Find problems in the world that really upset or confuse you, and use them as your compass. Pursuing your passions will be a consistent and reliable source of energy, motivation, and creativity for the rest of your career.



Who is Dorothy Tovar?



Dorothy Tovar is a Ph.D. candidate in Microbiology and Immunology, also advised in the Ecology and Evolution program at Stanford. Her research investigates antiviral immune responses in bats to understand why they are able to host viruses that are deadly to humans, like Ebola and rabies, without getting sick themselves. She hopes her research will increase awareness of environmental factors that drive the spread of bat-borne disease into people. Born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Dorothy also spent some of her childhood in Haiti, sparking her interest in infectious disease research. This interest led her to earn a BS degree in microbiology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she worked on projects developing vaccines and treatments for Trachoma, a bacterial infection responsible for 1.9 million cases of preventable blindness worldwide. She graduated in 2015 and was honored with the university’s 21st Century Leader Award. Dorothy has also received academic fellowship awards from the National Science Foundation, American Society for Microbiology, and United Negro College Fund.

As a graduate student, Dorothy has also been able to develop her passion for empowering students of color to excel in STEM. In line with this passion, she founded and served as president of the Stanford Black Bioscience Organization (SBBO), a student group that aims to build community among, empower, and advocate for graduate students of color. Dorothy also played an instrumental role in founding a diversity center in the Stanford School of Medicine. Today, Dorothy mentors and coaches a number of graduate, undergraduate, and high school students through programs intended to increase diversity in STEM, and support socioemotional wellness of students of color.


Educational Background

Ph.D. candidate in Microbiology and Immunology,

Bachelors of Science in Microbiology



Special Awards

Stanford University’s Diversifying Academia, Recruiting Excellence Fellowship;
National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship;
UMass Amherst 21st Century Leader Award;
American Society for Microbiology Research Capstone Award;
United Negro College Fund & Merck Science Initiatives Fellowship



How did you choose to pursue this field?

As a kid, I was always interested in science. I read tons of science books and encyclopedias and watched countless hours of the Discovery Channel. After spending some time in Haiti, I became really fascinated by how organisms we can’t see with our eyes could cause diseases that devastate entire countries.


Who was your inspiration or role model that guided you to this field?

In college, I was invited to join the lab of Dr. Wilmore Webley, a Jamaican-American microbiologist who could speak to the unique struggles I faced as a daughter of immigrants from the Caribbean. He was the first Black scientist I met, ever. His mentorship taught me the value of representation and mentorship and instilled in me a commitment to be that kind of role model for the next generation.

Did you always have the desire to work in this field? If not, what was your intended field? Why did you change careers?

Strangely enough, I got interested in microbes in middle school. I decided I wanted a career committed to research very soon after that.

What do you love most about your job or career?

I love that I get to be a professional student. My job is to both learn new things, and expand our understanding of my research area. Learning and creating new knowledge is the best of both worlds to me!


What has been the most rewarding aspect of your job or career?

Being able to use my experiences to teach and empower others has been the most fulfilling thing about what I do. I also love explaining science to people who aren’t scientists.

What things would you want to see changed about your current field of study or job?

1) More diversity in the people doing science,

2) more outreach and engagement with communities affected by the research being done, and

3) more mental health resources and support for students.

What are the most difficult things or disappointing aspect of your job?

Research can be difficult because it trains you to be naturally critical. While this is an asset when analyzing data, it can become detrimental if you’re not careful about separating your work from your value as a person.


What tips would you offer to anyone thinking about entering into your profession/field of study?

Find problems in the world that really upset or confuse you, and use them as your compass. Pursuing your passions will be a consistent and reliable source of energy, motivation, and creativity for the rest of your career.


How have you combated the stigma of being a “woman of color” in STEM?

I am definitely still combating it! Microaggressions are words or actions that reveal someone’s biases against a minority group, and women of color in STEM face them regularly. Having a strong community who validate my experiences and push me to keep going has been so important to me.



What advice would you give your younger self about your career journey as a “woman of color” working in a predominantly white, male-dominated field?

Run your own race. It’s not fair or helpful to compare yourself to people who were born with social, financial, and institutional advantages because of their race or gender. It may seem like others got a head start, or are further ahead, but success and fulfillment come from keeping your eyes on your own lane and doing what you were created to do.



Can you provide some words of wisdom to young ladies thinking about entering a STEM field as a career choice?


Ladies, WE NEED YOU! Being different is not a weakness, but a superpower.

There are ideas only you can think of, and problems your unique experiences have prepared you to solve. Never stop asking questions, and lean into your infinite ability to learn.




What is your favorite quote?


“The path isn’t a straight line; it’s a spiral. You continually come back to things you thought you understood and see deeper truths.”


My favorite quote is always changing, but this one really resonates right now. I can be really hard on myself if I feel like I’m not learning fast enough, and get frustrated when I have to learn the same lesson more than once. I am continually learning to embrace the iterative nature of life, and dig for deeper truths in my experiences.


How has your family been a great influence or support system?

My parents have always emphasized the importance of education, and have set a tremendous example of hard work, and self-sacrifice. My mom taught me how to love God and other people, and that foundation continues to help me navigate my life.


What are your future goals related to your career?

I am currently enjoying the opportunity to explore a wide range of career options for after I graduate, but I am really interested in infectious diseases that affect developing countries.


Contact Dorothy for any further questions:




We hope you enjoyed learning about our latest “STEMsation”, please comment about how her experiences have inspired you, how your experiences can inspire others and nominate our next “STEMsation to spotlight their amazing accomplishments.

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