Claudia Aguirre, Ph.D.
Neuroscientist/Skin Care Expert, Scientific Communications Manager for Dermalogica and The International Dermal Institute
Organization: Dermalogica, Inc.
What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I was always interested in finding out as much as I could about the world. I was a curious child but never really gravitated toward science, as it seemed like something for boys to do. I loved to read, write and was a great problem-solver. I did not realize for a long time that this was the perfect skill set for a scientist. In high school I excelled in English literature, French, Psychology and other ‘liberal arts’ areas. I felt I was not good enough at math to pursue hard sciences. (It’s only now that I understand girls and some boys need to understand it from a different perspective to ‘get it’).
I did really enjoy physiology and decided to give medicine a try. I was pre-med all my undergraduate years and in my sophomore year I began to do research in a life sciences lab. I immediately fell at ease and had a great female mentor to help me learn to get into the field. I was accepted into a scholars program that further developed my skills in becoming a scientist.
I was able to present my work at scientific conferences for undergraduates and even got my name published in a paper by my junior year. After this, I was encouraged to apply to a prestigious program at NIH, which I accepted and spent a year studying schizophrenia at NIMH. After that, I was certain I wanted to join a PhD program.
What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Science, when taught right (especially to girls) is pretty cool. One of the coolest projects was the one I worked on at NIMH studying the molecular basis of schizophrenia. Being the least understood of all mental diseases made it that much more interesting for me. I got a 360 degree view of the disease, even though I was personally only focused on extracting and analyzing RNA from human brain samples.
I got to sit in on physician-patient meetings and was in an incredible learning environment for sciences. The other cool project was a side project to my PhD. It was helping out with a study on the effects of LA pollution on the brain. This project even made it to TIME.
Role models and heroes:
My mother is always going to be a role model/hero for me.
Advice for future STEMinists?
Don’t listen to them! You can do it all. You can have passions for art, literature, music and talents for math, science or technology (or vice versa). Either way, follow your instincts and don’t believe people when they doubt your skills. Get involved. Work on projects and find things outside of school that will fuel your curiosity.
Favorite website or app:
Favorite app at the moment is Instagram. I’m from a DIY generation, so it’s fun having the tools for making photos look amazing without a heavy investment. Favorite sites right now are Twitter for sharing information, and Pinterest for collecting nice images.
Please also see my blog post about STEM education for girls.