Cecilia grew up in the big city but is an island girl at heart. She is a molecular biologist from the University of the Philippines in Diliman. After graduating in 1998, she took the open water diver certification course in anticipation of joining the UP Marine Science Institute as a research assistant. However, while the position served to hone her research skills, it did not offer many opportunities to get her feet wet.
Thus, having decided to simply focus on becoming a molecular biologist, she attended graduate school at Stony Brook University in New York, not too far from the Atlantic ocean.
After obtaining her PhD in 2007, she became a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California in Santa Barbara, California, which has a beautiful campus fronting the Pacific. She spent all these years on dry land studying how neurons developed.
Fortuitously, in the course of her exploration of the origins of neurons, she discovered that there was much to be learned by examining the genes of marine animals, such as sponges and corals. This work allowed her to combine her interests in molecular biology and marine science, eventually leading her back to the UP Marine Science Institute, where she is currently an assistant professor.
She has rediscovered her love for diving and plans to continue exploring the molecular biology of marine organisms from varied habitats to understand how they respond to challenges in different environments.