In grade school and in college she thought 'the scientist life' was an “out of reach, unknowable thing.” Scientists are mostly rigid white guys, she thought — would they accept a tattooed, queer, first-generation American Latina into their ranks?
But she’s always been a scientist in the making, she says — even if it took a while for her to realize it. Barboza, a geological sciences graduate student in UF's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, grew up going to natural history museums, art exhibitions and state parks on weekends with her family.
Barboza’s approach to science is all or nothing, meaning you get her, and everything she stands for, as well as her research — research that's timely.
She’s examining the teeth of ancient, extinct animals to determine what they ate; their eating habits can tell us how plants and animals expanded across North America. The teeth are from around the time of the mid-miocene climatic optimum (MMCO), a natural global warming event that occurred about 17 million years ago and led to extreme climate change, a decrease in ice sheets and intense sea level rise.
"Sounds familiar, right?" Barboza said. "We can use the past to understand the present and future."
By looking at what happened to the Earth and its atmospheric, oceanic and vegetation systems as a response to the MMCO, we can learn about the Earth's response to global climate change in general and how to prepare for it, she said.
But Barboza's voice isn’t confined to the scientific world and its peer-reviewed journals. She aims to reach a broader audience: everyone.
Her scientific outreach embraces modernity — it's one that mixes mediums and is filled with meaning beyond scientific discovery, she says.
By engaging with the public via social media and her podcast Femmes of STEM, she introduces her followers to the history of women in science and connects that history to modern-day issues surrounding gender inequality in STEM.
"'Scientist' for me means putting a word to all of this curiosity that I have," she said. "It's not a white guy in a white lab coat."
Through her outreach, Barboza hopes her followers will see beyond the stereotype.