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Kristine Chua

University of California at Santa Barbara

Kristine Chua always knew she wanted to work with mothers and babies. When she was a kid, she thought she’d channel that interest into becoming a doctor. But once she realized how much blood doctors encounter, squeamishness made her rethink that career choice.

She next turned to research, but lab work didn’t always fully engage her. “I was like, ‘I guess I pipette this water into this tube,’” Chua said. But eventually, something called “stinky T-shirt research” excited her. Participants smelled cotton balls that had been stuffed under the armpits of other people, then described the smell. The goal was to test whether ovulating women smelled better than those who weren’t ovulating. Looking back, Chua said the science wasn’t quite as rigorous as it could have been, but it was the first time she saw pregnancy-related research that involved talking with real people — and that thrilled her.

Now a postdoctoral fellow in biological anthropology at University of California, Santa Barbara, Chua has landed on a way to channel her lifelong interests into her own rigorous research, focusing on how biology and social environments interact to affect pregnancy. She traveled to the Philippines to talk with pregnant people about how the government’s war on drugs impacted them. She’s also looked at how the mental health of pregnant Latina women is affected by the attitudes of their neighbors

“A lot of it is just me-search,” said Chua, who is Filipino-Chinese and has focused a lot of her work on Filipino Americans as well as Filipinos in the Philippines. “I didn’t see a lot of research being done in this specific community.” Focusing on maternal health with lots of in-person conversations and no blood in sight: It’s just what she always wanted.

Theresa Gaffney