Meet Dr. Carolina Mazo-Molina, Plant Pathology Researcher
Updated: Jul 28, 2020
Extending her research from the lab bench to the field, Dr. Carolina Mazo-Molina is an exceptional example of an integral and hard-working woman in plant pathology.
Originally from Barranquilla, Colombia, Dr. Mazo-Molina moved with her family to the capital city of Bogotá where she obtained her B.Sc. degree in microbiology from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana and her M.Sc. degree from Universidad de los Andes. For her bachelor’s degree she worked with nitrogen-fixing actinomycete bacteria in soils and for her master’s degree she worked with tuberculosis. After this, she decided she wanted to pursue research that could extend from the lab to the field. With this purpose in mind, she started working at Agrosavia, a Colombian corporation of research on agriculture and livestock. There, she worked in a soil microbiology laboratory, looking for plant-growth-promoting bacteria with potential as biofertilizers for soybean and cotton. This experience drove her towards applying to Graduate School to pursue her doctoral studies.
Carolina earned her Ph.D. in Plant pathology and plant-microbe biology from Cornell University in 2019. In 2015, she started that process by working in the laboratory of Dr. Greg Martin which is part of the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) at Cornell. During her Ph.D., she worked with Pseudomonas syringae pv. tomato (Pst), a bacterial pathogen that causes speck disease on tomatoes. This disease is economically relevant since it causes a significant decrease of both yield and quality of the tomatoes.
Dr. Mazo-Molina’s work focused on the identification of a protein in Solanum lycopersicoides, a wild relative to the tomato that comes from the Andean mountains. This protein identifies a second protein, this one coming from the bacteria. If that occurs, the plant is protected against the speck disease. Because of the process being so straightforward, this discovery made research based on laboratory tests very applicable in real-life field situations!
“My research is relevant because it not only provided a potential solution to control the bacterial speck by using the protein as a natural source of resistance but also it allowed me to translate my lab research to solve a problem in the agriculture field”.
From Academia to Industry
Dr. Mazo-Molina is searching for job opportunities in the industry sector. This idea derives from her years-long passion for applied research. She believes that this path will help her fulfill her dream of being a scientist that makes a real change in agriculture. However, this brings a lot of challenges, especially being an international student. On this matter, Carolina emphasizes that there are “many things to consider when looking for jobs such as waiting for work authorization or getting job offers without having enough industry experience”.
The importance of having a safe and supportive research environment
Even though her career as a researcher has occurred in different institutions overseas, Dr. Mazo-Molina has always been surrounded by supportive peers and bosses, independently of their gender. This nurturing and positive environment helped Carolina in her path towards success, which she describes as: “I have been lucky to be in labs where the group is supportive and wants to see me succeed”.
In the same sense, she mentioned that her female role models are her female colleagues. “I have chosen women as thesis directors or to be part of my thesis committee". They have taught me to think outside of the box and to be a confident scientist. Their paths to science are impressive and have encouraged me to pursue a career in science”.
Advocating for basic research and inclusive science
Dr. Mazo-Molina emphasizes that agriculture is growing, but it’s still constrained by funding availability. Basic research [research done mostly in the laboratory], like her own, also has the potential to be useful and impactful outside of the lab bench. However, it is mostly known for being only applicable under laboratory conditions. Therefore, this still generates a lot of resistance, especially in developing countries. As well, Dr. Mazo-Molina talked with us about the importance of supporting and highlighting women in any area of science.
“It is essential to be surrounded by a supportive network that celebrates and helps each other when collaborating or developing research projects”, she says.
In fact, this is why her message to all young female students out there is to
“keep studying, keep reading, keep looking for opportunities that take you out of the comfort zone".
An example of this is reaching out to people working in areas where they can see themselves working in the future. “The moment I started doing this, I got new ideas and thought of things in different perspectives”. In addition, she highlights that learning English from an early age as a second language will make a huge difference in the future!
Bringing science closer to home
“I aspire to bring science closer to Colombia. I wish that by sharing my professional trajectory, I can help young scientists pursue the next step in their careers”.
Along the same line, Dr. Mazo-Molina participated in the initiative Clubes de Ciencia, where she got to spend a week in her home country with kids living in war zones while teaching them about microbes and antibiotics. As she describes it: “This experience showed me the importance of communicating and making science accessible to kids and teenagers”. In this same area of communicating our science, Dr. Mazo-Molina wants to highlight another Colombian researcher called Ana Maria Porras, “the creator of a blog called Anaerobias that shares information about science done by Latin American researchers. Her weekly blogs are entertaining for a broad audience making science easy to understand!”.
Surround yourself with an amazing support network
“Before being a scientist, we are people with daily struggles, and it feels good when someone shows empathy and is there to listen to you”.
During her Ph.D. she forged lasting friendships with other fellow Colombian researchers that share a lot of her passions outside work as well. “I love dancing! I am from Barranquilla, a city in Colombia famous for its carnival. I like dancing traditional rhythms such as Cumbia or Mapalé. In Ithaca (New York), I have a group of Colombian friends that also like dancing, and from time to time, we get together to dance other popular rhythms”.
You can find more about Dr. Carolina Mazo-Molina at
This interview is written by WAGS team member Juliana González-Tobón