Women in STEM: Kiara Sofia

Kiara Sofia on her laptop

My 54th guest is Kiara Sofia, an incredible human being with lots of interests, a grad student in neuroscience and a passionate science communicator.

Hi Kiara Sofia! First of all would you like to tell us something about you?

My name is Kiara Sofia Vega Bellido and I am a queer (she/her), ex-nihilist, BPD II diagnosed human made in Puerto Rico. I was born and raised in the inconspicuously charming and small college town of Mayaguez where I met all of the loves of my life: music, words, neuroscience, rivers, and green spaces, and a miserable mathematician/musician everybody calls Willy. I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Biology at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez and am currently pursuing a PhD in Neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston Texas.

When did you start your blog and social accounts? How did you get the idea?

I can’t offer details about social media, but I mainly use my Twitter account and LinkedIn to network, stay informed on issues of interest, and share resources or information about my work and projects. My portraitofahumanbrain.blog, however, has been a concept/passion project I’ve been thinking about since I was almost 16. Language is probably one of my favorite things about being a human. I mean, besides being instrumental to our survival, it’s driven the social and cognitive evolution of our species and enabled the development of culture, science, psychology, art… Writing is my preferred way of communicating my knowledge, ideas, documenting the fluctuation of my states, and sharing my unique human experience.

I also use it as a creative outlet. “Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.” (Interview with NEH Chairman Bruce Cole, Humanities, July/Aug. 2002, Vol. 23/No. 4)” ― David McCullough

Additionally, I engage in many outreach activities promoting STEM Ed for UR youth, diversity, and mental health awareness.

Can you tell us something about how you balance work and private life? 

Although I can be resourceful and good at planning, it takes Herculean efforts and a lot of access to support to achieve any semblance of a balance; my mood disorder currently poses the biggest challenge. I still have not gotten the complete hang of it, but I have developed strategies that helped me out a lot: establishing a routine of treatment which with medications, exercise, meditation/yoga, journaling, and psychosocial therapy. Actively participating in extracurricular activities and personal hobbies also contributes greatly to my mental well-being.

Kiara Sofia under the sun

During your academic studies how many women were in course? Why in your opinion?

A great deal, actually. Perhaps women are less discouraged when they pursue academic careers in the life sciences than in other STEM fields? Can’t say for certain.

Have you ever felt harassed or being kept apart as a scholar because you are a woman?

Nope, I have been favored by fortune in that respect. However, but I’ve plenty of anecdotes from female academics who have gone through psychologically abusive and discriminatory experiences in STEM just because they were female.

How did you become passionate about science?

6th grade science class. The teacher introduced us to the nervous system and I was done for; I could not think of a more fascinating subject than that of the biological system responsible for human consciousness, feelings, thoughts, language, etc. By 11th grade, I had decided that I would complete a PhD in Neuroscience.

Would you like to talk briefly about your job?

I’m a happy member of the Daoyun Ji Lab: a systems neuroscience lab that mainly uses tetrode recordings in freely moving rats and mice in order to answer questions about how the brain encodes, stores, and uses information pertaining to episodic memory (i.e. memory of an experience); their principal region of interest is the hippocampus: a subcortical structure essential for learning, spatial navigation, and memory. My thesis project is about studying the synaptic plasticity underlying Contextual Fear Memory (CFM) acquisition and subsequent mnemonic processes (e.g. retrieval, sleep-mediated consolidation, etc).

Thank you so much for your time. Lastly, can you give any advice to girls interested in STEM?

Persevere.

Choose your lab carefully and think very hard about the type of mentoring that suits you; a bad match between you and our PI can ruin more than your PhD experience.

Have meaningful pursuits outside of academia.

Prioritize taking consistent care of your mental and physical well-being.

Your work will benefit from it.

Be prepared to fail, but always try to learn something from each failure, and keep this in mind: every PhD experience is unique.

There are no two grad students that undergo the same trajectory or process during their time in grad school.

You do you and try your best to learn as much as you can about whatever fascinating subject you’re studying.

Join online PhD forums and network with other scientists! You’ll find resources, new perspective, friends, and support by engaging in the online academic community.

Follow Kiara Sofia on Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin and on her blog.

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