A Desire to Spread Scientific Knowledge to Marginalized Communities Leads to an Unexpected Career Path

By Ramsés Santacruz Márquez posted 03-21-2024 12:14 PM


This essay is part of a series designed to celebrate SOT member diversity and showcase the diverse pathways and experiences of its members.

As a Mexican boy growing up in Zacatecas, I never imagined I would end up doing research in the US. Like many Mexicans, I grew up surrounded by people who knew someone that migrated to the US to pursue the “American Dream.” As a young student, I was not sure what I wanted to do with my life, but something I was sure of is that I always pictured myself living in Mexico. Things turned out so differently.

When I was still an undergraduate, I started working at a children’s museum in my hometown. I was fascinated by how interesting science communication can be to children. I became part of a group planning, designing, and conducting experiments, demonstrations, exhibits, and talks performed in marginalized communities. We visited more than 30 different communities and interacted with more than 20,000 people. I also visited the Zacatecas women’s prison to give different demonstrations to the prisoners and their children living with them. Those experiences gave me a chance to see how important science and science communication are in human communities. I am aware of how social disparities can make a great impact on a person’s development and well-being and how important it is to create spaces and develop activities to include those groups.

I had the chance to get closer to the scientific community in my hometown and got interested in pursuing a scientific career. I visited the Center for Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute (CINVESTAV) in Mexico City to learn more about their programs. I visited the Toxicology Department, and I was amazed to hear how different environmental contaminants can affect human health. This made me decide to pursue a master’s degree in toxicology.

In 2015, I had the opportunity to attend the SOT Annual Meeting and ToxExpo for the first time, and I loved the experience. I learned about the research that SOT members do and I presented my research there. The experience greatly enriched me, and my advisor encouraged me to pursue a PhD and a research career. This made me decide to join the toxicology PhD program to pursue a research career.

During my PhD program, I had the opportunity to visit the laboratory of Jodi Flaws, PhD, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) to learn some techniques that would help me to complete my dissertation project. During that time, I learned lab techniques, participated in lab and departmental seminars, and even had the chance to attend a scientific conference in reproductive toxicology.

Knowing the importance of English in the scientific field and for science communication worldwide, I decided to pursue a postdoctoral position in the US. Due to my experience as a visiting scholar, I sought postdoctoral training with Dr. Flaws, a widely known and respected reproductive toxicologist. As a postdoctoral trainee at UIUC, I am leading two projects: one on phthalates and female reproductive aging and one on nanoparticles and reproductive toxicity. Overall, this has been an amazing opportunity that I am really enjoying. I am still learning so many things related to science, attending scientific meetings, presenting my research, etc. I am also experiencing and appreciating the American culture while experiencing cultural differences between Mexico and the USA, and I miss my family and friends, which sometimes can be hard.

Interestingly, in the past, I worked giving talks and scientific demonstrations to marginalized communities in Mexico. Today, I am part of a minority group in the US, and, although I am thankful for this experience, I have felt marginalized sometimes. Simple things such as going to the doctor can be different from what we are used to in our origin countries. Although my English is not bad, I still sometimes feel trapped inside myself being unable to express myself the same way that I would in Spanish. I have become more aware of the importance of creating spaces where minorities feel welcome and the importance of having representation in different fields. SOT and other institutions are doing a great job promoting diversity and inclusion among their members. I have been part of the SOT Hispanic Organization of Toxicologists (HOT) Special Interest Group since 2015, when I joined the SOT, and I became the HOT Postdoctoral Representative last year. There, I have been working with the other members to keep creating spaces for Hispanics in SOT.

Although it was not part of my plans when younger, pursuing a career in toxicology and moving to the US for my postdoctoral position is for sure one of the most amazing experiences I have had. This experience greatly enriched me personally and professionally. If you are a young student not sure if you want to pursue a career in toxicology, you can get closer to your professors and ask them about the opportunities available to learn more about it. Toxicologists have a broad range of opportunities in academia, government, and industry. If you are a Latinx outside the US and you are interested in toxicology and in getting more involved in SOT but are not sure how to do so, several Latin scientists are happy to talk to you in English and/or Spanish. Feel free to reach out!