Today on #meetascientist I am excited to introduce you to Kristy Duran, a leader of 500WS and a co-author of this post last week in Scientific American. Hers is a story of perseverance, leading by example, and mentoring. Thanks Kristy for the interview!
Meet Professor Kristy Duran:
I grew up in Antonito, CO, and am sixth generation to the San Luis Valley. My maternal grandparents raised 9 children, insisting all of them become educators. Education has always been extremely important in my family. My grandmother would constantly remind us “education is the one thing no one can take away from you”. I am an Associate Professor of Biology at Adams State University, where I have mentored over 15 undergraduate students. It has been important for me to return to the San Luis Valley and give back to the community that enriched my life. I am passionate about introducing students to the wonders of science and teach them that they too can be scientists and be successful in all they choose to accomplish.
When did you first know you wanted to be a scientist and have a career in academia?
Growing up, I loved collecting butterflies, playing with my chemistry set, creating things, and reading. I loved learning through reading and doing. It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned that this really is what a scientist does. A scientist asks questions, seeks knowledge through reading and experimenting, and is creative in their thinking. It was through my undergraduate research experiences that I knew I wanted to be a scientist. I was inspired by my countless mentors to pursue a career in academia and become the kind of mentor to undergraduate students that they were to me.
What does the 500WS movement mean for you? Do you have background in groups like this?
I am thrilled to be part of a diverse community of women with common goals who face similar obstacles. I feel this movement provides a platform from which women can support each other and become leaders in addressing key issues of today’s world: inequality, science literacy, climate change, etc.
I have been fortunate to be involved in groups such as the Ford Fellows and the Linton-Poodry SACNAS Leadership Institute (LP-SLI). The mission of the Ford Foundation Fellowship is to increase diversity in academia and the mission LP-SLI is to increase diversity in science leadership. These goals intersect with the mission of 500WS and I am honored to be involved in these three groups.
What do you see as the biggest challenges for the next decade of science and what would you like to see 500WS focus on in regard to those challenges?
I think one of the biggest challenges for the next decade of science is improving science literacy. Science has been under attack over the last year and it is disconcerting that so many people distrust science. This distrust stems from not only public attack but a lack of understanding of the scientific process. A growing number of people also don’t believe in the importance of science and that threatens enterprise, health, and the environment to name only a few.
Another challenge is lack of diversity and inclusion in the sciences. I feel we had begun to make inroads on this front, but the attack on underrepresented minorities and immigrants has led to a serious setback. Diversity and inclusion are pivotal in discovery and creativity, without them, we will fall behind the rest of the world in the scientific enterprise.
You are leading our Diversity and Inclusion Team. Can you speak on what this means to you?
I am a product of programs and initiatives geared toward inclusion of underrepresented minorities in science and academia. For that reason, it is an honor to be part of the Diversity and Inclusion Team of the 500WS. During my years in academia, I have seen structural inequities and experienced microaggressions. But because I had mentors who believed in me early in my career, my confidence may have been shaken, but not my perseverance. This is the same foundation I want to help my students build. With this foundation, they too can persevere and chip away at structural inequities and stand up to inequality.
Women are the largest underrepresented minority in the sciences. If we push for equality, stand up to inequality, and shed light on the structural inequities and biases, we will be impactful. We can begin to overcome barriers to diversity and inclusion so that the next generation of scientists don’t have to face the same struggles and can focus on science.
Who were your science role models growing up and during school?
My mom was and is my greatest role model. She earned a dual degree in Chemistry and Mathematics and was my high school Chemistry, Physics, and Computer Programing teacher. She was an amazing teacher and mother. I always aspired to be like her. As an undergraduate, I had few female role models and even fewer women of color role models. I had wonderful male mentors, however I admired the women scientists in my department because not only were they were brilliant scientists but they were an inspiration to me simply because they were doing what I hoped to do someday.
What activities do you do outside of science and teaching that help you keep balanced?
I used to do a lot of rock climbing, but have done much less since my son was born! I am a single mother to a five-year-old and he keeps me busy and balanced. I have taken up running in the last few years and am training with a friend to do a sprint triathlon. In the past I played and coached rugby and have recently begun helping coach Adams State University’s women’s rugby team. I also enjoy reading for pleasure as often as I can.
Kristy L. Duran is an Associate Professor of Biology at Adams State University in Colorado. She earned her B.S. at the University of New Mexico, her M.S. from Colorado State University, and her Ph.D. from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Kristy also received a Ford Foundation Doctoral Fellowship and a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship. She is passionate about undergraduate research and engages students in projects examining the effects dwarf mistletoes on host physiology and ecology. She is dedicated to teaching and is an active member of SACNAS. Kristy is a leader of 500 Women Scientists.