Female Scientist Feature: Mary Wingo

AmorSui is so excited to introduce you to Mary Wingo, a scientist and women entrepreneur. Mary is the author of The Impact of the Human Stress Response: The Biologic Origins of Human Stress. Her book provides a scientific overview of the phenomenon of human adaptation to stress, and illustrates what happens when we abuse these biological mechanisms. Today, we are talking about her reasons for moving to Ecuador and her search for happiness outside the lab after being turned down from an academic career path.

What was your research focus?

I have my PhD from University of North Texas in Human Physiology and Chemistry. I was particularly interested in understanding human stress. I studied how human adaptation and its mechanisms relate to biology, ecology, psychology, sociology, as well as economics and politics.

What attracts you to science?

I entered college with an interest in law. I thought I was going to be an attorney. I took several pre-law classes and liked them, but I would study day and night and still get Bs in them. It was almost by chance that I got into science. One semester, I decided to branch out and take math and science classes where I ended up getting all As. That is when I realized my talent and passion for these subjects. Initially, I was thinking about switching my major to pre-med because I grew up watching my mom work as an administrator at the hospital. However, I decided to major in biology instead after talking to several physicians with whom she worked, and learned how unfulfilling their jobs were.

What motivates you to continue to work in science?

After college, I was recruited by the chair of the biology department there to continue my graduate studies. I was working under Dr. Kimberly Kelly during my PhD, at first helping her to set up a lab to analyze urine for psychology research. That is when I discovered the field of psycho-neuro immunology, which at the time was viewed as a new frontier of medicine. I became fascinated with how the human immune system adapts to respond to stress and how this mechanism works at the molecular level. My passion in this subject has led me to conduct research both in and out of the lab, and to write a comprehensive book about what I discovered.

What is your career aspiration? What do you want to do next?

I learned of an indigenous medicinal plant called ayahuasca, which Amazonian cultures use as a traditional spiritual medicine in ceremonies. It has beneficial antibiotic, antiviral, and anti-inflammation properties. Currently, no one in the market has leveraged it for these purposes. I utilized my scientific background to create a topical cream infused with concentrated ayahuasca. The product has been recently approved for sale and distribution here in Ecuador. I am in early conversations with large health food stores like Whole Foods and others, and plan to launch a mass distribution of this product early next year.

What is the last accomplishment you celebrated?

I recently gave an invited talk in Spanish at an renowned international conference on Autism and the physiology of Autism. The organizers were looking for an expert to discuss the newest frontiers of research and novel treatment options for Autism and I was chosen to speak about these topics, which I am proud to say.

Tell me something you think is strange about you

After completing my PhD, I could not land a full-time role in academia or industry. I suffered in poverty for a number of years, which has put a terrible dent in my financial and mental health. I had to work part-time on non-science related roles for much of that time. 10 years ago, I decided to formulate a plan to achieve financial freedom. I took on multiple part-time and full-time roles to create multiple revenue streams, all of which allowed me to work remotely, to create financial flexibility and security for myself. I managed fabric label production for a company, became an author, did consulting for people to help them effectively deal with stress, helped expats find rental properties, and taught. I came to visit Cuenca five years ago to visit a family member who had retired here. I fell in love with the history behind the city and the people therein. I decided to move here at the time and recently became a citizen of Ecuador. Now I live in a beautiful apartment which is part of a historical colonial house in a UNESCO world heritage site and am loving it!

And then we talked to Mary about her fashion...

Could you describe your wardrobe?

Although I worked for 10 years with hundreds of fashion companies, I don't consider myself a fashionable person. I value high-quality basic pieces that can be mixed and matched in different functions. I suffered financial hardships growing up and after completing my PhD, so spending a lot of money on clothes was not something I was ever interested in. I often invest in skills and knowledge, which is why you'll find that most garments in my wardrobe came from second-hand stores. I would find high-quality pieces that worth $100 new and buy them used for a fraction of a price.

Do your outfits differ in/out of the lab?

Not really. I grew up in an era where lab safety standards were routinely not followed.

Do you have a dress code when working in your lab?

Dress codes were not as strict back when I was completing my PhD. You would be required to wear a lab coat, but there were no specific guidelines beyond that. I would often wear t-shirts and shorts in the lab.

Why do you need to take precautions?

I conducted experiments using ELISA, plate reader, and chromatography. I worked a lot with human bodily fluids and neurons from mice. Looking back, there should have been more safety precautions in regards to biological spills. However, the only requirement for us back then was to wear a lab coat and gloves at the bench.

What outfits would you normally wear when you need to look nice for presentations or talks?

I like basic high-quality pieces for professional attire. For the international conference on Autism I mentioned earlier, I wore a red sweater, red slacks, a jacket, and sandals.

What advice you would give to female scientists for dressing more appropriately and professionally in the lab?

From my perspective, the value of clothing degrades quickly. I recommend that others purchase high-quality basic pieces that will last and have the ability to be mixed and matched. Spend your money wisely and invest in experience, skills, and knowledge.

To learn more about Mary, visit her website here.

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