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UCLA Magazine Spring 2005
From Murphy Hall
Living La Vida 'Lorca'
Stress Fractures
What's at Stake
The Importance of Being Elma
House of Cards
The Quest
Through Women's Eyes
Dynamic Duo
Bruin Walk

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Spring 2005
The Importance of Being Elma

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Elma Gonzalez with family

González at age 34 (left), standing with her sister Elda, mother Efigenia, father Nestor, sister Emma, brother Ovidio and Elda's son, Bruce

Well before she earned a bachelor’s in science, with majors in biology and chemistry, González had a heart-to-heart talk with her father. She was 20 — much too grown up and educated to pick crops, she told him. Ever the supportive father, he agreed. But if she didn’t want to go to the fields anymore, he said, she must get a job. That posed a problem; the only way for González to make a living with an undergraduate science degree was to teach. And she was interested in research.

Instead, she looked into graduate schools. But that proved to be a sometimes-discouraging experience. She recalls that one professor at the University of Texas told her that she shouldn’t bother considering a Ph.D. “because I was female. Wasn’t I going to get married and have kids? What use was a Ph.D. going to be? This was the prevalent attitude — women and Mexicans weren’t expected to go anyplace.”

González entered a graduate program at Rutgers University in New Jersey, paying her way with teaching assistantships. In 1972, she received her Ph.D. in cell biology. Two years later, she joined the faculty at UCLA. She pursued biology, she says, because “I was intrigued by why things happen the way they do.” The issue is, of course, central to the circumstances and decisions that have shaped her own life. Which raises the question: Why has Elma, as her colleagues and students fondly call her, turned out to be a high-achiever, and why do so many others from backgrounds similar to hers never make it?

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