What does it mean to be a Scientist in Latin America?


Video en español, subtítulos en inglés.

Being a Latin American Scientist is…

Rossana Maguiña, a Pollination Biologist from the Peruvian Amazon, walks through her personal and professional opinion on being a scientist from, and working in Latin America. She breaks her answer down into 3 parts.

Latin American Scientist need to be brave

Because Latin America is still a developing region, the countries there are dealing with many different social problems. This leads to political instability, which leads to economic instability. So, the main problem faced by Latin American scientists doing science in Latin America, is that they have to deal with very limited resources.

Latin American scientists are very brave because they manage to publish with very limited funding.

Most of them have very low salaries. A Latin American scientist can earn only 10%, or perhaps up to 40% of the salary that a judge or a congressman would earn in a Latin American country.

They also likely don’t have sufficient financial resources to do research. Research funds are very limited and sometimes they are only directed to a few lines of research, so scientists can lack high quality equipment and good infrastructure. For example, in the U.S. research funding can pay as much as a $250,000 annually for 1 research project. However, in Latin America it’s rare that a project would receive even $50,000 in a year.

There are very few professionals dedicated to science in Latin America.

If we compare how many scientists there are per million people between a world power and a Latin American country, we see a harsh reality. For example, in the U.S. or Japan, there can be as many as 4,000 to 5,000 scientists per million people. In Latin America, it is very rare for a country to have even 1,000 scientist per million people.

Scientists in Latin America are passionate

One has to be very passionate about science to work in a place as lacking in resources as previously explained. Another reason Rossana believes they are very passionate is because of the large number of Latin American scientists working outside of their home countries. Many (including Rossana) have had to make great sacrifices to leave home, and live far away from their family and friends to seek better scientific training and dedicate themselves to what they are really passionate about.

Latin American Scientists must be more than a scientist

Rossana believes that it is up to Latin American scientists, for example, to be:

  • Leaders
  • Disseminators of science
  • Activists
  • To promote and improve the developments of science inside of their countries.

Something that has been evident over the years is that Latin American scientists have had very little visibility in their own countries.

Increasing the visibility of Latin American scientists will attract more students to consider pursuing a career in science. Since there is greater and greater demand for science professionals, that combined with increased visibility could help encourage universities to put more emphasis on offering science degrees. It could also attract the interest of governments, ultimately securing more resources for the development of science and support for scientists in Latin America.

Perhaps, it could also prevent so much brain drain from happening in Latin America.

Many professionals dedicated to science leave Latin American countries to study or find a better job in places where science is more advanced, and then do not return to their home countries. It has been very difficult to repatriate these scientists, because Latin American governments, unfortunately, cannot offer working conditions that are as good as they are in countries where science is more developed.

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