Making waves in quantum physics, Dr. Jacqui Romero shares her journey, from her youth to her vision of the future of women in STEM.
Ever since her childhood, Dr. Jacqui Romero’s interest in STEM was nurtured by an ever-supporting family. “They have nurtured my interest in mathematics and science from a very young age. I remember my father driving me to weekend MTAP lessons!” Eventually, she took a particular interest in physics. Her passion for the discipline started during her high school years in Philippine Science High School. Physics was her favorite subject, and she would even read beyond what the curriculum would require. In particular, quantum computing was her gateway into the more daunting field of quantum physics.
This feat did not come without difficulty. Dr. Romero mentions two most challenging parts to her journey: getting into the field and landing a job. “I found it hard to get into a research program abroad for a PhD [because] there [was] just a lack of awareness of [programs] then.” Because of this, she became more vocal about the programs in the field of Physics. She then landed a scholarship to do her PhD, which she accomplished all while pregnant with her first child. While earning her doctorate, she also contributed to 11 publications, 5 of which were led by her.
Eventually, after completing her post-graduate degree, Dr. Romero encountered her second challenge: the job hunt. She came to realize that entering the field is one thing, but landing a position is another. Due to the scarcity of jobs in the academe, it is quite difficult for each expert in the field to be afforded a position. She mentions, “it is really sad that we have a lot of talented people and not a lot of jobs in the universities.” Her way around it was to put herself out there, gaining media attention from her work on slowing down the speed of light in free space and winning fellowships and awards that put the spotlight on her. To name a few of her accomplishments, Dr. Romero has once been selected as one out of fifteen L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science (FWIS) International Rising Talents. In 2016, she was also awarded a fellowship by the Australian Research Council, then received a fellowship from the Westpac Foundation afterwards. As Dr. Romero proudly exclaims, “I made sure that I cannot be ignored!”
When asked about the future of women in STEM, Dr. Romero hopes that the Philippine government would invest more on research and development. While it is great to have scholarships for science, what follows after a science degree is still unclear without opportunities for research. “It often happens that one finishes a PhD and then pursues a career in administration[.] That is good, but that is really not what a PhD is for. As abstract as it sounds, we need to generate new knowledge so we can solve more problems. Some of these problems will be unique to the Philippines, and we would need Filipinos who have the expertise and passion to solve them.” Hopeful, she mentions that the Philippines has a wider pool of talented young women based on the number of female students who, as she would observe, would attend Physics conferences each year. It is then a matter of making the most out of this culture through policies and systemic changes.
Dr. Romero’s advice to young Pinays looking to venture into STEM is “Be good! Whatever it is you choose to do, be very good at it to the point that you cannot be dismissed. Also, always remember to have fun!”
Dr. Jacquiline Romero is a Reader (Associate Professor), currently working for the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems at the University of Queensland, Australia. She is also a loving wife and a mother to three children.