“Beyond the Bench” – Striving to Improve Representation in Science

A graduate student who didn’t see herself in science now looks for opportunities to increase awareness among students about what a scientist is and does.

Brittany Ruiz has always been a driven and motivated student, and school felt like a second home. She credits that in large part to her mom, a longstanding educator. Her stellar grades meant that she graduated high school at just 16, and joined college shortly thereafter. But suddenly, the safety and familiarity of high school was gone, and Brittany struggled to find her footing.

Part of her pathfinding was figuring out her major. She loved biology in high school, but she didn’t know it could be a career path, rather than a conduit to professions in nursing and medicine. “Growing up in a under-resourced area like Camden, there wasn’t a lot of awareness or exposure to STEM careers,” she says. “I had no idea what a scientist was.” Moreover, her science professors in school and college were mostly white men, and she had never met anyone who shared her Latina heritage.

Now, as a second year PhD candidate in the laboratory of Dr. Hien Dang studying cancer-causing genes in the liver and pancreas, she wants to change that experience for others from underrepresented backgrounds in science. She recently returned to her alma mater Rutgers Camden for their “Biology Day” and spoke to students about her everyday life as a scientist. “It was such a surreal experience,” she says. “Representation matters. If I can inspire even one person who thinks science isn’t meant for them, then it’s all worth it.”

Illustrations by JKX Comics.

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Science and Technology