The lack of diversity among companies and workplaces has been a pressing issue in the field of Science. In the UK, researchers are demanding more inclusivity and representation to fix the racial and gender gaps existing in science institutions.

One Boholana is bringing pride to the Philippines as one of the few women of colour in the field of UK Palaeontology, and she is here to help get more Filipino representation in the field of science.

Princess Aira Guillem Buma-at, a 22-year-old Boholana, is making a name for herself in the field of Paleontology. She recently graduated with a degree in MSci in Geology from University College London (UCL), specializing in Palaeontology. Buma-at was recently featured in an article for Forbes Science on a project she conducted that documented 84 sub-rounded mineral structures called diagenetic spheroids that she found in 38 rock formations dating to the Proterozoic eon, the longest of Earth’s geological eon, spanning from 2.5 billion years to 541 million years ago. She is particularly interested in the geological period called the Ediacaran because it documents the first animal macro-communities roughly 600 million years ago.

Buma-at will be taking her PhD in Palaeontology at the University of Cambridge this fall with a full scholarship from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), with additional funds from the Cambridge Department of Zoology Balfour Scholarship and St John’s College Benefactor’s Scholarship. She has been fortunate enough to travel to America, Germany, China, and later this month, Canada, for her research. She hopes to pursue a career in Academia after graduating.

During her sit-down interview with the Provincial Information and Media Office, Buma-at admitted that Palaeontology is an uncommon choice for a career to pursue.

“You don’t really hear that many people who are interested in it,” said the palaeontologist.

Although she admitted that taking up Paleontology was a choice that others might think of as peculiar, it was a decision influenced by her childhood memories in Bohol. Buma-at was raised in Valencia before moving to the UK. Growing up in a coastal town, she and her family used to frequent the beach to go shell collecting, which led her to foster an appreciation for the natural world.

When she moved to the UK, her family enjoyed going fossil hunting, going on trips to different parts of the country to look for fossils. It was when the COVID-19 Pandemic struck globally that she chose to pursue palaeontology.

“We always go fossil hunting as a family, and I think that’s what motivated me because I only really got into palaeontology during the pandemic when we went fossil hunting. I really enjoyed looking for fossils, and finding them is like a bit of a treasure hunt; each one is unique,” Buma-at said.

She added that her family—father Aris Buma-at, mother Edna Guillem Buma-at, and sister Kristine Nicole Buma-at—have been very supportive of her choice to pursue the field.

Although Buma-at now lives in the UK, she never forgets her Boholano roots, which she said she carries as a badge of honour as the first Boholana Palaeontologist.

Buma-at, despite living abroad, is still fluent in Cebuano, and her family still practises Filipino culture and traditions in her household. She added that her family would still make an effort to connect with their heritage and would frequently visit the Philippines since moving to the UK in 2006.

“Proud kaayo ko nga taga-Bohol ko, and I never forget where I came from,” Buma-at said.

Being in Palaeontology, Buma-at said she sees a lack of diversity in the field, with most palaeontologists being predominantly white and male. One study from the Equator Project noted a lack of representation among black and brown people in academia, as postgraduate students from ethnic minority groups only make up 19% of the total population. With the advent of Social Media as a significant information hub for politics and culture, more people are having conversations on race and gender, becoming increasingly aware of the systemic barriers that underrepresented groups are facing in employment. She added that she hopes to inspire more Filipinos to not limit themselves when pursuing their dreams, especially those who want to become scientists.

“You don’t often hear Filipinos in Palaeontology as there are only a few of us in this field. But I want to inspire other Filipinos that you don’t have to limit yourself and just chase something if you are passionate about it,” Buma-at said.

When asked if she has faced any racial microaggressions in her field, Buma-at said she luckily has not encountered any with her peers supportive of what she does but has heard stories from other scientists of colour having bad experiences in other scientific fields.

“It’s different because, in the academic field, the microaggressions are subtle and systemic, but now in the UK there is a growing demand for science institutions to become more inclusive and accepting towards people from diverse backgrounds,” she said.

Buma-at added that she does not see being a woman of colour as a disadvantage but uses it to her advantage, saying people remember her more as being the only Filipino in the class.

“My academic mentor would say to use my traits to my advantage. I stand out for being short and for my brown skin, so people would tend to remember me more than the others,” Buma-at said.

When asked about her thoughts on the state of science in the Philippines, Buma-at said that she finds it disheartening to hear stories of local scientists moving to other countries due to a lack of opportunities.

“I hope Filipino researchers, especially in Bohol, can get more recognition. I always hear wala jamoy kwarta sa science diri sa Pilipinas; that’s why people would rather move abroad or take up other career paths,” Buma-at said.

She added that the Philippines has a lot to offer in terms of talented local scientists that she hopes will be recognized for their contributions to national development through proper compensation for their work and by cultivating scientific interest in Filipino society and culture.

“Science in general is just really important to help advance society and gives a lot of benefits. The more people contributing to scientific advancement, especially from more diverse voices, the more we can solve scientific issues. In terms of palaeontology, getting a better understanding of the past can help inform us about the future and climate change,” Buma-at said.

The 22-year-old said that although she does not see herself as a “trailblazer,” she added that she is honoured to raise the Boholano flag in the field of science and will continue to use her position to inspire more Boholanos to love earth science, especially in Palaeontology.