Gabriela Garcia, AG22

School: Graduate School of Arts and Sciences 

Degree: Ph.D. in Biology 

Home: The sense of comfort, worth, and value that you feel when you are with your loved ones 

What is your main area of focus? 

When I first started at Tufts, I thought I would dive into tropical plant ecology. I was interested especially in conserving biodiversity in tropical hotspots. But my advisor was exploring coffee crops as a system, and I started examining the literature. I discovered that coffee is a fascinating topic for thinking about biodiversity. Also, my background is in psychology and philosophy… I had thought I would leave the social sciences behind when I started my Ph.D., but I realized that, because of the ways in which coffee is cultivated and sold, studying it as a crop would allow me to integrate my original interests with my developing ones. Now what I really study is the intersection of plants and people.  

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned that you’ll take to your life as an academic? 

A sense of belonging in the field. Because I didn’t start with a degree in ecology, I felt a real kind of imposter syndrome in the beginning—and in my first year, somebody actually said to me that maybe I don’t belong here! Finding in myself the ability to work through that, to feel supported by so many around me, and to gain a true sense of competence and confidence in the field is something that I’ll carry forward—and that I hope to help cultivate in others. 

What are some formative experiences you’ve had here?  

I got a fellowship from Tufts Institute of the Environment that centered on interdisciplinary research: I was figuring out ways to address questions that don’t fit neatly within ecology or the social sciences. It was a unique and empowering experience, looking at dynamic collaborations and thinking about how to transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries. Another valuable experience was work I did for a Tufts GSAS Community Fellowship I received, which focused on expanding diversity and inclusion in the graduate student body. That kind of work is important to me. I’d done it in various capacities before, but often you do that work because you have a vested interest in it—not because it’s well-compensated or highly valued. Tufts put their money where their mouth is, though: they paid a stipend and made clear that diversity and inclusion efforts were a priority. That really meant something to me. 

"In 10 years I will be…" 

Working as a faculty member with three main areas of focus: the intersection of plants and people, the promotion of sustainable plant communities—whether farms or forests—and the preservation of biodiversity and socioecological resilience. And I hope that that work will involve conducting a research program spanning the United States and a tropical country somewhere in Latin America. I also hope to have a diverse group of graduate students working with me so that I can pay forward what I’ve learned here.  

For full Commencement 2022 coverage, please visit now.tufts.edu/commencement-2022.

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