A scientist with a degree in microbiology dressed her 4-month-old baby in a mini cap and gown for her graduation ceremony.
Alejandra Falla, 33, just completed her Ph.D. at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, one of the most prestigious universities in the world. In 2011, after earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in microbiology in her native country of Columbia, she joined MIT to finish her doctorate.
Falla and her scientist husband had plans to start a family in the future, but she unexpectedly became pregnant last year — right before starting her thesis on genome engineering.
“Scientists have long hours — I work in the laboratory until midnight most nights, including weekends — and I got pregnant during one of the most critical times in my career,” Falla tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I also experienced a lot of morning sickness during my first trimester.”
However, as Falla’s baby grew, so did her perspective. “…..I began to understand the true meaning of life and how my priorities were about to change,” she wrote on the MIT website. “Being pregnant while finishing my thesis helped me to have a better perspective on life: My Ph.D. thesis was not my entire world anymore; I was responsible for another human being, and that came with many responsibilities. I had to be productive, accomplish all my goals, and also take care of myself. With all the challenges ahead I needed to find a good balance, and for that, I had the incredible support of my husband. We worked as a team to ensure I had a healthy pregnancy.”
In October, while six months pregnant, Falla defended her thesis (a mandatory requirement for Ph.D. students to answer questions about their work), to an audience of 60 people and continued working in the lab until February 13, the day before she went into labor with her daughter Clara. “My little girl was my principal inspiration, she gave me the strength I needed,” she wrote.
Falla’s husband, who graduated MIT in 2015 and now works at the university, was so proud of his growing family that he suggested finding a regalia for the baby. “It started as a joke but we decided that Clara had earned her Ph.D. in the womb,” says Falla. “She deserved to graduate with me.”
However, the MIT store doesn’t sell baby-sized regalia, so Falla turned to her mother-in-law in Columbia, who vowed to track one down. When Falla’s father and brother traveled from Columbia to attend her graduation, they brought an infant-size handmade regalia in black, red, and, grey, M.I.T.’s school colors.
“I held Clara after I walked off-stage and everyone was surprised to see her wearing a regalia — it was very emotional for me,” says Falla.
The ceremony was especially memorable for Falla, whose mother died suddenly two years ago, at the age of 59. “…She always had the dream of seeing me on stage receiving my diploma,” she wrote. “She also dreamed of being a grandmother, and I know she was present in spirit during the ceremony, watching me graduate.”
Falla has landed a job working at MIT, however, the couple won’t pressure Clara to become a scientist: “If she doesn’t like science, that’s totally fine. Whatever makes her happy.”
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