cataLIST Spotlight: Alondra Ortiz-Ortiz

Alondra Ortiz-Ortiz is a third year Ph.D. student in the department of Mechanical Engineering. As a trainee in the Dasgupta Research Group, Alondra studies Zinc Oxide (ZnO) nanostructures for use in environmental and biological applications. 

What is the best part of grad school life? What do you enjoy most about your job?

For me, the best part about grad school is being able to learn a new thing everyday–about myself, about science, about people. I really appreciate the opportunity to expand my scientific knowledge while being surrounded by so many different people with their own perspective as we all work towards the same goal: get our education and make the world a little bit better.

Describe your path in academia so far. How did you find your field? Did you always know you wanted to go into science? 

I discovered I wanted to be a mechanical engineer during my first year of high school. I was good at math and science, (or at least that’s what my mom and my 9th grader teacher used to say), so I decided to apply to the most prestigious high school in Puerto Rico that specialized in math and science. During my first year, I had an accident that led me to be in a wheelchair. I developed a chronic pain condition and, because of a medical device designed by mechanical engineers, I walked again. I wanted to change the lives of people the same way those mechanical engineers changed mine. I started my bachelors in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez Campus. I have been doing research since my first year of undergraduate studies, both inside and outside of my institution. It was not hard for me to continue my path in academia and pursue a Ph.D.– I love science as much as I love learning!

How do you deal with a rough day/week in the lab, or a setback in an experiment?

I remind myself that getting a Ph.D. is not a sprint, but a marathon. Research is about failure; you will fail a couple of times but you will learn from it. Also, before I repeat the experiment or go back to the lab, I do my nails (that always makes me feel good).

How do you deal with imposter syndrome?

I am a hispanic woman with disabilities in a male-dominated field. I have suffered from imposter syndrome a thousand times in my life so I have had to learn how to deal with it. I always recognize and value my emotions and think about why, what, or who is making me feel this way. I list all the things I have accomplished and I always celebrate them, even the small ones, like when I successfully complete an experiment I have been pushing off because of fear of failure.

What volunteer/outreach efforts are you passionate about? Are you helping to support/promote women, underrepresented minorities, or other groups in STEM fields?

I’m passionate about helping, supporting and inspiring women in STEM as part of cataLIST, where I serve as a lead administrator and co-director of finance. Additionally, I am the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee Chair for the department of Mechanical Engineering, where I also support underrepresented minorities and advocate for a more inclusive and safe environment within our department. Mentoring high schoolers through the process of applying to college is also one of my interests, as is science communication. Making science accessible to everyone is one of the things that gets me out of bed every morning!

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