Interview with Adani Pujada, PhD

Adani Pujada (@peruvianpipette)

  • University Science Educator

  • Evidence-Based Teaching Communicator on Instagram

What was your STEM journey?

Growing up, as a child, I wanted to be a teacher. I grew up watching many members of my family playing this role (grandma, dad, mom, aunts, etc.) At that point, I didn’t know what subject I would teach. As I got older, in my teens, the medical world caught my attention, and wanted to be a pediatrician. 

I moved to the US when I was 14 years old to finish high school. As a first-generation student, I had to research how to reach my long-term goal of becoming a pediatrician in this new country. I knew that I had to have a science background, therefore I started a Pre-Med program. At that time, the financial side was a factor; therefore, I attended a community college (University of North Georgia). I completed 2 years in this college.

My next step was to transfer to a 4-year university (Georgia State University) to finish my degree in Biology and minor in Chemistry. My interest in research and lab work arose when I had the opportunity to take a senior laboratory course where I worked on a research project investigating the antimicrobial activity of a flower extract against Staphylococcus aureus. The major goal was to discover the active compound that would lead to new antibiotics for future cures. 

As my bachelor’s degree graduation was approaching, I really wanted to see if the research/academia was for me, therefore I contacted a former professor for a laboratory opportunity during the summer after graduation. She listened to my concerns and was able to give me this research opportunity. From, there my research career started as I completed my Master's and Ph.D. in this same laboratory. My studies focused on understanding the pathogenesis of Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD) to prevent or treat the development of colon cancer.

Through graduate school, I also developed a passion for teaching, and I got involved in pedagogy training to teach science. These opportunities made me realized that I could pursue teaching as a full-time career and that is exactly what I did.

When did you first realize you wanted to do STEM?

I remember I was in high school and I started enjoying my science courses. I became interested in the function of the human body and since I also like kids. My dream was to become a pediatrician. Later in high school, I find out that I needed to have a bachelor’s degree in science to apply to medical school and pursue my dream at that time.

Who were your role models growing up?

My dad - an electrical engineer, my mother- an elementary school teacher, my grandma – an instructor at a technical institution from Peru, and other family members who were pursuing education careers in other fields.

Did you ever want to do anything else?

Yes! I first wanted to be a pediatrician when I was in high school. Later I discovered a passion for scientific research and teaching during graduate school. 

Have you ever had any major setbacks (in STEM or otherwise)?

Yes, initially when I started my studies in the US, I had to face a language barrier that I carried throughout my entire academic career. I was the first in my family to study in this country and I also had to learn and navigate college on my own.

Also, there was a period during college where I lost interest in science because of poor teaching practices from some of my college professors. These classes were based on instructor-centered teaching approaches with a heavy load of material that did not have any relevance to me and led me to become overwhelmed.

Although I lost interest in science for some time, I was able to gain it back when I took a research-focused undergraduate course that used an inquiry-based learning approach. During this time, I finally identified myself as a scientist because I had an active role in using every step of the scientific method. Learning this approach prepared me to be a critical scientist and motivated me to pursue a research career. As a non-native English speaker and as a woman in STEM, I think that opportunities like this one can help close any achievement gap in the classroom.

What’s one thing you’d like to change about the STEM community?

Not one but three, if possible. The overall teaching practices by professors from undergraduate and graduate level, required mentoring training for PIs, reformation of assessments given at the university level.

Is there a problem with sexism, racism, homophobia, and discrimination in general in the STEM community?

This is a present problem and as educators one way to fight it is to raise awareness, educate, and overall practice empathy.

What’s your message for young teens wanting to do STEM?

Allow yourself to be curious and do not be afraid to pursue your dream career. Make an effective plan to achieve this goal. Volunteer at organizations where you can find professionals you are interested in. They can be potential mentors and guide you through your academic journey on the way to achieve your dream position.

What is your favourite food?

Peruvian and Filipino food (I am married to a Filipino scientist who loves cooking)

What can be done to make STEM more diverse?

Each person is a world. Each of us brings diversity to the STEM field; therefore, we must welcome everybody who wants to be part of this field and give them a safe space to be who they are. Furthermore, promoting equity in every area of the STEM field can enrich the overall learning experience of our students.

How has your identity impacted your career in STEM? 

As a non-native English speaker, woman in STEM, first-generation student, and faculty, these experiences have allowed me to be aware of the professional barriers my students and faculty face. Therefore, as a faculty member, I am interested in:

1) Designing student-centered courses to help close any achievement gap and improve the student learning experience and 

2) Promoting professional development for undergraduate/graduate students and faculty to overall improve retention in STEM.

huge thank you to Adani Pujada for joining us today! Be sure to subscribe to receive more STEM-related content coming to your inbox.

Anna Barsham