Barbara is a scientist and entrepreneur with extensive experience in cancer and aging. She is currently part of Life Science Angels (LSA), a premier angel investment group in the Bay Area, where she works with up and coming biotech entrepreneurs and manages investor relationships. Prior to LSA, Barbara co-founded BioChron, a biotech startup developing new technology to track biological aging. Barbara is also working very closely with organizations in the Bay Area, focusing primarily on inspiring and supporting youth from disadvantaged backgrounds to pursue a career in science. She is most passionate with promoting diversity in science and entrepreneurship.
Barbara obtained her Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from the University of California, Irvine, and a Postdoctoral Fellowship at UCSF. Additionally, she was granted a Fellowship in the United Kingdom to conduct research at King’s College London, in the laboratory of stem cell pioneer Dr. Fiona Watt. Through her academic career, she has been awarded multiple national and international awards in science, teaching and mentoring, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL-NASA) scholarship and the Ford Fellowship from the National Academy of Sciences. Barbara was born in Mexico and immigrated to the US when she was 17 years old.
With groups creating programs to encourage females to consider STEM, what is the biggest barrier to entry that is still prevalent today?
Although, the enthusiasm of creating groups that supports girls in STEM is growing, from my personal experience and others that I have mentored, there are still several barriers for kids, especially for women and women of color, to pursue a career in STEM. Here are some key points that I consider highly important:
Lack of mentors. One of the barriers females encounter in STEM is the lack mentors and role models that have similar socio-economic and/or cultural backgrounds, that resemble the mentees. Even to this point in my career, I have struggled to connect with mentors that have a similar cultural background, or had similar struggles like me, and who are willing to help. Through time, I learned that mentors not necessarily need to
have a STEM background; they can also be in the arts, and music or be a personal coach. Finding the right mentor for young women can make the greatest impact in their careers.
Financial struggles. During my time in college, I was supported emotionally and financially by one single parent, my mother. During this time, I was able to obtain financial aid, government aid and several scholarships, which helped me to finish college. Today, these resources are very limited, and puts at risk aspiring and talented students who would like to continue their education. To solve this issue, supportive STEM groups need learn to build programs to allocate financial resources to fully sponsor young women and women of color who are interested in any STEM careers, so they can continue their education.
Lack of Family support. I have found that the most inspiring and hardworking students pursuing a career in STEM are those who come from immigrant or low-income families. My family was very supportive since the beginning when I decided to be a scientist but this is not the case for most young women who come from families with parents whose education background is limited to middle or secondary school only. This is an area were mentors and adequate funding directed towards the education of young girls can help to support them to aspire and complete their careers in STEM.
Lack of support from other women. There is publish data, and from my personal experience that suggest that women in higher positions are less likely to help younger women and often feel threatened by younger peers. For young girls considering a career in STEM, and thinking in becoming the CEOs one day, it can be disappointing to learn about the lack of support from other women available to them. It is essential, for us women, to come together and start supporting one another, and this will show a better example for young women who look up to role models. I’ve been very fortunate to find amazing, inspiring women and men who are continuously guiding me through my career. Finding them was not easy; those who accepted to help and to listen to my needs are the most genuine, humble, and extraordinary people who had taught me the most valuable lessons and opened their network to continue growing in my career. I have no words to express my gratitude and willingness to help me through my career.
For this and more, I would like to directly acknowledge for helping me succeed to Dr. Marlene de la Cruz (Associate Director, MSP-UCI), Shomit Ghose (Managing Director, ONSET Ventures), Xochi Birch (Co-founder, Bebo), Dr. Gaston Picchio (VP of Infectious diseases, Janssen Pharmaceuticals), Yanhong Lin (Founder and Managing Partner, CTIC capital), and most recently Alexsis de Raadt St. James (Founder and Managing Partner, Merian Ventures).
What or who inspires you?
I have met very influential people throughout my career. However, no one is more inspiring in life than my mother. While growing up, she had to work extended hours to make our ends meet, so my sister and I could have a career. Through her, I learned about work ethic, commitment, and discipline. She is the most beautiful human being who carries herself with elegance and respect. My wish is to be one day at least half as
great as she is.
What is your proudest moment/accomplishment?
I find it difficult to find something as gratifying as developing a closer connection with the wonderful mentors with whom I have worked. It is because of them, as well as my family, that I have attained success in my career as a scientist and entrepreneur. One of the proudest moments I have encountered has been transitioning from being professional colleagues to becoming close friends.