Kaitlyn Martinez was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She is the oldest of three children, and her parents are elementary school educators. As a child of teachers, a curious and learning mindset was developed early. Her mother, who specializes in teaching young children with learning disabilities to read, write, and speak, instilled a love of reading early; in fact, there are pictures of her sleeping cuddled up with books instead of stuffed animals as a toddler. Her father fostered her scientific thinking and problem solving by encouraging her to question the “why” and “how” of the world around her. As a result of this nurturing childhood, school was extremely easy for Kaitlyn, and she was rapidly able to progress through most subjects, math especially. Despite the ease of the STEM subjects, by high school, the formulaic and abstract nature of how math was taught started to be discouraging. Kaitlyn wanted to use these skills to change the world, but few teachers could communicate the tangible impacts of pursuing math in the long term. Consequently, she attended Colorado College, a liberal arts university, with the goal of studying languages, in particular Spanish. However, as her undergraduate degree progressed, she was exposed to examples of applied math research, and started taking classes in Mathematical Biology. As soon as the application of mathematical theory became concrete, she fell in love with math and research once again. After receiving her BA, she pursued a masters and Ph.D. in Computational and Applied Mathematics from the Colorado School of Mines, where her thesis work centered on understanding the spatiotemporal spread of infectious diseases using methods from dynamical systems, statistics, and data science. She currently lives in Los Alamos, New Mexico with her artist partner and is a Postdoctoral Researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Kaitlyn began working at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) as a graduate student intern during the summer of 2018. At that point, she started working with a team of people who were developing models and data analytics methods to forecast and predict disease risk as a part of the Lab’s national security mission. Work on demographic and environmental data to forecast Dengue in Brazil quickly expanded to general data fusion and modeling skills across many domains of research and various infectious diseases. She has been and is a part of teams investigating the impact of climate change on mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile Virus and Dengue, investigating sociodemographic patterns of government interventions, including vaccination, masking, and social distancing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, establishing biomarker profiles of Traumatic Brain Injuries, and developing machine learning models of innate immune response for rapid diagnostic tools. At LANL, there has been a unique opportunity to work on large research projects that require multidisciplinary teams of experts in many different fields. This has allowed Kaitlyn to flex her science communication muscles and serve as a bridge between individuals that do not speak the same scientific language. She hopes to continue developing this niche within her network of lab and external collaborators so that she can continue to be a part of ambitious research that can make an impact in her community, country, and the world.
As an early career scientist, it has been critically important to establish patterns of educational outreach and service as soon as possible. While there are not formal opportunities to teach at LANL, she has found opportunities to teach and mentor in informal and formal capacities in the first two years of her tenure at the lab. She has been the primary mentor for three graduate and undergraduate student interns and has established a research group for students interested in epidemiological research to network, present their research, and get career advice.
Kaitlyn advises students to always “ask the question.” The willingness to ask for what she needed or wanted has opened many doors for her, from making a test less stressful, to getting to go to Brazil as a member of an outreach delegation of female mathematical biologists with the US consulate in Rio de Janeiro. Many people in STEM fields like to “go at it alone” as many of us were taught in school. However, she finds that allowing oneself to be vulnerable and ask questions fosters a growth mindset and allows others to propel us forward.
“For me, Hispanic Heritage Month is about explicitly reconnecting to a part of my cultural history that has been traditionally suppressed or ignored. As a non-Spanish speaking Hispanic, raised culturally white, I sometimes struggle to know where my place is in this community, due to my privileged upbringing. Despite this, whenever I immerse myself in my Hispanic heritage, I feel a sense of peace and belonging, as though a part of my soul has come home.”