Faces of Science: Ester Calvo Fernandez
AmorSui's "Faces of Science" campaign features woman scientists with their own unique shapes, sizes, and stories to encourage current women and future generations in STEM fields to feel comfortable in their skin and empowered to discover the next big thing.
Our first feature is Ester Calvo Fernandez, a PhD student in Pathobiology and Molecular Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. She is also one of the power duos of coatsonheels, a social media initiative to share all aspects of being women scientists.
What is your research focus?
My research work for many years now has focused mainly on brain tumors. Before coming to Columbia, I studied at the University of Michigan and conducted experiments related to brain tumors in pediatric patients. Now, my work has expanded across the fields of neurology and oncology. With a focus still on brain tumors, I study how different mutations affect the disease.
What attracts you to science?
I love the freedom to explore my crazy ideas. Science is not an easy career. There is a lot of unpredictability. However, I am driven to stay in this field because of the opportunity to explore and answer my own hypothesis, and also get paid too!
What motivates you to continue the work in science?
The potential impact my work could one day have on society. I have always worked in clinical and translational studies, which provided me with direct experience to see patients benefit from my research. It is really gratifying. If you are constantly at your bench pipetting your life away, it can be difficult to remember why you are doing it to begin with. In my case, I am in a situation where I constantly see reminders of how important my work is, which has kept me going.
What is your career aspiration? What do you want to do next?
This is a tough question for a first-year PhD student. I have more than one aspiration. I am already a PharmD (Doctor of Pharmacy). With this degree, I can pursue work in clinical pharmacy and research once I receive my PhD. Research is a passion of mine, so maybe I will do that. I have also thought of going to medical school after earning my PhD and becoming an MD-PhD. My ultimate goal, I think, is to become a "bench-to-bedside" research scientist and also have the ability to see patients. I still have to decide what is best for me, but I am excited for what is next!
What is the last accomplishment you celebrated?
Definitely finishing my first semester of graduate school at Columbia last winter! It has definitely been challenging, especially for an international student who had never attended an American school before. The program, school, and cohort have been so amazing, and have definitely propelled me to finish this semester strong.
Tell me something that is strange about you.
I can dream about whatever I want when I go to sleep, and I remember absolutely everything when I wake up. I was actually put in a clinical study for that!
Could you describe your go-to wardrobe?
I'm very European. I would say classy and feminine! If PPE was not a thing, I would definitely wear dresses and high heels all day!
Do your outfits differ in and out of the lab?
They do, but you still will not see me wearing workout clothes or hoodies to the lab. As a rule of thumb, I tend to dress up even to go to the lab. Even if I wear jeans, I will pair them with loafers or high-heeled boots!
Do you have a dress code when working in your lab?
Closed-toe shoes (no sandals in the summer) and pants that don't expose the legs are mandatory.
What outfits would you normally wear when you need to look nice for presentations or talks?
A suit with a blouse or white shirt, or a black below the knee classic dress and stilettos are my go-tos!
What advice you would give to female scientists to dress more appropriately or professionally in the lab?
I personally like to do so, and think it is doable. My first advice would be that in the lab, safety comes first. Make sure you are properly dressed for the work you are doing. As long as you are complying with all mandatory PPE, then you can play around with your outfits. I would like to highlight that just because we are scientists does not mean we can't be feminine. I definitely am and express myself as one. You can rock high-heeled boots, a nice blouse, and so many other options!