Alejandra Carvajal is the Chair of Science Club for Girls’ Board of Directors, on which she has
served for three years. Alejandra is currently SVP & Chief Legal Officer at Mersana Therapeutics, Inc., a public biotech company focused on discovering and developing life-changing antibody-drug-conjugates for patients fighting cancer. Before Mersana, Alejandra served as Chief Legal Officer, General Counsel & Secretary for Momenta Pharmaceuticals and, prior to that position, she was Vice President & General Counsel of Cerulean Pharma Inc. She has also worked at Millennium, the Takeda Oncology Company, in several positions of increasing seniority. Alejandra received her J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and her A.B. from Harvard University and is a member of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Bar.
We recently had the opportunity to ask Alejandra some questions about herself, her passion for SCFG, and her own life experience as a Latina first-generation college graduate from a low-income and immigrant family.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born and raised in the Boston area. I went to law school in Washington, D.C., where I met my wife. We got married in 2004 and now have two children (ages 13 and 15). We live in Brookline and my favorite hobby is spending time together as a family - we have family dinner every night, and we enjoy family TV time when we have the chance. More broadly, we love to travel (pre- and post-pandemic), and we believe that one of the best ways to educate kids is to demonstrate to them how other people live and find joy in life. On a more mundane note, I love to read the Sunday New York Times from cover to cover. Not something I have time for every Sunday, but I do enjoy it when I can manage it!
Why are you passionate about the work of Science Club for Girls?
The mission of SCFG really speaks to me and I think the value of what SCFG does for us all is undeniable. I was one of those girls who are today served by SCFG. I am from an immigrant family, and am the first generation to go to college. When I was little, I dreamed of being an astronomer and if I had had access to a program like SCFG, I probably would have had more confidence to pursue an interest in science. It certainly would have counteracted the myriad social messages (both overt and unconscious) that I wasn't the kind of person who could succeed in science.
Why do you think this work is of such importance?
Today, I am an attorney (not a scientist), but I work in biotech and therefore I am surrounded by incredible scientists everyday. Because of my profession and industry, I truly believe we will only benefit from the best innovations, strategies and scientific accomplishments if we allow all of our best minds to come together to solve our global challenges. Not just some. SCFG not only gives our youngest generation the experience, confidence, and mentor relationships to help them see themselves as scientists, but it also helps to fill the pipeline of new scientists with a much more diverse set of candidates.
Tell us about your family background and early life.
My parents immigrated from Chile in the late 1960s and when the military dictatorship took over Chile in 1973, they knew they could not raise me in that environment. So we stayed in Boston, and my maternal grandmother joined us to help raise me while my parents worked multiple jobs. I only spoke Spanish as a young girl, so I knew no English whatsoever when I started Kindergarten. I was apparently so confused by the language that I stopped speaking entirely for about 6 months! In time, I overcame my confusion and became very comfortable with a dual language approach to life - Spanish only at home and English only outside the home.
The power of education was something my parents instilled in me from that very young age. They insisted that I have a "better life" than they had, and the key to all of that was academic achievement. I overcame many preconceived notions of what I could do—as an immigrant, as a Latina, as a child of low-income, broken-English parents—through my academic efforts. It was as much an accomplishment for my parents as it was for me when I was accepted to Harvard College.
Why is language so important to you?
Language has always been a key driver for me and my academic and professional career. I had no choice but to focus on languages from a young age, and later in life language continued to be a master key to everything. How to make yourself understood, how to connect with other people, how to ensure that people understand other perspectives, how to have rational debates. As an attorney, I engage in these skills daily, and as a person who cares tremendously about helping the next generation, I am happy to use my communication skills to highlight the incredible value of SCFG in elevating the confidence of young girls from underrepresented communities so that they BELIEVE they can be scientists and change the world.
Alejandra, thank you so much for your service to SCFG and for being an incredible role model for us all!