I met Y. Vladimir Pabon Martinez (sounds official, but people have to know the heroes, right?) for the first time on the course “Health innovation and entrepreneurship”. During the daytime lectures, we listened how to develop a business, based on our scientific experience and entrepreneurial spirit. In the evenings, after the intense work on our case studies, we talked about our hobbies, travelling, and of course, life after graduation. Vladimir was more experienced in this topic than me, because when we met, he had already been working as a postdoc. Previously, as a PhD student, he studied how to target DNA in disease-related genes with specific oligonucleotides and peptide conjugates.
Some weeks ago, when we met in the lab, Vladimir told me about his recent visit to Colombia where he participated as an international instructor in Science Clubs, and he inspired me to share this story.
Science Clubs is a voluntary initiative of young people to organise hands-on workshops in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) for kids in different cities in several South American countries, including Colombia. In his hometown – Bucaramanga – Vladimir was part of an international Spanish-speaking team of young scientists. He travelled from Sweden, but there were also people from the USA, Bolivia, Brasil, Germany, and the UK. All of them came to Universidad Industrial de Santander to share their knowledge with talented teenagers.
“After my graduation at KI, I am committed to transferring my skills and expertise to the new generations in Colombia as a reward for my PhD grant.
“I thought that Science clubs is an excellent opportunity to do it, especially because this activity will benefit the kids from the cities and from the countryside”.
In order to engage young participants in the learning process, he used the skills and knowledge that he gained during his PhD studies at KI. The aim was to give an introduction into the basic concepts of nucleic acids, to show how to perform DNA isolation and transfection, and to give young students an opportunity to practice these methods.
However, during that week Vladimir was focusing not only on laboratory work.
“The first session I started by welcoming participants with some tracks by Avicii because his music is extremely popular in Colombia among youngsters! You know, I wanted to show that scientists are not only trapped in the labs behind dozens and dozens of Petri dishes or PCR plates.”
As David Guetta’s song says: work hard, play hard! I think it’s great when kids think about how it is cool to be a scientist.”
He also practically demonstrated the importance of networking and collaboration. “Once, my team performed a unique and a very interesting experiment, which was, unfortunately, impossible to be performed by another group. It turned out to be a perfect situation to demonstrate the basics of scientific collaboration. I encouraged my team to communicate, to share the knowledge and discuss the results with their friends.”
On the last day of the course, the Universidad held a Science Fair, open to the public. There everyone got an opportunity to practice his or her presentation skills via a poster exhibition. Finally, all participants of the Science clubs received certificates from the rectors of the universities who support the activity. For many kids, it became a chance for an initial approach to the universities, where they might continue their studies and future career.
“Overall, it was a challenge, but also a great time. I did want my group to develop their vision and interest in science, be open-minded and curious about life. It has been one of the most inspirational and enjoyable activities that I have ever done!”, he says.
Personally, I was happy to hear that the program organizers promoted gender equality and in total included an equal number of boys and girls. However, in Vladimir’s group, there were 17 (!) girls and 2 boys. It was especially striking since we know the statistics on academic positions: the higher it gets in the hierarchy, the fewer number of women get them. There are several reasons for this discrepancy, and motherhood is one of them: during some time women with children obviously cannot perform on the same level as the number of publications as their male colleagues. Further, this leads to the lower chances of getting the grants and establishing their own research groups. I really hope, that open discussion about this problem will give more chances to women in science to achieve their goals.
Overall, I felt that it is important to share with you Vladimir’s story and I am sure that everyone will draw own conclusions.
For me personally, it is an example, that even living and working abroad, there are two ways of bringing benefits to our home countries: by doing world-class research and by inspiring young generations to do this particular world-class research in the future.
P.S. It took me a while to find a proper title for this post. Then I decided just to google quotes with the words “knowledge” and “sharing”. One of the most common quotes that appeared in my search was by Dalai Lama XIV. He said: “Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality”. So, who’s next to become immortal?
Photos received from Vladimir Pabon Martinez.