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What inspired me to become a scientist,
and why I think more of us should speak up
Santiago Navarro on scientific inspiration
How does a gymnast from Ecuador end up as a scientist? While there’s no blueprint for this pathway, the key was science.

Right now, I’m in a unique position where I lead two innovative teams. One is focused on sustainable weed control solutions, and the other is focused on cell sciences and imaging. Both teams help ensure farmers have the tools they need to grow our food.

 

My love for science started at a young age. I grew up in Quito, Ecuador, and was exposed to the rich biodiversity throughout the country. As a young boy, I was filled with curiosity when it came to farming and I spent hours exploring outdoors to see what wonders I could find. I would analyze the soil, examine the crops, and constantly be on the lookout for the animals who called our farm home. As I got older, I started to better understand the intricacies surrounding farming, especially in our farm near Quito and my community.

 

Growing up, I was also an avid gymnast. Training daily, gymnastics was about discipline, focus, perseverance and sportsmanship. The highlight of my gymnastics career was when I represented Ecuador at the 1993 World Championships in Paris. Through gymnastics I could travel the world, and ultimately it is the gymnastics program at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania that led me to the United States. But two years later, the program ended, and I was left wondering what I should do next. I remembered the challenges my family experienced in farming as I grew up. One year, we lost our entire harvest to a hailstorm. Managing those kinds of situations is what ultimately encouraged me to dedicate my career to science.

Santiago Navarro
With every challenge comes an opportunity.
Santiago Navarro
Cell Sciences & Imaging Platform Lead

When my career as a gymnast ended, it also marked my start as a scientist. I enrolled at Western Michigan University and focused on molecular and plant biology. I reclaimed my love for science while working on monarch butterfly research, and embarked on my path to becoming a scientist.

 

 

Advocating for science on social media

I strongly believe that scientists today are responsible for more than research. We are also responsible for advocating for science, and communicating with a non-scientific audience. For me, being active on social media allows me to share my story, answer questions, and be part of the conversation. For example, last year I wrote a blog post about sugar beets and sugar cane. Shortly after, I was on Twitter and saw someone who was tweeting questions about the environmental impacts of growing sugar beets. I quickly responded to her and shared the blog post I had written. Social media allowed me to answer her questions and help her learn more about the sugar industry in a matter of minutes.

 

Social media may be a challenging space for scientists because it’s filled with extremes. But channeling your voice, finding that balance while being respectful, and searching for common ground is always a good start when engaging on any social platform. There are people who want to hear from you and learn about what you do, so take time to make those connections and have those conversations. We need more scientists on social media, and we need more scientists who can inspire the next generation.

 

Follow me on Twitter or connect with me on LinkedIn.