Guillermo Vivas-Mateos

See Yourself in STEM - Guillermo Vivas-Mateos

Tell us a little bit about you:

I was born and raised in Madrid, Spain. I did my undergrad in Industrial Engineering before deciding to change directions and pursue a career in Biomedical Engineering in Glasgow. A big passion of mine is handball – I have been playing for more than 16 years across Spain and the UK, and I’m currently a player on the Strathclyde University Handball Team and a local team of the Scottish League, East Kilbride 82. I’m also quite a geek – from comics, to games, and movies – fantasy is always a source of joy for me.

What is your area of research and what project(s) are you working on now?

I’m an EngD student on Biomedical Engineering in the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. On my project, I’m designing new tests for vision, in particular for testing colour vision and contrast sensitivity (that is, the ability to see difference between objects and their background based on brightness and not colour), using electronic devices as platforms. My plan is to make these tests easy to use and accessible to the community.

When was your interest in STEM/your field first sparked and why?

From early on, I had a big affinity for STEM subjects more than social sciences and art. My mind changed between areas within STEM (Mathematics, Physics, Engineering) as I grew older, but I always felt STEM was my path.

Who or what inspired you to stick with STEM when you were younger?

Two of my aunts are teachers in the STEM field (one at secondary school and the other at university level) and both always influenced and encouraged me to pursuit a STEM based career.

What challenges do you think STEM disciplines face with regards to issues of diversity and inclusion and what should a supportive, inclusive STEM community look like?

I think one of the main challenges is the lack of role models. Most people (including myself) can mention a lot of famous white, cis-gendered, male, straight, scientists, but when prompted to mention famous scientists with other ethnicities, genders, sexual identities, etc., they go blank or can only name so many. If people don’t have role models that appeal to them at a personal level, with whom they can identify, they start to think this path is not for them. To change this, I believe it’s necessary to promote more and make more visible the current diverse people in STEM fields, but also encourage young learners of any background to follow this path towards STEM in the future. The young people of today will be the famous scientists of tomorrow!

In your career, what are the moments that have made you proudest so far?

Publishing my first article and presenting for the first time in a conference were big moments for me. Knowing that something I had done had been accepted and deemed to have enough quality by the wider scientific community was a very rewarding moment in my career. In general, every time I get to finish something I am designing (a software, a robot, an experiment), it makes me quite proud.

Since STEM career paths are rarely easy to navigate, what challenges have you faced along the way?

My first big challenge was deciding which field I wanted to go into when I was choosing my undergraduate degree since STEM is so vast and has so many possibilities (even once I had decided, I still changed directions later on during my career). Doing my EngD has also been challenging – there have been times when the motivation run low and when I felt I was barely advancing for months. To this day, I always have that “what if” at the back of my mind and whether I utilised the opportunity to its fullest and above all took it further.

Where do you find support to sustain you in your current career?

Some of my biggest supporters are my friends Benedetta and Danae, who I met when moving to Glasgow and have supported me since. They have heard me doubt myself and slapped me back into reality too many times to count. My family has also always supported me even when I moved to a new country to follow this path and they continue to do so to this day.

What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in STEM?

Honestly, just go for it! It is not an easy path, but it is so fulfilling. Just picture what you could achieve: the discovery and development of something completely new, improving the quality of life of people, designing things that change the world – the possibilities and challenges are endless and yours to grab!

Fun question: Tell us two truths and a lie about you.

a) I can recite the alphabet backwards without hesitation. b) I have built an arcade machine with my brother. c) My teammates gave my name to the act of faceplanting during a match.