Dr. Maricor Arlos is one of the newest additions to the Faculty of Engineering, and a lucky addition at that! She brings a range of experience in wastewater contaminants, specifically pharmaceuticals, feminine products and hormones that are deposited into our water, to see how they affect wildlife and the environment around them! Her work has taken her across the world, particularly to Switzerland where she completed her Post-Doctoral Fellowship at ETH Zurich. Prior to this, she spent 11 years at the University of Waterloo, completing a Bachelors and Masters in Environmental Engineering and a PhD in Biology! Her research and work demonstrate how interdisciplinary engineering work can be, and she continues to work and complete research at the intersection of Environmental Engineering, Environmental Science, and Biology.
A Village of Women
Growing up in the Philippines, Maricor grew up with a passion for science and math! At 12, she was enrolled in a math and science based school which had more females than males, and she grew up with this notion that most people who loved these subjects were like herself in that way! In fact, Maricor mentions that the Philippines is a gender-balanced country when you consider it’s location in South East Asia, and you compare it to the countries around it. She grew up in a society where females took hold of the finances in the house, in schools where nuns were these authoritative figures that ran the show, and with a sister and mentor who had gone on to do engineering herself. It was not until she was past her undergraduate studies, and went on to pursue graduate studies that she really started to notice the Leaky Pipeline Phenomenon: a metaphor that demonstrates the way in which women are underrepresented in STEM fields, and even more so as they pursue higher and higher education. As she describes it, when you grow up and there are lots of women that lead by example and encourage you, you go out there and not question the things you do. But then when there are fewer of you, as was the case by the time she got to her PhD, the support you usually had starts to fade away as you lose colleagues in the leaky pipeline; that, she says, is where the real culture shock occurred for her.
The Leaky Pipeline
The retention of females in the profession, or the lack thereof, Maricor credits to an array of external factors that pull females in different directions. The one that Maricor finds most relevant and prevalent is the societal pressure on women to become mothers. While not a mother herself, she can already see how difficult it is to manage motherhood with a professorship, and the rat race that life turns into when you’re suddenly a year behind your male colleagues. It is the support piece, both from the household and institutions, that is so often missing. Maricor talks about the importance of parental leave that is shared amongst parents, and the need for daycares at large institutions to support women and encourage their growth and success in whatever field they may choose. For Maricor, she faced a similar sort of decision when she had been accepted into her PhD program at the University of Waterloo, but also wanted to get married to her then fiance and start a family. It felt impossible to do both, and it was only with the support of a man who was willing to take a step back and provide an environment for her growth was this possible. He made her realize how much she loved research and teaching, and the PhD would be just the beginning of many more adventures to come!
Maricor with some of her team at ETH Zurich.
A New Adventure & Place for Growth
Following her PhD, Maricor was offered a Post-Doctoral Fellowship that took her to ETH Zurich in Switzerland. The opportunity was one that facilitated a large amount of personal and scientific growth, a chance to get out of her own world, and a time to reflect and find clarity in her decision to become an Environmental Engineer in the first place (all in the uncomforts of a place that wasn’t necessarily home). One of the first lessons she learned on Swiss-German culture was the directness that so often accompanied it, and how beneficial it would be for her growth as a scientist and researcher. Long gone were the days where harsh criticism was first preempted with sugar coated positives. Her supervisors were direct, and it took a while before she developed a thick skin that would prevent her from taking it personally. She learned to see that if there are particular things that hurt your ego, then they don’t serve your purpose and it is best to let them go. The criticism provided greater space for scientific success, and showed her how critical the field was (in the best way)! Apart from these scientific lessons, the most important one for her was about showing up for her life and work with kindness, honesty, and as she was. This, she says, will allow us to make the change we want, and all the other stuff will follow as a result.
A trip to the Swiss Alps
With dreams of becoming a professor, Maricor started to seek our positions in Canada at Universities where she would get to bring her passion for teaching, and be able to further her research in the field. Lucky for us, she scored a position with the University of Alberta! She started on during the height of the pandemic, and adjusted to her new life, and a new city in a very challenging time to do so. She’s now working mostly from home, using her fridge as a whiteboard and taking part in the joys of multiple people working within the confinements of a cozy apartment! While the current restrictions have limited her evening activities to watching lots of anime, Maricor has been able to find friendship and community through meditation groups in the Engineering Faculty, and through vulnerable conversations with those around her (like her friends, family, and husband) who have supported her in making this incredible and difficult life transition!
Maricor, we are so excited to welcome you to the University of Alberta community. From all of us at FEM, we hope that this new opportunity is all that you wished it would be, and it provides space for you to flourish in every aspect of your life.