Maria Helena Ramirez and Marcela Camacho where the scientist that supervised my undergrad thesis. In Colombia, to graduate with a degree in Biology, you have three options: a little research project, an internship or a monograph. I chose the research project, since I wanted to go into research and this would give me the actual lab experience I was craving.
Maria Helena Ramirez was a biochemistry teacher when I was doing my studies. She had come back from doing 2 post-docs in Germany and was starting a group dedicated to allow students to learn the most basic techniques applied in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry. I was lucky enough to be accepted into the group, and through this group I learned and performed techniques like Western Blot and PCR. Because we were associated with the LIBBIQ (Laboratory of Basic Research in Biochemistry) I also learned the basics of working in a lab. Lab chores, lab meetings, trouble shooting.
I was starting a project involving Plasmodium (the parasite that causes malaria), when I was accepted to do an academic exchange, and so I left the group for 8 months, but as soon as I came back to Colombia I rejoined it. My project change, focusing on Leishmania, and that's how I met Marcela Camacho, who was working with the CIF (International Center of Physics ).
These two women not only showed me what it is to work in a lab, but what it means to be a woman working in science. They were never shy to point out what struggles they had, the type of critique they would get, the differences of doing research outside or in Colombia.
I had very strong female role models in my family, but none directly in biological science (one of my aunts is a Chemical Engineer) and this was probably the last push I needed to take that step towards research, and the little nudge I didn't know I needed to look for my Masters abroad.
They are still going at it, Maria Helena and others organized the first Colombian Congress of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Marcela Camacho is a Senior Researcher and Director of the Biophysics lab. She has also been very vocal about Gender equality with women in Science, a hot topic anywhere you look at it.
Without these two women, I wouldn't have been where I am right now. There are a lot of things I learnt through them that I only realized when I was gone, and I am ever so grateful for the impact they had in my life.