You might not have heard of Dr. Yajaira Sierra-Sastre, who earned her doctorate in nanomaterials chemistry in 2009, but she is quite the hero. In 2013, Sierra-Sastre, the only Latina among her group of six scientists, participated in a four-month-long simulated mission to Mars. One goal of the mission was to examine how food could improve the well-being of astronauts on long missions in space.
As the Huffington Post pointed out, Dr. Sierra-Sastre made sure the other scientists were well fed by using recipes for Puerto Rican dishes.
“I was able to create a recipe for Puerto Rican beans cooked from rehydrated ingredients.” Dr. Sierra-Sastre told NBC Latino in 2012. “It was surprising to me the amount of meals we are able to cook.”
Traditionally, astronauts have relied on canned goods and freeze-dried food to get them through their missions. But Dr. Sierra-Sastre was not about that.
According to the Huffington Post, the proud Puerto Rican prepared dishes like paella and beans with cilantro and annatto.
Dr. Sierra-Sastre says her fascination with outer space began when her father would wake her up to “gaze at the stars.”
She also credits elementary and middle school science fairs as influencing her interest in the subject.
Though Dr. Sierra-Sastre faced obstacles over the course of her career, she never stopped pushing herself.
In an interview with Ciencia Puerto Rico, Dr. Sierra-Sastre spoke about one of the “major obstacles” she had to overcome:
… It was my difficulty speaking English. During college, I suffered a lot with professors that would teach engineering and science courses in English. Sadly, my inability to communicate in English closed some doors at the beginning of my career. That was the main reason why I decided to continue graduate studies in the United States. I wanted to be bilingual and prove myself that I could achieve success in my career.
After pursuing her passion for many years, Dr. Sierra-Sastre has advice for other women looking a career in science.
Dr. Sierra-Sastre gave Ciencia Puerto Rico’s readers some important advice on how to approach their career.
Be bold, brave, determined and strategic. Find mentors that encourage you and constantly remind you that can do achieve your goals. Safeguard your heart while pursuing your university career because a relationship with the wrong person or at the wrong time could negatively impact your professional goals.
Become part of professional organizations for women and find the support that you need. Do not compare yourself to anyone because you are unique! Know the skills and personality traits that distinguish you from the rest of the work force. This also entails to be faithful to your passions.
Be sure to follow Dr. Sierra-Sastre on Facebook.
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