Logan Baldini (he/him)
PhD student, chemical engineering
Logan Baldini is a second-year chemical engineering PhD student at UCSB. A transgender man, Baldini is advised by chemical engineering assistant professor Arnab Mukherjee. The focus of his research is on engineering genetically encodable magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) reporters to image the tumor microenvironments of glioblastoma, the most-aggressive type of brain cancer. Baldini uses tumor-specific promoters that express a gene of interest only in tumor cells and not in healthy cells, to study the tumors in a more targeted way. The gene of particular interest to Baldini is aquaporin, a membrane protein that facilitates the transport of water across cell membranes and is highly detectable through the use of diffusion weighted imaging (DWI). His work has the potential to help diagnose, study, and treat highly aggressive brain tumors in a noninvasive, nontoxic, and longitudinal manner. After completing his PhD, Baldini plans to become a postdoctoral researcher and a professor at a four-year research university. His goal is to run his own research lab where his group will study patient-specific therapies and diagnostics. “I am interested in becoming a professor, because I have a strong desire to mentor and teach the next generation of scientists.” During his academic career, Baldini has received a prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation, a Connie Frank Fellowship, and a Heslin Award.
COE: What does Pride Month mean to you as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, and does it feel more important to observe and recognize it given all of the anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation being introduced across the nation?
LB: Pride Month is a time to recognize and celebrate queer people and all the progress that we have made. It honors an extremely important moment in queer history, the Stonewall riots. I believe it’s especially important that we as a community recognize our history and how hard we have had to fight for rights, because, unfortunately, our community is facing an increasing onslaught of anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation. It has been disheartening for me to see our community under attack, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sometimes worried and fearful for the effects this will have on transgender youth and our safety as a whole. This makes it even more important to understand that we need to continue to support our community. I believe that in times of hardship, showing that we are still loud, proud, and thriving in the face of adversity can be one of the best forms of protest.
COE: Why did you agree to share your story and participate in this project that celebrates Pride Month within the College of Engineering?
LB: I agreed to share my story because I believe visibility is incredibly important. When I was first coming to terms with my gender-identity, I felt isolated and anxious. One of my biggest fears was that being transgender would prevent me from having a successful career as a scientist. I went through with transitioning, but I realized how much easier it would have been if I had seen other transgender people in my field. Oftentimes, it feels as though STEM disciplines overlook the importance of celebrating and honoring the diversity of its members. Since I myself lacked guidance and struggled through this process, I want to make sure that my own story is accessible to others. Seeing that other queer people can thrive in this field is incredibly important to normalizing our existence and making sure the next generation understands that you don’t have to sacrifice your career to be authentic. In addition to this, I believe that science itself is beautifully complex and diverse. Since we as scientists celebrate the diversity seen within our work and the natural world, it feels equally as important to celebrate the people who are contributing to the field.
COE: What do you want people who read your profile and the others on the page to learn or gain?
LB: I want people, especially those who are not out or questioning whether to come out, to know that we are here and that we are pursuing groundbreaking research without sacrificing our identity. It would have made a huge difference when I was first transitioning to know or hear from others who have done it before me, and sometimes it can feel terrifying to seek out resources. So, when these stories are made available, it helps bring hope that we are continuing to recognize and honor diversity. I think this also extends to people who may not be part of the community themselves, because it’s important for us to be seen and heard so that our existence is normalized and not just tolerated but celebrated.
COE: How welcoming and inclusive have you found UCSB, the College of Engineering, and your department communities to be as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community?
LB: When I first came to UCSB, I wasn’t out to anyone and I had not begun transitioning yet, so I’ll admit that I was somewhat hesitant about the process. However, once I came out to my advisor, he was extremely supportive, and it made a huge difference. I was able to confidently explain my story about my identity to my lab, and I was very much accepted and welcomed. In addition to this, my home department of chemical engineering did a fantastic job with helping me to update my name and pronouns. I can honestly say it was a very welcoming community for me. Transitioning while in graduate school is one of the best decisions I could have made. It allowed me to finally feel comfortable with my gender identity and I was readily accepted and supported by my peers.
COE: What could the college or university do to improve the environment?
LB: One thing the college could do to improve the environment would be to have more seminars and trainings educating people about the LGBTQIA+ community. When I first arrived, we had a brief training on usage of pronouns, but I was disappointed that this was really the extent of it. I think it’s important to reinforce these trainings, especially with the current political climate, and because I don’t necessarily believe that having one brief overview is enough for people to understand the importance of creating an inclusive work environment. I also believe it would be helpful to have classes that cover diversity in STEM since this is often overlooked. It would be really cool if we could offer an elective that covered the discoveries and accomplishments of underrepresented scientists (i.e. LGBTQIA+, POC, women, etc.).
COE: Is there anything else that you would like to mention or be sure is included in your write-up?
LB: This wasn’t really part of any of the questions, but I always find this important to mention. My own story and acceptance around my gender identity was very much supported by science. I feel that there is a large amount of disinformation being spread around currently that being transgender is unnatural or against science, but I believe this is something we need to push strongly against. Science tells us that almost everything exists on a spectrum. Nothing is static or perfect. Biology and chemistry are beautifully diverse, and it’s because of this diversity that we are able to discover and create such remarkable things. The same is true with sex, sexuality, and gender. Gender, for example, is an extremely complex concept that varies widely between individuals due to differences in hormones, brain chemistry, biological traits, perception of self, and life experience. A huge part of my journey as a transgender man was recognizing and accepting this, and once I was able to be authentic, and I was able to become a better researcher and a happier person.