AAAS Lecture Series on Women in Science and Engineering

Essay: Ariceli Espinosa

I am a Research Associate in the de Vellis laboratory at UCLA and I am an important element in it. I have been a co-investigator in our program project grant since 1988. I established and directed my research projects expanding considerably the accomplishments of our research group. I have demonstrated continuity in my research and originality on the ways I approach our specific aims. I have achieved my goals, and I have attained the seniority expected from an independent investigator. I have become an international leader in the field of oligodendrocyte differentiation and transplantation. In addition, I am now optimizing the specific methodology to isolate and culture neural stem cells aimed at cell therapy for treating central nervous system conditions. My research has undoubtedly had a great impact in the field of myelination and remyelination. This is reflected in the number of invitations I receive to talk about my work. To date I have imparted 34 lectures in national and international forums.

During the past 15 years I have established nine international longterm collaborations with leader specialists on the topics I investigate and all of them had led and continue to lead to significant publications in the field. This has definitely contributed to the extensive progress of our studies as attested by 41 pier reviewed articles, published in scientific journals, and 15 book chapters, reviews and methods, all of them involving myelin repair in the CNS. During the past two years I continued working on my previously established research projects. This year I submitted 3 papers that were accepted for publication and have two more in preparation.

As part of my contribution to the Mental Retardation Research Center (MRRC) of UCLA I have mentored twenty-two undergraduate students and two post-doctoral fellows. Moreover, my neural cell culture expertise, which to the present time spans over 22 years, has proven to be of help to the users of the MRRC cell culture core, avoiding unnecessary trials that might result in waste of their time and resources. Moreover, having established the adequate methodology to prepare and maintain neural stem cells in the MRRC the horizons of using cell therapy are undoubtedly expanding in our research center.

My interest on studying the CNS started during my undergraduate years in Mexico City where I studied college and worked as a volunteer in the most important research center in Mexico City. At that time and without another source of income, I became a teacher at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, same university where I studied and graduated from college. Then I worked two years in the same research center (CINVESTAV) and applied to innumerable fellowships to be able to continue graduate school. In the mean time I studied French, saved money. During the time I studied in France to obtain my Ph.D., I did not perform any teaching. However, since I came to the USA I have being guest lecturer in several places in Latin-America including, Queretaro, Guadalajara and Mexico City in Mexico, as well as, in Buenos Aires and Cordoba, Argentina. I was also a lecturer in Elba Island, Italy. Therefore, besides my contributions to the brain research field, I have participated and organized teaching activities in Latin America and with time they have expanded. During the past two years I founded and organized a Basic Neurochemistry School aimed at complementing the curricular programs of Latin-American Universities. The first School opened its doors on September 2001 in Cordoba, Argentina. The School was very successful. We had 32 students representing several Latin-American countries. The second School will take place in 2003 and two possible locations are being explored.

I continue to be a guest lecturer in various countries and participated in decisions to provide support to our colleagues teaching and working in the Neurosciences. I have served for 9 years and I was appointed for the third time chair of the Inter-American Cooperation Committee of the American Society for Neurochemistry and have become the important bridge that is necessary to establish enduring collaborations with Universities and Institutes in developing countries in Latin-America.

Reaching this point has not been easy; while I was growing up we did not have any financial problems because my father worked as an accountant. Yet, being the first of six kids there was always a lot of work at home for my mother and me and little time to study. I basically slept 4h/day while in college. Once I graduated, the faculty insisted that I should continue teaching and working in research to the extent of the possible at the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico. However I was conscious that I was not ready to stop studying and that to accomplish a successful career I needed to be exposed to new methods and to work where supplies and equipment were available to develop my research project. I submitted applications for financial support to be able to attend graduate school abroad. As a biologist, I had an array of theme choices but by then I had already decided to study a brain cell named oligodendrocyte (the cell that fails in multiple sclerosis patients) and I submitted applications to laboratories performing this type of work. After waiting for two years to complete al the paperwork, I was granted a three-year stipend from the French Government to support a doctorate. This stipend was considered to be 50% of what was expected to be the allocation for a student and the other half was supposed to be given by the Mexican Government. Unfortunately, that year the peso suffered a devaluation and I was told that the Mexican Government could not grant money to support students abroad.

Under the circumstances and with all my savings devaluated I still decided to go and registered into graduate school at the University Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg, France. At the end of the second year, the entire French study program went through major changes. These changes implicated the disappearance of the current programs at that time and the diplomas could not be converted to the new system. All foreign students were encouraged to take the correspondent diploma and return to their home countries. The diploma I was offered was barely equivalent to a masteršs degree and therefore, since I was looking and working to obtain a PhD, I did not take the "Docotorat du Troisieme cicle." At the end of the 3rd year I found myself without stipend and without room in the dorms. Thus, I found jobs, all kinds of jobs from "cat sitting" to cooking Mexican food to be able to pay rent and meals while I continued studying. After six months of applying to many different institutions and Associations, I got a new grant for two more years from the Association for Cancer Research in France. This allowed me to complete the "Nouvelle These" that is to date the highest degree that can be obtained in France and that it is equivalent to a Ph.D. in the USA.

 

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