Meet Andrea Paz, a biologist focusing on species distributions and diversity in neotropical amphibians!

What is your scientific background?

I studied biology as an undergraduate at Universidad de Los Andes Colombia where I started working with amphibians. I also got my Masters there working on the life history determinants of genetic variation in amphibians of Central America. I came to the US with a Fulbright fellowship and I am doing my Ph.D. in Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior at the City University of New York.

Sampling Herps in the department of Vichada, Colombia/ Andrea Paz

Why did you choose to become a scientist?

Mmmm I guess this was not a one-day decision, it sort of came along the way. I started doing research as an undergrad and loved it! And then decided to continue to my Masters and it was so great I really loved learning and exploring questions about nature. Then, I decided to take a break and work in something different, more of an office job and very little research or quest for knowledge involved and then I missed research so much! So that might have been the turning point when I really, contentiously knew this was what I wanted.

Did you have a role model that influenced your decision to work in science?

I did not have many scientific women role models when I started studying biology, and I hardly had any female professors in college but many of my male professors influenced me and supported me in my decision to pursue a career in science. However, in the last five or so years I have had MANY women role models! Some of them as bosses and advisors whom I deeply admire and have influenced and helped my career every day for the past years. I also have many women scientist friends that are professors and fellow graduate students who have taught me so much about being a woman in science.

How did you choose your field of study?

Sampling frogs in the Chocó forest, Colombia/ Andrea Paz

Well, I grew up in Colombia one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, and I remember spending a lot of time traveling the country with my parents and grandparents as a child, marveling at its landscapes and biodiversity. Then I went on to college and although I first enrolled in Engineering major, I started taking biology classes that reminded me of that time. Those trips had more of an effect than I could imagine at the time and I ended up switching majors and studying biodiversity!

Do you come from an academic family? How does your family regard your career choice?

Mostly not, although I do come from an educated family (my parents are dentists) only my aunt is an academic (in a different field). She has been a great role model for me, and my go-to person for discussing career stuff. My family has been extremely supportive both emotionally and economically ever since I started doing research. Hey, I think they are my biggest, most encouraging fans! Whenever I get a new paper published I always email it to my parents and grandparents before showing it to anyone else.

Besides your scientific interests, what are your personal interests?

I am passionate about traveling and love taking pictures (those two go very well

Doing research in Tatacoa desert, Colombia/ Andrea Paz

together!). Also, science has allowed me to travel way more than I would in any other field and to the most amazing places! I went to French Guiana in 2013 and so many others!

What kind of prejudices, if any, did you have to face? How did that make you feel? Were you able to overcome these?

I think one of the worst prejudices against women is the doubting of her capacities and work in relation to the men around her. Phrases such as that she couldn’t possibly have done that, he did it for her, are extremely hurtful and frustrating and more common that they should. Overcoming these things requires a big support group around you. Luckily, I have had friends and colleagues that support me and believe in me as a person and a scientist.


You can visit Andrea’s website, or follow her on Twitter!