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Pairing neuroscience and conservation with María Dabrowski

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María Dabrowski (pronouns: she/her) is a cognitive neuroscientist turned ecologist who currently works for an international NGO called Rare that does work in conservation and behavioural sciences. Like many in the field of conservation, María shares her non-linear journey as well as her experiences as a Latina working in STEM and her pointers for others looking to pursue a career in conservation!

In a world where conservation efforts are crucial, individuals from diverse backgrounds bring unique perspectives and challenges to the field. María, a passionate conservationist with a rich blend of identities, shares her journey, experiences, and insights into making the conservation space more inclusive. María, a Latina woman in STEM, reflects on her journey, highlighting the complexities of navigating multiple identities in the conservation field. Despite facing challenges and questioning her sense of belonging, María’s determination to create a space for herself and others shines through.

Pairing neuroscience and conservation with María Dabrowski | #itsawildlife


María always loved the outdoors from a young age. While she initially pursued the study of cognitive neuroscience because she was fascinated by the brain, when she started doing psychology, although she was fascinated by it, the work wasn’t for her!

“It became a process of elimination. I love the brain, but I don’t want to do stuff in the lab.”

And so after graduating  with her BSc, María returned home feeling very confused about life! In her misery, she started walking around the beach of nearby Lake Michigan, and as she looked, she started seeing lots of tiny pieces of plastic.

“And I thought, this seems to be a sort of a huge problem here. And so I reached out to a local nonprofit asking if they were doing anything about this and they asked me if I wanted to collaborate”

For María – that experience, coupled with an introduction to scuba diving made for a very transformative year! María explains –

“The environment, specifically marine conservation, that’s what does get me out of bed in the morning. But I still love brain sciences, so I want to get my Master’s degree in environmental psychology, science communication and conservation, to kind of tie it all together!”

María now works as an outreach associate for Rare – a non-profit that looks at improving environmental issues by working with and understanding the local people involved and implementing behavioural science principles to achieve positive, sustainable changes. María works in the Centre for Behaviour and the Environment there, and as she describes it, her role feels like the perfect culmination of all her interests in life!


María’s journey in conservation is deeply intertwined with her Latin roots and family connections. Despite encountering doubts about her identity both in Ecuador and the U.S., María finds strength in her heritage and connects with fellow Latine individuals, fostering a sense of community and shared experience.

“When I’m in the forest surveying birds for example, I’m just existing, and it’s beautiful, and I’m more focused on the birds than me, right? But when I’m doing other things, there are other layers of my identity present that interact with other people’s identities.”

María explains she is a mix of cultures –

“I have a beautiful mix of Latin and European blood. The side I feel closest to is my Latin side because I’m extremely close with my grandma who’s from Ecuador, and all the lessons I’ve learned from her about nature.”

“It’s complicated – and there are so many layers. I have been told when doing research in Ecuador, for example, that I’m not Latin enough. I have been told in the U. S. that I’m not American enough because I am such a proud mix of so many different cultures.”

And so, for María, being Latina in STEM has created a layer of complexity around her identity. She shares –

“In addition to doing really cool research and connecting with the country that gave me my grandmother, being Latina in STEM has meant I’ve also had to handle what I will gently put as an identity crisis for a long time.”

“I’m still figuring out what being Latina mean for me, how important is that for what I do and how do I continue to exist as a Latina, despite people telling me I’m not enough in one realm or another!”


In her quest for inclusivity, María emphasizes the importance of community-building platforms like Latino Outdoors, which celebrate diversity within the Latine community and provide a supportive space for individuals with varied backgrounds and experiences. By sharing her story and learning from others, María contributes to a more inclusive conservation narrative.

“What’s been great is connecting with other Latin folks on Instagram and joining groups such as Latino Outdoors”

This is an incredible platform amongst others to discuss the topic of identity, connect with other Latin people of similar passions and interests – and create space for vulnerability to encourage open and honest discussions.


Social media serves as a powerful tool for connecting with like-minded individuals and amplifying conservation efforts. Through platforms like Instagram, María has built meaningful connections and fostered discussions on environmentalism and sustainability. However, she also acknowledges the need for balance and self-care to prevent burnout in the digital age.

Like so many of us, María sees the huge value of social media in building community and facilitating connection. But she summarizes –

“I think social media is great, because it provides so much access to so many things. I also think social media is terrible, because it provides so much access to so many things!”


María’s advice for aspiring conservationists is twofold: embrace your passions and start local. By aligning your interests with environmental goals and taking action within your community, you can make a tangible difference while avoiding overwhelm. Whether you’re an artist, lawyer, or fashion enthusiast, there’s a place for everyone in the fight for conservation. María encourages everyone to explore their passion for wildlife conservation and make an impact. She shares –

“My advice is stick with what you’re passionate about because the planet needs everybody!”


Want to hear more from María? Tune into the podcast or you can follow her adventures on Linked In and Instagram @GoGreenForTheOcean. What do you think? why not let us know or follow along for the adventure!

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