University of Calgary

Long road from Cuba to dream job as scientist in Canadian oilpatch

UToday HomeJune 17, 2013

Recent PhD graduate Esther Ramos-Padron and her son Fabian watch as her youngest son Javier receives a certificate at a Canadian citizenship ceremony.Recent PhD graduate Esther Ramos-Padron and her son Fabian watch as her youngest son Javier receives a certificate at a Canadian citizenship ceremony. Photo by Jane FowlerIt took 18 years, more than a little paperwork, and a whole lot of academic work, but Esther Ramos-Padron has fulfilled her teenage promise to herself to move from Cuba to Canada and build a better life.

The PhD in biological sciences from the Faculty of Science, and mother of two young sons, has recently started working as an environmental scientist at Cirrus Environmental Services, assessing and managing contaminated sites across Western Canada. 

Years ago, Ramos-Padron’s parents had worked in Toronto before returning the family to Cuba. “I was 14 years old when I came to Canada and we had to leave when I was 18, but I always said I would come back,” says Ramos-Padron. “That was something that I always had in mind.”

Esther completed a BSc in microbiology and a Masters in environmental microbiology at the University of Havana. While in graduate school, she worked as an environmental scientist supporting bioremediation projects in Cuba’s petroleum industry.

She also started the long process of getting permission to leave the country. “Leaving Cuba is not as easy as traveling in other places in the world,” she says. “You have to go through a lot of security checks, but once you are cleared for having no knowledge of sensitive information, the government allows you to leave.”

It took more than two years, but Ramos-Padron eventually got permission to leave Cuba and a permanent resident visa from Canada. She and her young family moved to Calgary in June 2008, where she started her PhD examining how to use microbes to clean up tailings ponds in the oil sands.

Ramos-Padron received her PhD last December and her Canadian citizenship a month later. “In January I was writing my citizenship exam and was taking the oath with my kids,” she says. “I was very excited. In less than five years we are Canadians and I am working. I am very grateful.”

She says it “hasn’t been easy,” but she and her boys, eight and 10, love living in Calgary. Still, they miss their family and friends back in Cuba.  “It’s my culture. I lived there for a long time, but I am so happy here that I don’t really need to go back every year,” she says. “Some people need to go back, but I don’t because I am in my dream place.”


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