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After a long journey to academia, malaria researcher graduates with PhD

A woman smiling in front of a research poster.
April 27, 2024

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2024 graduates.

Xyonane Segovia is not your average scientist. With three children and an untraditional path into academia, she’s fought harder than most to get to where she is. 

Segovia graduates with a PhD in biology, after doing work with the Huijben lab on malaria parasite evolution. But for much of her life, the thought of ever getting to be a scientist was a faraway dream.  

Segovia has always been an excellent student, getting a 4.0 GPA in high school and earning full ride scholarships to all three universities in Arizona. She excelled during her first year studying biology at ASU in 2007 but says she dropped out under pressure from her fiancé at the time.

For the next few years, she worked as a stay-at-home mother, then in a variety of customer service jobs.

“It was really hard, and gave me a whole lot of anxiety knowing I was going to be yelled at by people,” she said.  

A smiling woman.
Xyonane Segovia

At age 27, she decided that if she wanted to provide for her kids in a job that didn’t make her miserable, she’d have to go back to school.

Soon after she restarted her studies she got an offer to work in a lab on campus.  

“I fell in love with it. And I knew like, OK, this is what I want to do.”  

That love pushed her to pursue a PhD, which she did while supporting three kids. She also advocated for graduate student mental health while in school.

“Mental health has always been a big thing for me. Just because of my experiences as a young person, and then later. I know the impacts of it and how it can be devastating.” 

“It’s been a hard road, so it feels really good," she said. "I never thought I was going to be here, though I always wanted to. This is a big step forward.” 

Question: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school? 

Answer: I think the biggest advice I would give is not to allow failures or missteps to define your goals. I think too often, it's like, “Oh, I didn't do well in that course, so I'm going to completely change what I'm going to do.” Don’t give up so easily! 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU? 

A: That’s a hard one. But I'm going to say for me, especially because I grew up in a very, like, misogynistic type of world, I'm going to just say female teachers in general. I think the best lesson was like that you can be just as intelligent and confident and unshakeable as a man can be ... Because I didn't learn that lesson from my own parents in my own life, I was able to get it through (my female teachers), which was really cool. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?  

A: I’m going to potty train my daughter! I’ve been waiting for so long. I’m going to potty train my daughter and clean my whole house. 

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