Reflections on Role Models: Yvonne Rodríguez

While an undergraduate, I was a fan of Dana Scully from the television show X-files and Ellie Arroway from the movie Contact (1997). Both of these characters were gifted scientists that provided strong female role models that were different from anyone I knew. I admired these women because they were smart, independent and brave. Of course, they were fictional characters, but I identified with them and they inspired me. I wanted to be like them.

Identifying with My Role Model

In real life, I was an aspiring physicist without a mentor. There were people in my field that I respected, but there weren’t any role models that I could identify with. It wasn’t until I went to Mexico to give a talk about my research that I really understood the value of a role model. I met a woman there that been a physicist in Mexico City for over 20 years, she had even built her own mini particle accelerator!

Roller Coasters & Role Models

She reminded me of my Aunt Lola. As she explained her research to me, I was surprised by how emotional I felt. I never thought that ion beams aligning nanoparticles would bring tears to my eyes, but they did. I felt for the first time what it meant to have a role model I could identify with. It reminded me of the sensation of weightlessness on a roller coaster, that feeling you get as the roller coaster car begins a freefall down the track. We are so used to the sensation of gravity that we don’t even notice it until it is removed. I didn’t realize how much a role model would mean to me until I had one.

Fears Shattered

Having someone to identify with changed everything, something inside of me felt different. She single handedly deconstructed the fears I harbored; ideas that I might not be good enough because I am not like the other physicists in the United States. She shattered the stereotypes that I had grown up with. I realized what I had been missing; a feeling that other people often take for granted; I was inspired. I could relate to a physicist; after that I knew that I could succeed.

Related Resources

Reflections on Role Models: Judit Camacho
Refelections on Role Models: Dave Wilson