WASHINGTON — “I’m marching because science, in a way, saved my life,” said Adriana Landeros.
The 26-year-old joined thousands of others at the March for Science in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, marching for opportunities for other minorities in science.
Born to undocumented parents in California, Landeros’s life has been marked by poverty, hardship, and a brief stint in jail.
The fact that she was able to rise above those setbacks to become well on her way to becoming a physician scientist Landeros attributes to federally funded science programs — many of which are poised for deep cuts under President Trump’s proposed budget.
Stresses and mistakes
Growing up, Landeros’s parents barely made ends meet. Despite that, she excelled in school, eventually finishing high school in three years.
But in 2012, a pair of stresses hit: Her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer just as Landeros was in the midst of transferring from community college to the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Accompanying her mom to chemotherapy meant Landeros missed a lot of classes, and her grades suffered. A year later, the school forced her to take a break and barred her from enrolling for a quarter.
To cope with the stress, she turned to drugs and drinking. And then, to help her mom with her medical bills, she took a more serious risk: In March 2014, she agreed to a job transporting marijuana cross-country.
She was supposed to drive from California to Illinois, but got pulled over in Nebraska for too closely following a semi-truck. The cop searched her car and found a suitcase full of drugs.
The seven months of jail time Landeros ended up changing her life for the better: She realized that she missed going to school and doing research.
After she got out, Landeros reapplied to UCSC and joined a research team studying biofuels. She also became co-president of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science, leading workshops and becoming a mentor to students who want to pursue research.
Marching for a more hopeful future
Now, with the looming threat of budget cuts to the National Institutes of Health, Landeros is worried that budding scientists with disadvantaged backgrounds will not have the same opportunities she did.
President Trump’s draft budget released last month calls for a $6 billion cut to the NIH — about one-fifth of its budget.
The Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program at Johns Hopkins University — where Landeros studies the bacterium responsible for Legionnaire’s disease — is funded by the NIH, with the goal of preparing students from underrepresented minorities for PhD or MD-PhD studies.
Likewise, as an undergraduate, Landeros benefited from NIH-funded research programs for underrepresented minorities.
Thanks to that assistance, Landeros said, she’s found science to be “a very welcoming community.”
“For me, it’s important to reach out, especially to underserved communities, and let them know that there [are] no borders in science,” she said.
And it’s a community Landeros hopes to spend a very long time in. She’s hoping to be accepted into an MD-PhD program next year — and after she graduates, she’d like to go back to her hometown in Monterey County, Calif., and serve her community.