ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF CHEMISTRY, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN
Livia Eberlin is an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Texas at Austin and a research developer in novel technology and chemical methods regarding cancer diagnoses. Her efforts made an impact in the field, allowing doctors to diagnose various types of cancer more efficiently and less expensively. She is a role model for young girls who wish to pursue a career in science and encourages them to be passionate and perseverant.
My name is Livia Eberlin, and I am so excited to be a part of the BCBGMAXAZRIA Contributor Program and their mission to inspire women to be inspirational.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what it is you're currently doing.
I'm currently an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Texas at Austin, and we are doing research developing novel technology and chemical methods to detect cancer diagnoses in real time in clinical practice. I've been doing this for the last 10 years, and it's been super exciting and rewarding.
What led you to your career path?
I've always been very curious. Since I was a little girl, I was always asking questions and trying to understand things and how they work. That led me to pursue chemistry in college. I really loved developing new techniques, measuring things and understanding the biology and the chemistry of complex systems like human beings. That then led me to pursue graduate school. When I was an undergrad, I had the opportunity to come to the United States for undergraduate research, and I really loved that. And I thought: this is what my calling is. I felt like it was my purpose to do cutting edge research and things that could impact other people's lives. I decided to persist on that and pursued my PhD program in analytical chemistry, and then I did a postdoc. It was a lot of hard work, but a lot of successful results as well.
Tell us about the challenges you faced as an immigrant, a minority and also a woman in a male dominated field and how you overcame those challenges.
My career path has been really rewarding, but of course there have been a lot of challenges, especially as an immigrant, a woman and being Latina in a field that is dominated by men. But the future is actually quite bright for women in science. We've seen a larger representation of women, and what I think is missing are women in leadership, in academia, at universities as presidents or provosts or deans of colleges. That would be really great, so that women and girls who are younger that are thinking about doing research have role models and they can look up to and say, "Look, there's a Latina woman in such a leadership position, and I want to do that too."
- "If you want to do something important and relevant, then you're going to have to work really hard."
Explain mass spectrometry, what it is, and how it works.
I have been working for the past 10 years, pretty much, developing this technology which is called mass spectrometry and applying it in a completely different way to do real-time examination of clinical tissues and cancer tissues to be able to give a much more accurate and rapid diagnosis. So this was a technique that traditionally would only be in research labs, but what we want to do is take that power of that chemical technology and put it in the hands of doctors so that they can use it to tell the patient, "I know with very high accuracy that you have this type of cancer, or that type of cancer, and this is how we're going to treat you." So it's more efficient, more targeted, the results are much better, much more rapid, and also for the healthcare system, much cheaper. In that way, it is much less stressful for the patient, so that we're really improving human health, which is really the goal. We're doing translational, cutting-edge, transformative science so that we can impact human lives. So that was my PhD project, and I just couldn't let go of it. So since my PhD, I took that to Stanford University and now at UT Austin, where we're continuing to develop this kind of technology.
What words of advice do you have for young women considering a career in science?
My advice to young women and girls who are thinking that science is really exciting is to find a project that you're passionate about. That's what I tell my graduate students. I have five graduate students, and they're all girls, and I love it; I have two post docs who are also very talented, and I tell them, "Find the project that you love, something you know is going to make an impact." Research can be very challenging; you're going to get to points where you probably want to quit because there's just so much work involved. So, be passionate and also be perseverant. If you have those and you want to do something important and relevant, then you're going to have to work really hard. That's something I have been doing, and I can tell you if you put the work in and you love it, it's going to be great.
What do you want your parting words to be?
I truly believe we were born with a purpose. I feel that, to achieve that purpose, there will have to be several people in your life who encourage you. It may get to a point that you have to always remember these good things and be grateful. So I'm always trying to be grateful for everybody who inspired me and have helped me through my journey because there are going to be difficult times. Have a positive attitude about what you've been given, and be grateful for that. I've been extremely blessed for everything that I have, and I just want to pass that forward and inspire other women and other younger kids to be able to do what they love as well. So have a mindset of gratitude, positivity, and go for what you are meant to do.
Stay connected with Livia Eberlin @liviase on Instagram, @livia__se on Twitter, @LiviaEberlinSanders on Facebook, and on her website, https://eberlin.cm.utexas.edu/livia/.
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