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Scouting for Science

"Am I a scientist scouting for answers, or a scout doing science?"


I was born in Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay in South America, but I grew up in a country house by the sea, in a place which has now become the City of the Coast.


It proved to be a great place to grow up, keeping a permanent contact with Mother Nature: the starry skies; the winds and the storms amplified by the sea nearby; the dunes next to my house and also plenty of wooded areas; the fauna of an area which was at the time a rural area. I only now realize, that I was connected to the surroundings which actually made up the scientific roots of humankind.


When I was eight years old, as part of a family tradition, I became a member of the Scout Movement and henceforward spent a lot of my time enjoying nature with my group and getting involved in community services. My parents met in one of the first Scout groups in my country; they inspired me to start going to the meetings as soon as I was old enough to join the Cub Scouts. At the moment there is already the third generation of scouts in my family since my nephew joined the Pack in 2015. Activities such as camping in the woods without electricity, building canoes to cross a small river, backpacking in the country sight, climbing hills guided by the Southern Cross and sleeping under the Milky Way without tent gave me a sense of how great life is and how wonderful our Mother Earth is.


I believe strong values that we learned as young scouts remain forever.

Scouting provided me the opportunity to have activities that invited me to challenge myself, to break the boundaries of my comfort zone and to develop many of the skills which are so essential in the adult professional life such as teamwork, empathy or problem-solving. For example, during a big summer tent camp, due to a coming storm, we had to evacuate all the participants to military facilities that provided us with housing and safe rooms to spend a night. All the educators had to make a decision on the spot, and organize the safe transportation of around 100 children and teenagers. We had to act quickly and effectively, talking assertively and caring for the youngsters, making sure everything was okay. Such situations are unexpected but we have always prepared ourselves prior to any camp. In this case, since it was a big group, I had the contact of the Military Base and I had called them a week in advance to organize any possible evacuation in case we needed it (which we did). It all went very well, all the scouts had lots of fun in the big rooms with bunk beds and even some soldiers came to greet us saying they had been scouts when they were younger.




 

Fast forward 30 years from joining the Scout Movement,  I am a Biochemist with an MSc. in Cell and Molecular Biology, specializing in Nanotechnology and Plant Biotechnology. In fact, as a child, and as a teenager, I found deep interest in exploring such a rich surrounding world. All aspects of reality were worth investigating for me, and I found pleasure in getting to understand the explanations for so many inquiries I had: whether in the fields of Astronomy, Physics or other Natural Sciences (my father was an Officer in the Merchant Marine) or in the fields of Social Sciences (my mother had a degree in Sociology and is now an English translator; she helped me with articulating my thoughts in English). But among such a wide range of interests, Biology attracted me the most from the very beginning: I wanted to learn about life itself and its inner secrets.


In high school, I was not particularly good in science-related courses, and it took me a lot of effort in having to study very hard to pass the exams. Probably driven by my school counselor that encouraged me to take more science credits, I majored in Biology in college. I did not find it easy, but I really enjoyed the challenge. However, I was always intrigued by the wonders of life, I had always observed nature with fascination, trying to understand how things worked. Finally, after a year abroad in the US as an exchange student, I made up my mind to start a career in Biochemistry.


Due to the science funding cuts in my country, I’ve had to face great difficulties to work on my projects.  I was forced to do my MSc. part-time, since there were not enough funds for a full-time research position, and as a result, it took me twice the time to graduate. I did my MSc. working long hours in the lab, distancing myself from the outside world, operating state of the art microscopes and sophisticated equipment. At the same time, I’ve been part of the Directive Board of the Uruguayan Scout Movement -- a Scientist during the week, a Scout during the Weekend and holidays. Although I am no longer working directly with young adults and children, I contribute from this position to the World Scout Movement, because I believe strong values that we learned as young scouts remain forever.


I can no longer divide these two aspects of myself: Am I a scientist scouting for answers, or a scout doing science?


I’ve come to the conclusion that I am both and they are interconnected.