state that there is, indeed, an importance of these numbers. However, I want people who aren’t good test-takers to still be given research opportunities. I want people who struggled in a class to still get into internships. I want people who tried their best but didn’t perform well on the GRE or MCAT (or any of the pre-professional standardized exams) to get into their dream school. I say this because I know there are amazing and brilliant humans out there. Humans who are passionate and determined to make a change on this Earth, but sometimes struggle in moving forward because of such hurdles. I just want more people to be given a chance to pursue their dreams in the field of science.

“I work hard because of [my parents], I remain humble because of them, and I’m doing all that I’m doing for them.”

Alyssa Anderson

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
I will always start with my parents, because they are the reason I am where I am. They have always encouraged me to follow what gives my beating heart reason and because of them, I am not afraid to go against the norm and to pursue things with less “certainty” or “stability.” I work hard because of them, I remain humble because of them, and I’m doing all that I’m doing for them. As for the individual who has inspired me to pursue science fiercely and unapologetically, my biology professor and now lifelong mentor has inspired me the most in my journey to where I am now. Throughout my undergraduate degree, I struggled with thinking that I was capable of my passions. I wholeheartedly believed I wasn’t “intelligent enough” to be a doctor and even once I decided to switch paths, that mindset followed. He was the one to constantly encourage me and my abilities, stressing how capable I was in pursuing my dreams. Not only that, but he saw the potential in me, and provided the opportunities for me to grow as a learner, teacher, and researcher. I still struggle with the whole confidence thing from time-to-time, but knowing that there is a professor and scientist out there that believes in me and is always cheering for me helps ease worry and fuels my fiery passion to help this Earth and the life that inhabits it.

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
I beat altitude sickness in the beautiful U.S. state of Colorado. I had never been in an ecosystem with such high altitude and boy howdy, did my body not like it. So the first day and a half of my five day trip was trying to minimize the symptoms of altitude sickness. Thankfully, my body got used to it and I got to hike an amazing 5.5 mile hike in Fort Collins, Colorado and even got to see the three very diverse and delicate ecosystems of the Rocky Mountains all in a matter of minutes!

#WomenInSTEM, #LatinasInSTEM

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