As if continuing a conversation that began long ago with old friends, the scientist Linda Guaman tells the time when, against all personal prognosis, decided to apply to one of the biggest challenges of his professional life: become one of the 100 leaders of the future of biotechnology by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, for its acronym in English) and Harvard.
This Monday, June 17, 2019, Linda will present her scientific project in front of an international jury at the GapSummit 2019, the largest meeting of biotechnology innovation worldwide, in the auditorium of the MIT Broad Institute (United States).
Prior to her trip, Linda, 34 years old, opens the doors of her laboratory to THE TRADE to tell her story: the challenges a scientific woman faces in the country and that path that led her to be an international leader. He was born in April 1985 in Cuenca (Azuay) and forged, he recalls, in a conservative home.
Her family did not have economic facilities but that did not limit her. Education in a public school and college prepared her in the specialty of Biological Chemistry for her admission to the Universidad del Azuay. She always knew that the natural sciences inspired her, but at the age of 17 it was difficult to define the career that she would exercise in her life.
“I experimented a lot in school with sports, music, biology. Choose a race so small is a crime, “he says, laughing. Although she wanted to be a biologist, the young woman decided on Food Engineering, but as the years of education passed, she understood that she did not want to pursue that career, even though it was titled. Without knowing it, this academic disagreement led her to find her vocation for science.
Expand From the left, the students Erick Moreta, Claudia Oña, Eduardo Moncayo, Linda Guaman (center), Pamela Mosquera, Benjarmín Arias and Carlos Barba in the Center for Biomedical Research (Cenbio) of the UTE. Photo: David Landeta / EL COMERCIO She recalls that during the last undergraduate, she did professional internships in a food industry.
“What they were trying to do is standardize processes to the maximum. For me it was extremely boring, “he says. When she turned 20, María Elena Cazar, one of the first Ecuadorian PhD scientists, arrived at the Universidad del Azuay. “I asked him if he could apply the research at an undergraduate degree in my engineering. She was my thesis director.
There I understood that it was my way, she inspired me. For me, I was a struggling woman and I saw myself pretty much reflected in what I wanted to do. ” Determined, Linda applied for a scholarship to the master’s degree in Microbiology at the San Francisco University of Quito. The young woman arrived in Quito in 2009 to follow her dream and got a full scholarship.
In 2012, between the hustle and bustle of the city and the life in a small room, his mastery ended. His next goal was a PhD in Microbiology. Although he did not intend to do it in Brazil, he endeavored to get a scholarship in the National Secretariat of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation (Senescyt) and got it. In mid-2012 he traveled to the University of Sao Paulo.
The political turmoil in Brazil, which was experienced with the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, not only affected financing, but also science. Linda looked for a way that would not truncate her development and she crossed the continent to do internships in a US laboratory. She returned to Brazil to graduate in 2015.
In 2017, she returned to Ecuador and settled as a researcher and teacher at a public university in Ambato. But working in a state institution, he says, is complicated. “After five years in laboratories around the world,” it’s frustrating “to go back and not be able to buy a reagent because you do not approve the purchase or because it costs five times more here or you are not allowed to take samples because of absurd bureaucratic processes,” says Linda. But it is not the only flaw.
In addition to that “there is no impulse of technological industry on the part of the State …, the discrimination of sort exists”. For the Ecuadorian researcher Linda Guamán, one of the greatest challenges facing women scientists in Ecuador is gender discrimination.
“They invited me to a Congress and they asked me to talk about gender equity. When I arrived, I saw 30 speakers: 21 men and nine women. I could not be indifferent. I said it was an event without equality. Afterwards, the organizers (men) shouted at me for ‘making them look bad’ “, he says.
Although her academic credentials support her, Linda has been confused more than once as the “secretary” of the scientists. “The first time I won a recognition, who was interviewed was my boss, not me. We have normalized machismo to such an extent that it seems that we are not discriminating. ”
In this context, the researcher applauds the work carried out by the Ecuadorian Network of Women Scientists that, among the development of projects, promotes the achievements of women promotes the achievements of women scientists, makes them visible. Science in Ecuador needs more financing, says Guaman, but above all, more spaces for women and leadership in the labor and academic fields.
“We need to achieve equity so that girls can grow thinking of science as an option.” Since 2018, the researcher joined the teaching team of the Equinoctial Technological University, where she develops research projects at the Center for Biomedical Research (Cenbio).
Linda specialized in biotechnology, which, in general terms, refers to the use of living organisms – plants, animals, bacteria – to generate certain products. Ampliar The scientist Linda Guamán, 34, specialized in Microbiology. Photo: Archivo / EL COMERCIO In your case, work with microorganisms such as bacteria and yeast. Currently develops a modification of the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii, to “edit it in order to produce butyrate, a compound that works to prevent colon cancer, intestinal infections.”
While developing the project, a decisive moment came in the life of Guaman. On November 14, 2018, he decided to apply for the Global Biotech Revolution (GBR from MIT and Harvard) to be one of the 100 leaders of the future in technology that would arrive at GapSummit 2019, a meeting in which selected scientists participate in days with the current leaders.
Linda sent several forms that not only reflected her academic, but also social background. “The jury values that you are versatile. That is to say, not only that you are intelligent, but what you do outside the scientific field “. After a few days, he was informed that he went on to the next stage and passed a 15-minute Skype interview, conducted by three founders of the Global Biotech Revolution.
Linda felt confident and in January of 2019 they made their achievement official: an Ecuadorian entered the list of 100 leading scientists, who came from 43 countries, in biotechnology from MIT and Harvard. But the challenge would not end there.
The GBR informed the winning researchers that they would be divided into 20 groups of five people, each with a specific challenge. The group of Linda, made up of a computer scientist from the University of Singapore and a British expert in artificial intelligence, had the challenge of producing meat of vegetable origin that could replace that of animal origin.
The week of June 7, the project went to the Top 8, that is, to the final stage. The ‘contest’ will be in the GapSummit on Monday. “I think we have a great opportunity, we have harmonized our expertise. But being able to sit at Harvard, together with a Nobel Prize winner, is already my prize for me.
I go with that mentality: enjoy it, whatever the result “. Upon her return, Linda will continue with her investigations and a challenge: to put a woman’s face on science. (I)