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Women Leaders in STEM Spotlight: Joanelis Medina Quintana

How to develop confidence in yourself and rise through the ranks of a scientific career

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Lauren Everett

Lauren Everett is the managing editor for Lab Manager. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from SUNY New Paltz and has more than a decade of experience in news...

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Michileen Bryan

Michileen Bryan is the online events producer for Lab Manager. She can be reached at mbryan@labmanager.com

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In recognition of International Women’s Day on March 8, we will be sharing the careers and experiences of several women leaders in science. These accomplished women will also give presentations and host Q&A sessions during Lab Manager’s Women Leaders in Science Digital Summit, taking place March 14-15. This free digital event will provide career development guidance to women working in scientific organizations and offer advice on how to address challenges, reach goals, and command a room.

Joanelis Medina Quintana is the vector management supervisor and research specialist for the Puerto Rico Vector Control Unit. She completed her master’s degree in molecular biology and currently is a PhD candidate in public health environmental epidemiology. She has extensive experience working with vector-borne diseases and pathogens after serving as part of the emergency response to a Zika outbreak in Puerto Rico in 2016. She was assigned to the diagnostics team in the Centers for Disease Control Dengue Branch in San Juan, where she was trained in a variety of assays from immunodiagnostics to molecular diagnostics. Subsequently, she was recommended by the CDC to join the Puerto Rico Vector Control Unit to develop and implement a molecular laboratory facility on the island with the capability to test more than 1,200 mosquito pools weekly to identify arboviruses or possible pathogens from samples collected in Puerto Rico and internationally. For four years, she was a biology professor in public and private universities in Puerto Rico. The combination of her academic training and work experience in the fields of laboratory and entomological sciences has qualified Medina Quintana to be considered for the official board-certified entomology approval test.

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Headshot of Joanelis Medina Quintana in black and white
Joanelis Medina Quintana

Q: What inspired you to pursue a scientific career? 

A: Pursuing a scientific career was something present for as long as I can remember. Since elementary school, science was my favorite class and curiosity was my best ally. It is fascinating how science influences all aspects of life. For me, it was very important to know details about the biology of life, a deeper understanding of all processes that surround us, and everything that could challenge me intellectually. Future growth, developments, lifestyles, innovations, and many other areas are based on discoveries. I wanted to study a career where I would be able to make a change in someone’s life for the better and make a difference. 

Q:  What's the biggest lesson you have learned during your professional journey so far? 

A: The biggest lesson I’ve learned in this path is to be committed to keep working and trying to do your best until you have the correct results, to have the discipline to maintain a long-term focus and critical thinking. This is only possible with consistency and experience. It is not something that happens one day to another. 

Q: What's one key point of advice you have for fellow women in STEM? 

A: Commit first with yourself, believe that you can, and don’t quit. Keep moving toward a goal by working hard. It is OK to have doubts or to be afraid; it’s a difficult journey but possible. 

Q: Can you explain what you will be presenting on during the Women Leaders in Science Summit? 

A: Woman face lots of challenges through life and it’s no different in professional careers. As a Latina who still lives in Puerto Rico and had to face lots of challenges in her life, I think I can inspire all women around the world. The audience will learn from my experience the importance of being perseverant, structured, focused, and have the will of taking advantage of new opportunities and risks to fulfill your career goals in the middle of uncertainty, motherhood, fears, lack of economic resources, and other social aspects that are challenging or seem to negatively impact our life. There’s still a lot to accomplish in my science career, especially in entomology, a career that here in Puerto Rico is undervalued and not very well known. But considering Puerto Rico’s current situation—the place with more vector-borne diseases such as Dengue—it is a very important role to play for public health stability. 

Q: What challenges do you still see for women in STEM? How can women best advocate for themselves? How can peer allies best support them? 

A: Women in STEM have made progress throughout the years because of the hard work of past generations. Governments, companies, or educational organizations are being more mindful of improving diversity and increased opportunities in science jobs. However, I still see social, cultural, and psychological challenges about perceptions through women stereotypes and obligations compared to men and also work-life balance. 

Women can best advocate for themselves when they are educated and encouraged about leadership and confidence roles from a very young age. There must be an improvement in resources that makes this possible. Representation matters, and as adults, we are responsible for other generations. As women we should celebrate all women’s accomplishments, respect ideas, and make sure they are heard. 

Q:  Do you feel you have equal opportunities to your male counterparts? 

A: During my path developing a career based in science, it was not an equal opportunity compared to other males with similar goals due to a very important social challenge: maintaining a work-life balance of motherhood and home responsibilities. Also, there are still some men that do not accept leadership from a woman possibly because of cultural issues or learnings since a very young age. However, I’m glad and blessed at this moment because I work in an environment of gender equality and experience the same opportunities as men. 

Q: Are there any valuable resources you recommend for women just entering the workforce in a STEM-related field? 

A: A valuable resource is the collaboration between groups of women in STEM. Learning from the experience of those who already walk this path is the best way to face the challenges and complete a successful career. It is not a time to compete; it’s a time to trust each other, work together, and achieve new goals. Mentorship and sponsorships between women are keys to success.

Medina Quintana will deliver her presentation, “Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way: Recognizing Opportunities and Facing Challenges as a Woman in Science” on March 15 at 12:30 EDT. To learn more about Joanelis Medina Quintana or the Women Leaders in Science Summit, visit: summit.labmanager.com/womenleaders