Meet Teresita Padilla-Benavides, Assistant Professor of Molecular Biology & Biochemistry

A globally-engaged researcher, collaborator, and scientist, Teresita (Tere) Padilla-Benavides is an Assistant Professor of Molecular Biology & Biochemistry committed to increasing access to the sciences and centering culturally diverse research. Tere conducts biochemistry research at the Hall-Atwater building, but her outreach spreads far beyond the lab, campus, and borders of the US to increase access to science and create a global community of researchers. 

An international background and global outlook 

Tere is from Mexico City, where she received her Bachelor’s in Biology from Escuela Nacional de Ciencias Biológicas in 2004. She served as an adjunct professor at the Universidad Tecnológica de México from 2003 to 2010 and received her Master’s and Ph.D. degrees at Centro de Investigación y Estudios Avanzados del Instituto Politécnico Nacional. 

In 2010, Tere moved from Mexico to the United States to work as a postdoctoral fellow at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Tere described how an opportunity like joining Arguello’s lab was a fortunate chance to gain access to expensive lab equipment tools. She spent the next years in Massachusetts before coming to Wesleyan. In 2016 she was promoted to Instructor and was the recipient of a diversity program grant at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, then promoted again in 2020 to Research Assistant Professor position.

What drew Tere to Wesleyan is the school’s commitment to diversity and cultural engagement in the lab, with her colleagues, and the experience of mentoring students and research discoveries with Wesleyan students. In her lab, diverse thinking creates different ways of seeing and performing research. She also applauded Wesleyan’s research structure for using research grants efficiently to train and educate faculty and student experiments. 

Collaboration and Multiculturalism

Tere spoke of how multilingualism creates new opportunities for her to bring in students to the lab. Tere’s lab has been home to a visiting scholar from UMass, gaining scientific training and technical English for transferring her science skills into research-specific language construction. With her students, Tere brings Spanish research seminars to Spanish-speaking countries at conferences to share their own research. Her Wesleyan students have also used summer research grants to perform research at institutions in Mexico

“I cannot do this without that difference of thinking… When you are designing an experiment, when you are finding a new question to ask, when you see the perspective of somebody that is not in your shoes, the questions get much more exciting,” Tere said when asked about the importance of multiculturalism in her lab.

On campus, Tere started the Wesleyan chapter of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). Through this society, students have the opportunity to present research, participate in conferences, and gain a network of support to succeed in the science field. The Wesleyan chapter organizes seminars and workshops to promote underrepresented student groups for opportunities in science.

SACNAS at University High School of Science and Engineering in Hartford

Beyond SACNAS, Tere collaborated on a research paper titled “Impact of Professional and Scientific Societies’ Student Chapters on the Development of Underrepresented Undergraduate Students.” This paper analyzes the effects of scientific societies to help underrepresented undergraduate students find community and success in scientific work. The paper also discusses different programs across scientific subject areas including the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), and more.  She emphasized how student experiences formed the background and perspective of the paper and demonstrated the importance of science organizations focused on resources for underrepresented groups. 

Pass It Forward

Coming back from the 12th International Copper Meeting, hosted in Italy, Tere noted that despite the push for diversity in the field, expensive travel and conference costs meant there was only one researcher from Mexico and one from Argentina. However, international gatherings help share scientific discoveries and practices across country borders in different labs around the globe.

Tere’s 2022 Lab research group

One of the biggest challenges Tere sees in her field is the academic bias against non-English papers, specifically bias against the Latino scientific community. The review process barrier for Latin American researchers limits recognition for their work. Tere is currently supporting a special edition of a UK science journal with an emphasis on Latin American research. The proposal includes waiving publication costs and helping with the translation and editorial process. Tere also points to a need for global awareness and cultural competence in the sciences, which would promote support for researchers around the world. 

“Pass it forward,” Tere said. “I was very fortunate that somebody was able to see without barriers, without stereotypes, without judgments, and opened the door of his lab to me.”

Tere spoke of how she has always had to work harder to achieve her professional goals, but through her opportunities, she wants to continue increasing access for others. Whether she is supporting a student to finish their thesis, bringing in a student from Mexico to gain scientific language skills, or growing her biochemistry lab to support new research, Tere opens up countless doors between Wesleyan and the world of scientific opportunities. 

– Megan Bauerle ’24,