Unique Scientist: Olivia Kugler-Umaña

Time to meet Olivia Kugler-Umaña (She/her)! Olivia is a US-born first generation Salvadoreña and earning her PhD at University of Massachusetts studying immune response in age populations!

What kind of scientist are you?
I am a 6th year PhD candidate studying immune response in age populations.

What made you want to become a scientist?
I’ve always had a passion for learning and critical thinking. In high school, I was encouraged to pursue a career in science pushing me into getting a degree in Biology. In college, I met my first mentor who was also a #FirstGen and Latinx like myself who provide a nurturing environment for me as a young scientist.

“I like to create make-up looks inspired by microscopy images posted by the #sciart #scicomm communities.”

Olivia Kugler-Umaña

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
Being a 1st. Gen Salvadoreña makes me unique even within #latinxSTEM circles. It’s rare for me to bump into other Central American scientists.

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
In my free time, I like to create make-up looks inspired by microscopy images posted by the #sciart #scicomm communities.

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
I wish scientists would stop being so proud of living in their bubble. It’s important to make friends outside your fields and outside of science. It helps us become better communicators and human beings.

From one of Olivia’s tweets: “I asked my mom what she wanted to be when she was girl in El Salvador. She told me, “an Agronomist, I always loved plants. But we were poor.” […] My PhD is in honor of my mom. The aspiring agronomist.”

“It’s important to make friends outside your fields and outside of science. It helps us become better communicators and human beings.”

Olivia Kugler-Umaña

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
My 1st mentor, Adan Colon-Carmona is one of my biggest inspirations early in my career. He provided me with the support I needed as a first gen. student. Another inspiration is Akiko Iwaski. She is an incredible immunologist who is not afraid to speak up about social issues. And, my mom. She has been a role model all my life and dreamed of being an agronomist.

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
I was invited to talk about my experiences as a Woman in STEM on the @halfcousins (IG and youtube) podcasts. You can check our chat about life in science, imposter syndrome and Salvi culture on Youtube.


#WomenInSTEM, #LatinxInSTEM, #CentAmSTEM

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