Interviews with Scientists: Adriana Humanes
When we asked Twitter whether any scientists would like to be interviewed about their work, we were excited when Adriana Humanes got in touch as we were so interested to hear more about both her research and her advocacy work for gender equality in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
Originally from Venezuela, Adriana is a marine ecologist expert on the effects of disturbances (such as human activities and climate change) on coral reef reproduction. She began her career in marine ecology at Universidad Central de Venezuela in 1999, where she obtained an Honours degree in Biology. Later, she undertook a Masters degree in Biological Sciences (MSc) at Universidad Simón Bolívar where she learned field techniques to monitor early life history stages of corals.
In 2011, Adriana moved to Spain and enrolled in a professional photography course at the oldest photography school in Madrid: EFTI. In 2012, she obtained a scholarship funded by the Australian Development Scholarship Programme to further develop and implement her ideas under the supervision of Dr. Negri, Dr. Fabricius, and Prof. Willis as part of a PhD program offered by the collaboration of James Cook University together with the Australian Institute of Marine Science..
Recently Adriana moved to the UK where she currently has a postdoctoral research position at Newcastle University. She is committed to a vision that embraces laboratory and field research with the education of local communities. Adriana believes that climate change should be addressed through the development of education campaigns on responsible use of natural resources, support of local businesses, and the selection of good quality products manufactured with renewable energies. Adriana loves mentoring the next generation of marine ecologists and is an advocate for diversity and gender equality in STEM.
Thank you so much for getting in touch with us Adriana, it's great to talk to you. Firstly, tell us, what’s your PhD in?
During my PhD I studied the effects of simultaneous stressors (suspended sediments, water temperature and nutrient enrichment) on different early life history stages of corals (from gametes to juveniles) and their implications for population replenishment and maintenance. I did all my work under laboratory conditions exposing early stages to several levels of two factors acting simultaneously, in order to determine the nature of their interactions (synergistic, additive or negative). The outputs from my research have been used to propose management strategies in marine protected areas that are currently under threat.
Did you always want to be a scientist when you were younger, and why?
No, I never thought I’d become into a scientist. I wanted to be a medical surgeon, since I loved the TV series ER! However, I never realized that I can’t see blood without feeling dizzy! After failing the test to enter medical school my dad suggested that I try biology, which actually was some of the best advice he ever gave me. Now, I realize that I have always had a scientist’s mind.
What made you want to pursue a career in your particular field?
I realized I wanted to become a marine ecologist after taking the Animal Biology course in my second semester during my undergraduate degree. It was taught by an incredible woman who, three years later, became my supervisor. Her passion for corals and marine organisms was just contagious and inspired me to discover the fantastic world that lives under the sea!
What advice would you give to someone just starting their PhD?
Only do a PhD if you have a real interest in answering a specific question. Don’t pursue a career in academic research because of the social pressure of getting a PhD title, the work related to it is not worth it and you will not enjoy it. But if you are really interested in research and love dedicating a great amount of your time to thinking, reading, and discussing your ideas, you will love being a PhD student.
What did you enjoy most / are you enjoying most about your PhD?
I enjoyed the freedom and trust that my supervisors gave me to develop my own ideas and test my hypothesis. It helped me grow and understand properly how the scientific method works.
Tell us a bit more about what you’re working on at the moment...
Currently I’m working on a project to test if assisted gene flow can be used as a technique to restore coral reefs that have been affected by high temperatures as a result of climate change.
What does a typical day in the lab look like for you?
My typical day starts with a cup of tea, then I usually have a good breakfast with my partner, after which I jump directly to work, either in the office or the field. None of my days are identical, every single day is different and that’s what I love more about been a scientist! I usually spend some time of my day going through my to do list that I’ve prepared the night before and read my emails. Some days I might spend the whole day reading new publications about corals or doing boring paperwork while others I might be diving in a beautiful reef.
If you weren’t a scientist, what do you think you’d be doing?
I would have been a documentary photographer.
Outside the lab, what do you enjoy doing?
I love to walk around the city, hike and take pictures.
What is it about your field of research that gets you most excited?
I love the freedom involved in been a marine biologist. Usually I can decide my schedule and where I’ll be working: either at home, the office, the lab, or the reef. Also, I love the fact that I’ve been able to travel to several parts of the world to go diving or to attend to workshops, courses or conferences where I’ve met fabulous people and other cultures.
Which scientists working today do you most admire, and why?
Every single marine biologist working actively to do research and conservation of coral reefs is my hero. Marine ecologists do not get enough recognition neither in salary terms or by the society, which is detrimental for our working conditions. Even more, I admire every single woman in front of a research team in the coral reef area, since women in addition need to fight against gender inequality in STEM. For me, Sylvia Earle, Nicole Webster, Carolina Bastidas, Sheila Marques, Katharina Fabricius, Barbara Brown, and Betty Willis have been important role models shaping my career.
What’s your favourite science joke OR science quote?
“Science means constantly walking a tightrope between blind faith and curiosity; between expertise and creativity; between bias and openness; between experience and epiphany; between ambition and passion; and between arrogance and conviction – in short, between and old today and a new tomorrow.” —Henrich Rohrer.
What do you think is the greatest scientific discovery of all time?
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us, Adriana! Your research and campaigning for equality in STEM are so important, and we’re glad to be able to help promote these important issues.
You can find out more about Adriana over on her website www.adrianahumanes.com.
If you’re a life scientist and would like to tell us more about your work and be featured in an interview, we’d love to hear from you! Please send an email telling us a bit about yourself to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a DM on Twitter.