Chilean Astronomy Student Javiera goes to Cambridge University for "Shaping Horizons" Program
Maryam and Nivaal Rehman | Toronto, Canada
When we participated in the Dream Big Princess project last year, we made lifelong friends. We are always so inspired by what the amazing young women in the program have accomplished, and continue to do. This summer, one of our friends in the project, Javiera, participated in a STEM program at Cambridge University. She is an absolutely brilliant student, and is passionate about astronomy. We admire her for her resilience, and for her efforts to create change in the STEM fields for all women. We caught up with Javiera on the phone while she was travelling throughout Europe after the program, to hear all about her experiences in Cambridge.
Can you begin by introducing yourself, and letting our readers know what you’re studying?
My name is Javiera Hernandez Morales. I’m currently studying astronomy at the University of Chile. I’m in my first year. I like to specialize in cosmology, and also I work with Gender Issues in the STEM fields. I teach girls in a public school, and I participate in many programs that try to bring more girls into the world of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
Can you tell us a bit more about the program you participated in, in Cambridge and how it felt to get accepted?
The program is called “Shaping Horizons.” It was organized by the University of Cambridge. The main theme was to bring together future leaders from Latin America and the UK. We were 150 future leaders. They selected us, so that they could try to get us to connect with each other. The main objective of the program was to bring together these leaders in order to create solutions for the problems that we are currently facing, and we will face in the feature.
My theme was Gender Equality, especially in the STEM fields. There were many different themes that the other teams chose. For example, there was Climate Change, future of labour, machine learning, artificial intelligence and more. What we tried to do was create solutions for these problems and present the solutions. We had 1 week to prepare a solution, and we finally did a speech where we presented our solutions. We were 24 teams, and there were 3 teams that won the prize, which was funding for your solution.
I didn’t win, but we will keep working on it because I loved the idea. Our idea was to create a platform called “KAN,” which was similar to LinkedIN, but for women in science. Our idea was to stop “invisibalizing” women, because the main problem with women in science, is to find women in science. There are a few women, and if we could create this network, which could work in all of Latin America because it will be online, it will be amazing. For us, the idea was pretty good. We started working with ONG, who are based in Argentina. I think our idea will grow in the future.
How long was the program, and what were some of the other activities that you got to do during your time there?
We started working a month before we met in Cambridge. We worked online, and had a few e-meetings. But really, we didn’t spend a lot of time doing work before we met in Cambridge for a week and got a chance to meet each other. Now, we plan to keep working online. The program is supposed to take place for a year until the next summit takes place in Cambridge. So our idea is to keep working and present if we succeed, in the next summit.
Some of the other activities, included many speeches on all of the different topics that were covered by the summit. There was one speech on Gender Equality. I would have liked to see more speeches related to this, but at least there was something. Also, we participated in some World Cafe Discussions. These were pretty enriching. We took a theme and started talking about what is happening related to the theme in our specific countries. For example, one of the most interesting World Cafe Discussions I think we had, was the future of labour. Like, how are we going to protect people from losing their jobs when they are being replaced with machines. I liked this discussion because we are facing this issue in Chile and we don’t have any solutions currently. These discussions allowed us to start thinking about what we can do to create change.
There were people from all over participating in this program - did you meet any new friends, and were the people on your team from Chile as well or other countries?
We were three Chileans in the summit, so I didn’t have any of them in my group. I worked with Carolina who was from Argentina, with Nina who was from Brazil, and Lula who was from Guatemala. So we were all from Latin America, or the UK, and there were a few Canadians. There weren’t many people from my field - I think I was the only Astronomer there. Among the women, I was the only scientist. I thought that there were going to be more women in science there, but that was not the case.
Why do you believe it’s important for women to go into STEM fields?
I think that we have lost a lot because we don’t have a lot of women in STEM. I think that if you tell a girl that, “Hey you have talent, you should pursue STEM!” But you don’t give her a role model or you don’t tell her why it is important, I think that they lose the opportunity.
For example, I always that there are many scientific advancements that don’t work because they don’t have women among their teams or creators. For example, there are many medicines or drugs that don’t work with women because they don’t work during their menstrual cycle. The seatbelt in cars also doesn’t always work with pregnant women. This is something that doesn’t work because no one thought that a pregnant woman will try to use the seatbelt. There are many things that don’t work without a woman in science or other STEM fields. That’s why I think that we should bring more women into these fields, so that they can solve those issues and we can have a better world.
What are your future plans? After you’re finished studying, what specific career in STEM do you want to pursue?
In astronomy, there are many fields, but my favourite has always been cosmology. I like to study the beginning of our world and our universe. It’s very interesting, and I hope to keep studying. I don’t know where, but I’m looking for opportunities in Cambridge, and Holland. I don’t know where I’ll do it, but I’ll definitely do it. Research is the main thing in cosmology. It is a little bit difficult because we cannot do observations of the beginning of the world. When you’re studying galaxies or exoplanets, it’s easier because we can see them, but we can’t see the beginning of the world. So we do many simulations. This means that there is a component of computer science which is very important. This is also why I'm doing a minor in computer science right now. I really like it.
What advice would you give to a girl who wants to pursue a STEM field, but thinks that it will be too hard to do so when it comes to the University Level?
First of all, I would say to her that it will be difficult. I won’t lie to you. It will definitely be difficult. But that must not stop you. If you like the field, you need to keep trying.
And just remember, that there are many other women who have faced exactly the same problems, but they have succeeded, and you will too.