Determined to influence the fields of research biology and environmental biology with her unique fusion of enthusiasm and creativity, Alexis Marianes is known for her work in animal welfare. She has studied ecosystems and taken classes in Europe, South America, Southeast Asia, and the USA. She continues to expand her international knowledge and experience-base to improve environmental awareness.
However, Alexis admits that until May of 2010, she never experienced the sinking feeling that comes when your best simply isn’t good enough. The end of her second year of graduate school was a turning point in her life; she had taken a two to three hour long oral exam to determine if she could continue the PhD programme she was pursuing. While she didn’t fail outrightly, she didn’t pass either. Alexis lamented that her 80-hour-a-week “job” for the six months prior to taking that exam was to prepare for it, yet that wasn’t good enough. Growing up as a high achiever in a competitive household meant being told that her best wasn’t good enough after the oral exam was a terrible blow to her ego. Regardless, through her loved ones, she was reminded that she was smart enough to pass the University’s derivative test, and that if she didn’t try again, the scientific community would be losing a creative mind. Alexis taught biochemistry at UWI in 2017 and she would give the same heartfelt speech to her snickering students whenever they looked a little downtrodden: “You are a beautiful and unique snowflake. No one else can offer the world what you can offer the world. Now, go out and contribute uniquely today!” Inspired by Alexis’ perseverance, love for research and inherent care for animals, we sought to hear more about her journey. This is what she had to share with the WE Mag:
What are you working on presently?
I am moving to Brazil to run Reserva Jaguaripira, a research station in the Atlantic Forest owned by the infamous Renata Leite-Pitman. The station is primarily for researchers, but we are initiating an eco education component that will be geared towards engaging the public with the exciting science that is going on in their own backyard.
Our research will be in Renata’s specialty: collaring and tracking wild felids (jaguars, ocelots, margays, jaguarundis, and oncilla). We have a unique opportunity to observe the oncilla, which is the hemisphere’s smallest wildcat. Outside of their existence in the area, no further investigation has been done on them. I have plans to use what I learn in Brazil on the ocelots in our country.
What are some of your treasured milestones thus far?
Oh gosh too many from which to choose. Two come to mind, and they were more or less concurrent. Defending your thesis to earn your PhD is probably a great feeling for everyone, but it was especially great for me because of all the criticism I got from “proper scientists” in my “very esteemed” department along the way. I didn’t do Science the “proper way” because it didn’t make sense. I went to talk after talk where the smartest minds in modern science discussed their Nobel Prize-worthy work with the same tone of voice that you would read the “terms and agreements” of a smartphone update. They had no passion. Not me. When I would get an interesting result in the lab, I would shout “yahoo,” print out the proof, and run around high fiving everyone while asking them what they thought it all meant. I LOVED what I was doing, and it showed. Some colleagues and professors interpreted that childlike excitement as a lack of intensity and intelligence. Finishing first in my class with an intriguing stem cell study felt like vindication for staying true to myself and my passion.
Just as I finished my degree and was supposed to be looking at prestigious postdoctoral opportunities, I decided to leave the traditional career trajectory and moved to Indonesia. I was sick of fluorescent lights and had an intriguing opportunity to teach children on the other side of the world. Although I didn’t know it then, that seemingly small act of rebellion against the predetermined march through academia would give me the confidence to take many other leaps of faith later down the road.
What advice would you give to other women who may want to take on the same path that you have?
Okay, I’ve gotten some great advice over the years, so here are just a few nuggets of inspiration:
1. Gratitude is the secret to happiness, and since gratitude is a choice, so is being happy. Remember that you cannot control what happens in the world; you can only control how you react to it.
2. Even bad situations are good situations if you look at them the right way. Edison said, “I have not failed. I have found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Bad situations teach us valuable lessons about who we are and where we are not yet free. If you find yourself uncomfortable, that’s the universe challenging you to make a change. Be grateful for those cosmic wake up calls just as you are grateful for your failures.
3. Don’t be afraid to take up space. Studies show that women are less likely to speak out, have to do more explaining to prove the value of their contribution, and are more likely to be interrupted than men are, when in mixed gender groups. Hold your ground when you have something to contribute, and hold your head high when you own the mistakes you are sure to make.
4. Whatever you do in this world, do it with passion. “The true master in the art of living makes little distinction between their work and their play because to them, they are always doing both.” – James Michener