For the third episode of Women in STEM, today I have the honor to host dr. Lilith Mabel Caballero Aguilar (@lilithlabs).
Hi lilithlabs! First of all would you like to tell us something about you?
Hi! My name is Lilith Mabel Caballero Aguilar, I am 30 years old. I was born in Mexico but I have been moving around the globe mainly following career development. I studied physics engineering and then did my master in Biomedical Engineering. Recently I finished my PhD and currently, I am a postdoctoral research fellow at St. Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne Australia and Swinburne University of Technology. On my spare time I like to watch series, read and catch up with friends while taking pictures of their food (@LilithCherry).
When did you start your Instagram account? How did you get the idea?
I started @LilithLabs, just a couple of months ago really. When doing research, your lab book is where you write your protocols and notes, however often a picture on your phone can help you remember the details you might have not written on your notes. That is how I ended up with more laboratory pictures than selfies! One day I was reviewing my albums and realized that some of the photos were actually very pretty. That’s when I decided to open @LilithLabs. My account has two main purposes, the first is to show that science can be full of colors and fun, and that is why I like to keep things simple, hoping the picture alone will trigger the Instagramers’ curiosity, as I believe curiosity is the first step towards scientific research. The second purpose of my account is to share academic job opportunities such as Ph.D. positions and postdocs because I know how hard it can be to find the right opportunity. Aside from that, I also like to post jokes as well and other lab-related moments.
Can you tell us something about how you balance work and private life?
Science is undoubtedly hard work and we often spend long days inside the lab or on our computer. It is not uncommon to be doing experiments or doing some work in general during the weekends. However, this does not mean that there is no time for social life. As in other disciplines, time management and organization are key. Planning and setting realistic goals can help you balance work and private life. In my case, I keep a ‘to do’ list for every day of the week. Also, I think taking breaks is really important, recently came back from holidays and I feel more refreshed and renewed than ever! ready to start fresh!
During your studies how many women were in course? Why in your opinion?
During my bachelor ( I did my bachelor in physics engineering, in Mexico), the number of women in the course was very limited. My class had the most women among all the other classes, we were 5. In fact, in total, we were only 80 women on a campus that had over 2000 students! This was the first time I realized that somehow women were not choosing engineering degrees. During my master and PhD (in Belgium and in Australia, respectively) the number of women compared to men was still lower but less drastic. I believe there is not a unique reason for this, as many factors can contribute to the choice of career. Nowadays, seeing more and more women choosing STEM careers it’s something I love.
Have you ever felt harassed or being kept apart as a scholar because you are a woman?
Unfortunately yes. Back when I studied for my bachelor’s, hearing professors/students saying things like ‘ women shouldn’t be studying engineering, they belong to the kitchen’ or ‘girl, should not wear skirts on campus, they distract everyone’ was quite common. I am quite glad that things had evolved and that such phrases are not allowed anymore on that campus.
How did you become passionate about science?
I was passionate about performing experiments since I was a kid, I used to love to mix things together and observe the results. I was also very curious to know and understand how things work in nature, like the sun and the rain and how people can walk and all sorts of questions. And the more I understood, the more questions I had. So I guess I’ve never stopped asking myself things.
Would you like to talk briefly about your job?
My work consists of developing materials that can carry biochemical elements to be delivered in biological systems for tissue engineering applications. At the moment I am working on two different projects in collaboration with other amazing scientists, the first project looks at the formation of cartilage tissue using patient-derived human stem cells and biomaterials. The second project aims to develop an implantable platform to deliver drugs directly at the tumor site to target pancreatic cancer.
Thank you so much for your time. Lastly, can you give any advice to girls interested in STEM?
My advice to girls interested in STEM fields is: Science is for everyone so just go for it!