Choosing the Right Mentor is Most Important, Says Lindau Alumna

Interview with Lindau Alumna Floryne Buishand

This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, to increase the visibility of women in research (more information for and about women in science by “Women in Research” on Facebook and Twitter). Enjoy the interview with Floryne and get inspired.

 

Floryne Buishand, 30, from the Netherlands, is a postdoctoral researcher at the National Cancer Institute/NIH, Bethesda, USA, studies genomic changes associated with endocrine cancers with the ultimate goal of identifying novel diagnostic and prognostic markers, as well as novel therapeutic targets. One of her special interests is the field of veterinary comparative oncology: the study of naturally occurring cancers in pet dogs provides a suitable model for the advancement of the understanding, diagnosis and management of cancer in humans. Floryne participated in the 64th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting.

 

Floryne Buishand

What inspired you to pursue a career in science?

My background is in veterinary medicine. When I started at vet school, I was convinced that I would become a small animal veterinarian in private practice, because this had always been my dream. However, during college I was selected to participate in the Honors Program of Utrecht’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. This program is an additional year on top of the normal curriculum, and it is 100% research focused. During that year I got inspired to pursue a career in translational science. I realised that solely practicing veterinary medicine would eventually become too much of a routine for me; however, research would always stay challenging. The combination of clinic and research was very appealing to me, because on the one hand I could immediately contribute to curing small animals by practicing, and on the other hand I could contribute to potential future anti-cancer therapies through my research. Also, it would allow me to formulate fundamental research questions based on clinically relevant problems, take these to the lab, and eventually translate the research findings back to the clinic. Since I was fortunate enough to get good results from my Honors Program research, after obtaining my DVM degree, I was able to continue this research project as a Ph.D. candidate. I obtained a grant from The Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development, and this allowed me to perform my Ph.D. research alongside my clinical residency in small animal surgery.

 

Who are your role models?

Obviously, I’m thankful to my parents. Without their support I wouldn’t have been in the position that I am in now.

On a professional level, I have many role models. To name a few that I have met personally, I’d like to start with late Prof. Wim Misdorp, who was one of the founding fathers of veterinary comparative oncology. He was the first veterinarian to receive a grant in comparative cancer pathology at the Dutch Cancer Institute and the Queen Wilhemina Cancer Foundation, which resulted in his Ph.D. thesis in 1964 “Malignant mammary tumors in the dog and the cat compared with the same in women”. During his impressive career he has established collaborations between human hospitals and veterinary practices and he was the first to get a dual professorship at Utrecht’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, both in the Pathology Department as well as in the Small Animal Medicine Department. Standing with one leg in the pathology lab and with one leg in the clinic, he was able to further integrate these two disciplines. Other role models are Profs. Douglas McGregor and David Fraser, who have established the Veterinary Leadership Program at Cornell University. This unique summer research experience combines faculty-guided research with student-directed learning through participation in modules, workshops and group discussion that encourage responsible leadership, critical thinking and the development of teamwork skills. Over the last 28 years, Douglas McGregor and David Fraser have inspired many veterinary medicine students, including myself, facilitating career counselling and promoting the professional development of programme alumni as independent scientists and public health professionals.

Finally, thinking of strong women in science, I consider late Nobel Laureate Rita Levi-Montalcini as a role model. She was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of Nerve Growth Factor. At the time of her death, aged 103, she was the oldest living Nobel Laureate. Besides her outstanding research accomplishments, she also served in Italy’s Senate as Senator for Life and she has a foundation to support African women with potential for scientific accomplishment. I like her quote: “Above all, don’t fear difficult moments. The best comes from them.”

 

How did you get to where you are in your career path?

During the final phase of my Ph.D., I realised that it would be important to gain research experience abroad, in order to build a successful scientific career. I always had NCI/NIH at the back of my mind, since I had visited NIH once in 2009, as part of a workshop of the Veterinary Leadership Program.

When I participated in the 2014 Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, I met Prof. Jens Habermann from Lübeck University. We shared similar research interests, so he invited me to give a lecture in Lübeck in 2015. It turned out that he had performed his postdoc at NCI and when he learned that I was looking to do a postdoc abroad, he connected me with Dr. Thomas Ried, his former postdoc supervisor at NCI. I applied for a Rubicon grant from the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research, and luckily this grant was honoured to me. That allowed me to start my postdoc at the Ried lab in 2016. Later this year I will start a new challenge at NCI as postdoc in the lab of Dr. Electron Kebebew.

 

Promotie Floryne Buishand (2)

 

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

Each project is different and has its own charm. Something that I very much enjoyed was one of the final projects during my Ph.D. In this project, we identified CD90 as a putative cancer stem cell marker in pancreatic endocrine cancer. Using a zebrafish embryo xenograft model we also demonstrated that anti-CD90 monoclonal antibodies decreased the viability and metastatic potential of insulinoma cells, suggesting that anti-CD90 monoclonals form a potential novel adjutant therapeutic modality. Obviously, this therapy is still far from the clinic. However, with my clinical background I also tremendously enjoy projects that are closer to the clinic. Therefore, I enjoyed my recent rotation at NCI’s Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program (CTEP) very much, too. During my time at CTEP, I reviewed letters of intent for clinical trials and clinical trial protocols, and made improvement recommendations. It was very satisfying to realise that many people could already benefit from these clinical trials within 1-3 years, and even more people in the future if these drugs make it through Phase III trials.

 

What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself/your work?

It’s not my personality to feel immensely proud of what I do, or maybe this moment is yet to come. However, I’d like to rephrase: if that moment comes, I would be proud of the team work and not of my work alone, since science is ultimately a team effort. I tend to be my own devil’s advocate, always critically reviewing my work, looking for ways to improve. Although, I don’t feel pride, I can be very happy about work-related things. The happiest moment was during my Ph.D. defence. It was wonderful to end a period of hard work with a ceremonial defence in the midst of family, friends and colleagues.

 

Floryne Buishand (2)

 

What is a “day in the life” of Floryne like?

On a regular day I get up at 6 am, eat breakfast and go to the gym. I have started going to the gym every morning – weekends and holidays included – after I arrived in the U.S., and I haven’t missed a single day since. It’s a great way for me to wake-up and get energised for a productive day. I bike to NIH and normally start around 8 am. In the lab I am able to immediately start with my experiments, since I plan them ahead of time. I try to get as many experiments running in parallel in the morning. During protocol waiting steps I send emails, search papers or write manuscripts or grant proposals. However, if I really have to focus on writing, I’d rather do that at home, where I can focus better. If I am not having lunch with co-workers, I eat lunch in 5 min at my desk; it’s a habit that still persists from the time I was on clinics. I could probably make more time for lunch, but I like to keep going. During the afternoon I am finishing my experiments. The time I actually finish depends on the things I am working on that day, but usually I don’t have to work late on experiments. When I am finished I go home, make dinner or go out for dinner to meet friends. Bethesda is well known for its many restaurants, and I have made it my goal to eat at every one of them – I am getting there. After dinner I usually work a little more on emails, manuscripts or grants, and often my husband and I finish the day watching a good series. It’s too bad that we have to wait until 2019 for the final GoT season…

 

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

My short term goals for my postdoc are to identify novel diagnostic and prognostic markers, as well as novel therapeutic targets, leading to several high impact first authored publications. Also, I am aiming to establish an endocrine cancer comparative oncology consortium. Clinicians and investigators in the fields of veterinary and human endocrine oncology, clinical trials, pathology, and drug development will be joined in this consortium, in order to improve knowledge, development of, and access to naturally occurring canine endocrine tumours, as a model for human disease. Canine and human comparisons represent an unprecedented opportunity to complement conventional endocrine tumour research paradigms, addressing a devastating group of cancers for which innovative diagnostic and treatment strategies are clearly needed. A clinical trial testing an agent in dogs can run between one and three years, whereas human clinical trials stretch between 10-15 years. Comparative oncology research could help by integrating results from canine trials into human trials, thereby speeding up the whole drug development process.

In the long term, I would like to keep contributing to the improvement of current cancer treatment modalities, either by running my own lab, or by coordinating a clinical therapeutics development program, like the work that is being performed at NCI’s Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program.

 

Floryne Buishand

 

What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?

Back in The Netherlands, I used to play the piano a lot. I have been playing since I was five years old and although I did get the chance at the conservatory to pursue a career as a professional pianist, this has never been my dream. It’s great as a hobby, and I do miss having a piano here in the U.S. Furthermore, I love to be active: besides going to the gym, I am playing tennis and I love to hike, especially in the National Parks. So far, I have visited ~35 of them, and I am looking forward to add two more during our upcoming road trip through Colorado, South Dakota, Wyoming Utah and Arizona.

 

What advice do you have for other women interested in science?

Historically, gender stereotypes in science have impeded supportive environments for women faculty. Stereotypes not only affect the social interactions and external evaluations of a stereotyped individual, but can also affect that individual’s performance. Social science research suggests that women’s perceptions of their environments are influenced by stereotype threat: the anxiety faced when confronted with situations in which one may be evaluated using a negative stereotype. For instance, it has been demonstrated that women perform worse on math tests when reminded of their gender, like older adults perform worse on memory tests when reminded of their age. So first of all, women should try to prevent that stereotype threat influences their perception of the environment. Since gender stereotypes should not be an issue, I would give women the same advice as men: the most important thing that someone interested in science should think very carefully about is who they will choose as a mentor. A mentor will have a big impact on the future career of a young scientist, both through an inspirational experience and through the practical benefits of vocational planning. Training decisions should only be made after discussing scientific interests and objectives with trusted advisors and individuals currently in training. Individuals contemplating graduate training should be advised to seek relevant information concerning prospective mentors, including a prospective mentor’s training record, his or her academic progression and productivity, the journals in which he or she has published, and peer regard as reflected in the frequency with which his or her published papers are cited in the scientific literature.

 

Promotie Floryne Buishand

 

In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in science?

CRISPR/Cas9 is a hot genome editing tool that was first reported in 2010 as a programmable system for creating DNA cuts at desired locations in prokaryotes. Since then, the system has been adapted enabling its use in eukaryotic cells. So far, CRISPR/Cas9 has been successfully used in vitro and ex vivo for editing, regulating and targeting genomes. The next step would be to use CRISP/Cas9 in vivo, because it could be the next breakthrough in cancer treatment. All cancers harbour multiple mutations that cause uncontrolled cell proliferation. With CRISPR/Cas9 these mutations could be corrected directly in cancer patients. However, before CRISPR/Cas9 makes it to the clinics, obviously some challenges still need to be solved, like off-target effects and efficiency and specificity of in vivo CRISPR/Cas9 delivery methods.

 

What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?

During the last two decades, women have already made substantial progress in several science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. Female assistant professors are now at or above parity in psychological science and in most social sciences, and they are approaching parity in biological sciences. However, women remain less numerous at senior ranks in all fields. For example, females make up more than half of biomedical science undergraduate (58%) and postgraduate (53%) degrees but only 18% of full professors in the biomedical science. Apparently, women leave science at the transition from a mentored to an independent stage of their careers. These transition points along this career path offer a target to prevent the loss of highly trained women scientists.

One strategy to keep women on board is to provide specific “women in science fellowships”. At NCI the Sallie Rosen Kaplan postdoctoral fellowship for women in cancer research, provides additional mentoring opportunities, seminars, and workshops designed to strengthen leadership skills over a one-year period, which should enable female postdoctoral fellows to feel better equipped to transition to independent research careers.

Other strategies that could stimulate women to stay in science are a) various forms of flexibility with federal-grant funding designed to accommodate women with young children keeping these women in the game; b) increasing the value of teaching, service, and administrative experience in the tenure/promotion evaluation process; c) providing on-campus childcare centres; d) supporting requests from partners for shared tenure lines that enable couples to better balance work and personal/caretaking roles; e) stopping the tenure clock for one year per child due to childbearing demands; f) providing fully-paid leave for giving birth for tenure track women for one semester; g) providing equal opportunity for women and men to lead committees and research groups.

“It’s Important to Show the Achievements of Women in Science Through the Media” – Antonella Coccia

Interview with #LiNo17 young scientist Antonella Coccia

This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, to increase the visibility of women in research (more information for and about women in science by “Women in Research” on Facebook and Twitter). Enjoy the interview with Antonella and get inspired.

 

Antonella_1

Antonella Coccia, 22, from Argentina is an undergraduate student and researcher at University of Belgrano, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Antonella is working in biotechnology. More specifically, she is studying how to obtain Lysine (amino acid) through bacterial fermentation. Her country is a food producer and it is looking for more effective ways to feed cattle; however, Argentina doesn’t produce any amino acids (they are imported).

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in science/chemistry?

I was a very curious girl. I was always making my parents tired with the why’s, how’s and for what questions. My father noticed how passionate I got when I learned something new, especially when it was related to science, so he bought me a chemistry set for my birthday. I loved it. It was my first contact with science and I felt that that game satisfied my voracious curiosity. Later, I started high school in a science orientated school. Those years were of a lot of importance to decide my future career. I had the opportunity to visit the school chemistry laboratory for the first time, and it was love at first sight. I started to participate in every science fair, to show my experiments to other kids and to inspire them to join science orientated classes.

 

Who are your role models?

I do not think I have a single role model to follow. In the years that I have been involved in the sciences, I discovered many people and figures who have inspired me in many ways and taught me very valuable things. Like many girls interested in science, Marie Curie is a significant role model for me. I was impressed by how she could set her goals beyond what was known at that time. I admire her ability to build a family along with her scientific career, and how she succeeded in inspiring her daughters so much that one of them later received a Nobel Prize. Finding the balance between having a family and engaging in science is something that I’ve always admired. On the other hand, my parents are also a role model. They have shown me through their years of work how sacrifice and hard work pays off. They are also a major example of overcoming difficulties by believing in themselves. Other role models for me were my teachers, especially my current research director and professor Dr. Pablo Raul Castello who has shown me day by day that the possibilities are endless if one is inspired and passionate enough about his work.

I admire […] how she succeeded in inspiring her daughters so much that one of them later received a Nobel Prize.

How did you get to where you are in your career path?

When I finished high school, I decided to apply to universities in the United States. Therefore, I had to take the SATs but I felt that there was a great gap between my school and the contents of the exams. I had to be an autodidact and work hard to achieve my goal. I was accepted but I couldn’t start my studies abroad due to economic difficulties. I felt that everything had been in vain. Then I entered the University of Belgrano where I am currently studying for the third year of my chemistry major. I found that the knowledge that I had acquired and, moreover, the qualities as a student that I developed as well as the maturity I had gained, positioned me differently compared to the rest of my classmates. I took risks, I wasn’t afraid of that and I sought for what I thought my career needed. That’s how in the second year of my career I was already participating in an investigation in the university laboratory. Those experiences have shown me that sometimes things don’t go the way I want but everything that I’ve learned stays with me and makes a difference in future situations.

 

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

I think that the coolest project I’ve ever participated in is the one that I am part of right now. This project is very dear to me because it’s the first investigation that was entirely entrusted to me. I am working in Lysine production through bacterial fermentation. This is a well-known process around the world; however, we have a different approach and it already has intellectual property. I really like this project because it is applicable to my country’s industry and it could be the answer to the current dilemma of how to produce more and better food. Argentina is a food producer; however, it does not produce the required supplements to enrich the cattle food. Our project can provide those supplements making food production cheaper and creating an inexhaustible source of food enrichment.

 

Antonella_2

What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself/your work?

The first time I inoculated the medium with the lysine producer bacteria. I was very nervous and excited at the same time. I even texted my mom to tell her as a joke that my little babies were growing. Even though the formulation of the medium was the most important part, the bacterial growth was the most decisive stage. I was about to find out if the formulation was correct.

 

What is a “day in the life” of Antonella like?

So, a day in my life starts at 5:30 am when I get up and start to prepare to go to university. I take a bus and a subway which usually takes me an hour. Then I get to University and start my classes. I take classes until 13:00 hrs when it’s time to take a lunch break. At 14:00 hrs I start working at the laboratory, I check on the bacterial growth and the Lysine production. I answer some emails and work on some projects. When I come back home I try to go for a run or to take a gym class. I find it very relaxing. I always eat dinner with my family because it’s very important for me to save some time to share with them. At the end of the day, I study for my classes and complete course assignments.

sometimes things don’t go the way I want but everything that I’ve learned stays with me and makes a difference in future situations

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

Even though I am focusing on finishing my undergraduate studies, I’m looking forward to starting my postgraduate studies, I really want to get a doctorate degree. As for my research goals, it may sound cliché but I would really love to work on a project that causes an impact on society or that gives me the chance to leave something good to the world.

 

Antonella_3

What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?

When I am not in the laboratory or taking classes I really enjoy going to food truck fairs with my mom or baking for my family. I also like taking dance classes and running because I end up very relaxed and with a clearer mind. Something that keeps me going is doing activities with friends, having a coffee or going for a walk – it’s always great to spend some time with them.

 

What advice do you have for other women interested in science/chemistry?

I think that the most important thing for a woman interested in science is never underestimating herself. There will be people that will discourage you or even yourself will, but it’s important to keep in mind why you are doing what you do. It happens to me sometimes that it feels like I haven’t achieved anything. Other times, I am really lost with my investigation or I get frustrated with grades after extended periods of study but I surround myself with people that really support me and remind me of how much I have achieved and how much I love what I do.

 

In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in science/chemistry?

I don’t think there is a certain answer to this question but if you ask me what I hope will be the next breakthrough in science I would say that I wish a cure will be found for illnesses that cause many deaths around the world such as cancer, leukaemia or AIDS, to name just a few. I think that a lot of research is being done in those areas and it is probable that the next great breakthrough will go in that direction.

 

What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?

From my point of view, there should be more encouragement for little girls. It’s important to show the achievements of women in science through the media because it avoids the myth that there are not so many women involved in science careers. The young women should see that we are more and more female scientists every day, it’s the best way to inspire them. Another thing that I haven’t seen or heard (at least in my country), and I think could make an enormous difference, is offering science lab as an extracurricular activity. I particularly discovered my love for science when I experienced what it was like being in a laboratory and the endless opportunities that it represented.

Julie Fenton Loves a Challenge, Regardless of Scale

Interview with #LiNo17 young scientist Julie L. Fenton

This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, to increase the visibility of women in research (more information for and about women in science by “Women in Research” on Facebook and Twitter). Enjoy the interview with Julie and get inspired.

 

Julie_1

Julie L. Fenton, 25, from the United States of America is a Graduate Student & PhD Candidate in Chemistry at the Pennsylvania State University, US. She is working in inorganic/materials chemistry. Nanomaterials have garnered intense interest in the scientific community, due in part to their unique shape-, size-, and composition-dependent properties, and emerging technological applications that leverage these properties require nanomaterials with very specific architectures and well-defined characteristics. Colloidal synthetic methods are among the most effective for delivering high-quality inorganic nanomaterials with desirable properties in high yield. However, the complexities of solution-based chemistry limit the ability to predict and rationally target desired products, rendering some materials and morphologies of interest inaccessible. Her work has focused on developing new synthetic and post-synthetic modification strategies in order to produce inorganic nanomaterials with precise control over product morphology, elemental composition, and crystal structure in a variety of material systems. These advances allow them to access metastable materials, morphologic features, and/or complex heterostructures with desired physical and chemical properties, many of which are not amenable to previous synthetic methods.

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in science/chemistry?

I have always had an interest in problem solving and puzzles – I love a challenge, regardless of scale. When I came up against my first chemistry class in high school, thinking about the world on a molecular level intrigued me, and I was hooked. To me, the chemical discipline represented solving some of the most complex and intriguing problems in the world, except that the answer was previously unknown. This was exciting to me as a young person, and the passion only deepened through higher-level study of chemistry through college, and now well into graduate school.

 

Who are your role models?

I have been fortunate enough to benefit from a number of fantastic mentors and role models, scientific and otherwise, throughout my life. My first (and best) role models have been my parents. Through a strong work ethic coupled with the highest value placed on integrity and respect for others, they have demonstrated to me what success in life looks like (which is not specifically linked to career success). Though my parents, who are not scientists, don’t always understand exactly what it is that I’m doing on a day-to-day basis, they are supportive at every step, encouraging me to be the best version of myself in scientific pursuits, but reminding me that the world is larger than just science, and that it’s important to stay grounded in my personal values.

Academically, I am grateful to have benefitted from and been inspired by too many people to name in this discussion, so I will name just two: my current graduate research advisor, Dr. Raymond Schaak, and my first research advisor as an undergraduate, Dr. Richard Schaeffer. These two have been phenomenally encouraging to me, helping me to develop and to think creatively as a scientist, while giving me the space to work independently on projects that I have cared about. Beyond that, they have modelled how one can balance the demands of a career in chemistry with other priorities in life. Conversations with these two have helped me to think broadly about the world and my place in it, going far beyond the expectations I could have asked for from an academic advisor.

 

How did you get to where you are in your career path?

I grew up in rural Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, USA and did my undergraduate work in chemistry at Messiah College, a small school (~2800 undergraduates only) in Grantham, Pennsylvania, USA. During my second semester as an undergraduate, I began to do research for the first time… I was enthralled by the challenge of research on the cutting edge of science. Research gave me an opportunity to think creatively about the world and the ways in which it works, and my advisor (Richard Schaeffer) gave me ample space to explore and problem-solve independently.

I anticipate working toward developing mentoring programmes to help foster students’ interest in STEM fields at an early age

Like many aspiring U.S. scientists, I participated in a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF REU), between my third and fourth years of college. As a student coming from a small undergraduate institution, this was my first opportunity to do research full-time, working alongside graduate students and primarily research-active faculty members. As such, this experience was amongst the most formative of my young life as a chemist, igniting a passion for academic research and scientific problem solving on the highest level that will never be quenched. Unlike most undergraduate researchers, however, my REU was conducted at the Université de Strasbourg in Strasbourg, France, affording me the unique opportunity to live and to conduct research outside of the United States, where I have lived, worked, and learned for my entire life. Even though significant language and cultural barriers existed between the French research group and myself, we forged relationships and collaborations through the common language of chemistry. This is where I first understood and appreciated the international impact that work in science can have: increasingly, we are participating in an endeavour that transcends our national and cultural boundaries, aided by the ease of communication and collaboration. It was (and still is) incredibly exciting to me to contribute, in some small way, to something much greater than myself.

These experiences propelled me into graduate school, beginning in the summer of 2014, where I have been ever since, and will continue to motivate me as I move into the next stages of my career. I’m currently working towards my Ph.D. in materials/inorganic chemistry at the Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pennsylvania, USA under the direction of Ray Schaak.

 

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

I’m probably totally biased, but the coolest work that I have worked on is my current dissertation work. Although it’s really important to be able to control the way that atoms arrange themselves in solid-state materials (because the atomic arrangement, or crystal structure, dictates the properties), the typical high-temperature synthetic methods for making solid-state materials are often limited to obtaining only the most stable arrangements of atoms in a solid. By using a lower-temperature, solution-based cation exchange method, we can transform a performed material template into a material with targeted composition. Interestingly, these transformations can be accomplished with the retention of some qualities of the template material, including features of the original crystal structure, circumventing some of the primary difficulties encountered in traditional solid-state chemistry. Using this approach, we have been able to target and isolate some unusual crystal structures in a predictable fashion, which begins to point towards the ability to generalise these approaches for polymorphic structure targeting in solid-state chemistry.

I think the most exciting thing about chemistry (and science in general) is that the great breakthroughs can be serendipitous and unexpected

What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself/your work?

In different ways, I have found pride in sharing my work with others. Outside of my lab or the community of solid-state chemists, there is something really exciting about communicating the major points of my science to non-technical audiences in a way that appeals to them (without oversimplifying the science behind it), in formal presentations and informal conversations. Additionally, I have found great satisfaction and pride in seeing some of my efforts come to fruition in published form. Getting to a paper is a grind – it represents many hours in lab and many, many failed experiments, significant data analysis and interpretation, as well as the actual time spent writing the manuscript and putting together figures and data in a way that communicates the significance more broadly. It is exhilarating to contribute to the scientific community, even in very small ways.

 

Julie_2

What is a “day in the life” of Julie like?

I’m a synthetic chemist, so the majority of my work-life time is spent in the hood or nearby in the lab, weighing powders, pipetting solvents, heating/degassing a reaction, injecting precursors or decomposition agents, or cleaning and working up reactions. I spend “down” time reading papers, chatting science with my lab mates or advisor, or getting other work done (at the beginning of my graduate career, this was class assignments or grading for my teaching assignments… lately, it’s writing!). If I’m not in the synthesis lab, you could probably find me in the Penn State Materials Characterization Lab using one of the transmission electron microscopes (TEM) to take a look at the morphology of my nanoparticle samples, to analyse their crystal structures (using selected-area electron diffraction or high-resolution TEM), or to assess their elemental composition using STEM-EDS (energy dispersive spectroscopy) mapping.

 

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

To merge my passion for chemistry and my desire to engage others in STEM, I plan to pursue an academic research career after completing my graduate work. As a young person, I had few female academic role models; as a professional, I anticipate working toward developing mentoring programmes to help foster students’ interest in STEM fields at an early age. I look forward to leveraging my career to help bridge the gap between technical and non-technical audiences and to increase scientific literacy at all levels of academia, politics and normal life. Thus far, I have observed and begun to appreciate the unique set of opportunities available to academic scientists: engagement with top-calibre colleagues, students and mentors, involvement with a built-in community of equally passionate researchers, opportunity to converse and collaborate across disciplines and institutions, and utilisation of cutting-edge instrumentation and laboratories. Leading scientists in top academic institutions enjoy the ideal setting for making discoveries, establishing meaningful collaborations and mentoring future generations of scientists. For an ambitious and creative scientist, academic research positions provide the latitude and flexibility to innovate, the environment to pursue individual research interests (sometimes several different ones), and the opportunity to truly impact the scientific world and the world at large.

 

What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?

I enjoy traveling to new places (or familiar ones), outdoor activities, reading, board games, and spending time with family and friends. I also make some attempts to cook, though I have found that synthetic skills in chemistry do not directly translate to cooking skills (although it feels like they should).

 

What advice do you have for other women interested in science/chemistry?

Although we live in a world of instant gratification and quick answers, progress in science is often quite slow. It requires a significant investment of time, energy and thought, and even with this discipline, projects stalling or hypotheses failing is inevitable in these disciplines. This can be discouraging to anyone, but particularly to young scientists. Eventually, progress is made: an interesting discovery, fresh eyes to interpret formerly frustrating results, or new ideas and hypotheses that can be tested and proven true, but this takes time. My advice is to keep pushing towards the goal of understanding, and to stay positive — try not to let temporary frustrations get in the way of that. I would encourage young women in particular to not be intimidated by male-dominated academic science. If you want it and are willing to work hard, you are capable of achieving every success in science.

 

In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in science/chemistry?

I think the most exciting thing about chemistry (and science in general) is that the great breakthroughs can be serendipitous and unexpected – although we would like to know exactly where they will come from, we don’t and we shouldn’t expect to. As a materials chemist, however, I think some of the scientific discoveries with the potential for the greatest impact on society will come from the development of new materials. I expect that the next decade and beyond will give us numerous breakthroughs in materials for a wide variety of applications, particularly those important for solar energy harvesting, fuel cells, batteries, other electronics and beyond (perhaps for applications we haven’t even thought of yet).

We should continue to reach out to and encourage aspiring scientists as children and teens, and at the undergraduate level

What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?

This is a difficult question, and one that I think (rightly) is starting to be addressed at every level of academic training and careers. I think that we, as a community, are taking steps in the right direction towards an academy that looks more representative of broader society (including more women and other under-represented groups). While progress is good, this process will take time! 30, 40 and 50 years ago, the pool of trainees looked much different than it does today, which is still reflected in the way the academy (or even in high levels of scientific industry) looks today. I think it’s important not to do this artificially at the highest levels of science, but to build up to that slowly, over a period of time. We should continue to reach out to and encourage aspiring scientists as children and teens, and at the undergraduate level, and help to change the perception of what a scientist looks like and does. At the graduate level, mentorship is extremely important, as learning from the mistakes and triumphs of others who have gone before you is valuable for making informed decisions about your career (and basically everything else).

Women Have Unique Qualities That Make Them Great Scientists, Says Hannah Noa Barad

Interview with #LiNo17 young scientist Hannah Noa Barad

This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, to increase the visibility of women in research (more information for and about women in science by “Women in Research” on Facebook and Twitter). Enjoy the interview with Hannah and get inspired.

 

Hannah_Noa_1

Hannah Noa Barad, 30, from Israel is a PhD Student at the Bar Ilan University, Israel. Her research is in the field of renewable energy, specifically solar energy and solar cells. The method she uses in her research is combinatorial material science and high-throughput analysis to discover new metal oxides and utilise them in all-oxide based solar cells. She also focuses on understanding the mechanisms behind the photovoltaic activity of the new solar cells.

 

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in science/chemistry?

As a child, I was always very curious about the world around me, this was the driving force that pushed me to learn and study as much as I could. When I got older I realised that in order to understand the world we live in I must study science, because it helps us discover the secrets of our world. I always loved chemistry because of the beautiful reactions that take place and so I chose to pursue chemistry in higher education. I later also understood that chemistry is a field in science that incorporates many other sciences like physics, biology, etc. so that I can continue to expand my knowledge in other scientific areas.

 

Who are your role models?

My role models are all the women who strove over the years to improve science, even when it was a career that was frowned upon for women. I admire their courage and abilities, and how they shaped the scientific world into accepting them as equals and even more. It is because of these women that I am able to freely pursue my goals and ideas, and hopefully improve our world.

in order to understand the world we live in I must study science

How did you get to where you are in your career path?

It took a lot of hard work to get to where I am today in my career. The directions I chose were influenced by my family, who always pushed me to follow my dreams. I am also supported by my supervisor Prof. Arie Zaban, who taught me never to give up even when nothing seems to be working.

 

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

I’d like to say that all the projects I worked on are very cool – I love what I do! If I had to choose one project it would be the plasmonic ‘hot’ electron effect I discovered in one of my solar cells. I was examining the effect of one of the layers on the solar cell performance, and as a result I found out that a whole different mechanism governed the photovoltaic behaviour; this was the ‘hot’ electron effect.

 

What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself/your work?

Whenever I reach a milestone in my work, which could be getting a degree, publishing a paper, etc, I feel very proud and accomplished, mainly because this also means that the people supporting me can also be proud!

 

Hannah_Noa_3

 

What is a “day in the life” of Hannah Noa like?

I usually get to the lab around 8:30 to 9 am and then I see what I have planned for the day. If I need to do some experiments, I make sure I have everything ready and prepared; if I need to analyse data, I make a list of what needs to be done and start working on it. I usually end up helping other people in the lab throughout the day, be it advice or brain-storming about a research project, editing their manuscripts or even helping them perform experiments of their own. Our lab members always eat lunch together, and we usually try to keep it for getting updated with each other. I leave the lab between 5 and 6 pm, and head home to eat dinner and relax. Sometimes I hang out with friends or go to cultural events as well.

 

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

I would like to be a better scientist and help improve the planet we live on through the research and work I do. For me, making our world a better place to live in is highly important, and I think that everyone should be treated well and get a chance at living. So for me it is important to improve my skills and as a result all that surrounds me to make the required steps at a better world.

It is because of these women that I am able to freely pursue my goals and ideas, and hopefully improve our world.

What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?

I have many hobbies including playing music, drawing and doing arts. I also like to meet up with my friends and have fun experiences together, like concerts, field trips and even escape rooms.

 

What advice do you have for other women interested in science/chemistry?

My advice to women interested in science and chemistry is not to give up on your dreams! It is hard but it is worth it! Try your best, prove yourself, believe in yourself and in your capabilities, because you are highly capable, and being a woman only brings out the best qualities for being a scientist!

 

 

Hannah_Noa_2

In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in science/chemistry?

This is a great question and it can have many answers. I personally hope the next breakthrough will be in the area of electrical vehicles, finding a better battery that is more stable, cheaper and compact to be used in cars today. I think a breakthrough in this area can move our society forward and help reduce and even eradicate many issues we have with ruining the environment.

 

What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?

In my opinion, to increase the number of female scientists and professors a few things need to be done:

(1) more scholarships for women in science and research, which will help motivate women to come to these fields

(2) Improve the conditions for women so that they can have families and a career as well, such as having day care in universities until late hours etc.

(3) The various scientific faculties in all the universities should have academic positions intended only for women, to which men cannot apply to at all. This will help increase the number of women professors, who will in turn teach women students. The students will see women professors and they will become motivated themselves since they see that this goal can be achieved, and they will push harder in their scientific fields, to become better and motivate more women to study.

“Always accept an opportunity,” Says Emma Danelius

Interview with #LiNo17 young scientist Emma Danelius

This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, to increase the visibility of women in research (more information for and about women in science by “Women in Research” on Facebook and Twitter). Enjoy the interview with Emma and get inspired.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Emma Danelius

Emma Danelius, 32, from Sweden is a PhD Student at the University of Gothenburg. Her research interests span across the fields of organic chemistry, medicinal chemistry and chemical biology. During her PhD studies she has been involved in projects with different applications but with a main objective of investigating the conformational behaviour and the intramolecular interactions of cyclic peptides and macrocycles.

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in science/chemistry?

Since we started to learn about chemistry and biology in school I was always fascinated by everything that was known to exist but that we could not actually see. I always felt I had to find out more, so what better way than to work in research. I remember when I asked my father scientific questions, he always gave me really diffused answers, probably because he didn’t really know the answer. But then I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. I guess it just continued like this, constantly thinking about this microscopic world and what is going on there.

 

Who are your role models?

I have many role models and can mention a few. First is my grandma; she was a strong woman who always believed in her grandchildren. She was always supporting us to be who we are and achieve what we strive for. My mother has also been important, laying the ground for my approach to the balance of working life and family. She has also always been a tremendous support. When it comes to role models in science, obviously I have to say Marie Curie; I find her story truly fascinating. A famous researcher here in Sweden that inspired me a lot, especially for everything she did for women in science, is Agnes Wold. At our department we also have a fantastic researcher and role model, Kristina Luthman, who has always inspired me as well as supported me. My closest friends are also chemists and they influence and encourage me every day.

 

How did you get to where you are in your career path?

After finishing high school I did not know exactly what I wanted to study, just that it would be in the field of natural science. I took a ground course in chemistry and completely fell in love with it. I did a bachelor in analytical organic chemistry and began a thesis work position at Swedish Medical Products Agency in Uppsala, working with NMR spectroscopy. Subsequently, I enrolled in the master program in organic and medicinal chemistry at the University of Gothenburg. I undertook a thesis work position at Astra Zeneca, working with synthetic organic chemistry. After that I started my PhD at the University of Gothenburg, working with Professor Mate Erdelyi on weak interactions and conformational analysis of peptidomimetics.

I was always fascinated by everything that was known to exist but that we could not actually see.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

It is difficult to single one out given I really enjoyed working on all projects that have crossed my path so far. However, the peptide project that is the basis of my PhD work is the one closest to my heart. I am fascinated by the conformational behaviour and the intramolecular interactions of molecules with biological relevance, which runs nearly every aspect of biology.

 

What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself/your work?

I would have to say it was the first time I got an article accepted for publication. I remember that was a really good feeling. Also, it is always rewarding when I can present my research at conferences. One time in Germany especially comes to mind when there were over 600 people in the audience. That was a bit scary but I felt proud afterwards.

 

emma_2

 

What is a “day in the life” of Emma like?

I usually drop off my kids at day care in the morning, cycle to work and then spend the day in the lab, by the computer writing or analysing data, or by the spectrometer. Sometimes I also have teaching assignments. Two days a week I pick up the kids from daycare after work, the other days I work a bit later in the evenings. Then I spend the evening at home with the family. If I have time, I might go out for a run after putting the kids to sleep.

 

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

I would love to continue working in research. I will finish my PhD in October this year and the next goal is to get a good post doc position.

Always accept an opportunity, say yes instead of no.

What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?

Spend time with my family, travel, read books, see my friends and go to the theater or cinema.

 

What advice do you have for other women interested in science/chemistry?

One thing is to try to always accept an opportunity, say yes instead of no. I think in general that men are a bit better at this. Most important though, is to take care of and support each other. Appreciate and respect sisterhood.

 

emma_1In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in science/chemistry?

Life is about dynamic processes of complex molecules in a three dimensional world. Techniques that can continue to push the sensitivity and resolution limits, like super resolution microscopy or spectroscopy, so that we can get a complete zoom in on these processes.

 

What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?

This is a complex question and the answer is by no means trivial. When I started the chemistry program there were actually more women than men in the ground courses, so it seems that simply making an effort to interest more young girls in science subjects at an earlier stage is not the solution. Along the way women have dropped out, and at the professor level it is mostly men at our department.

Three things that I thought of that might help are to have anonymous applications, to find ways to support women after they have children, and to try to divide administrative tasks equally.

 

 

 

 

Melania Zauri Wants to Pass On Her Enthusiasm for Science

Interview with #LiNo17 young scientist Melania Zauri

This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, to increase the visibility of women in research (more information for and about women in science by “Women in Research” on Facebook and Twitter). Enjoy the interview with Melania and get inspired.

 

 

Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Melania Zauri

Photo: Courtesy of Melania Zauri

Melania Zauri, 31, from Italy is an EMBO Postdoc at the Center for Molecular Medicine of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. Her research interest lies in metabolic alterations that arise in cancer. A particular focus of her research in the recent years has been towards nucleotide metabolism and cancer. With her research, she is trying to understand if this pathway can be challenged to provide an avenue for cancer treatment.

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in science/chemistry?

I am extremely curious by nature and I have always been motivated to answer the many ‘Why this’ and ‘Why that’ questions which arose in my mind. Very early in my life, when I was teenager, I decided I wanted to have something to do with science. In secondary school I had an extremely good biology teacher who always motivated us to try to understand things and to observe the world surrounding us. She would even take us outside on little walks to explore nature. I think that my interest towards science and later biology was shaped by her influence. My family always let me explore and find my way to the answers I wanted; nothing came really obvious for me. That is what inspired me to pursue a career in research, which is essentially the way to find answers to the challenging questions of our times.

 

Who are your role models?

My role model number one is my mother. Without her energy, enthusiasm and support I would not be where I am now. She successfully managed to have a family and a working life and it will always represent for me the idea that if you want something you can achieve it. In general I am fascinated by people that achieved something by putting a lot of effort in what they have done. It is always very motivating for me to learn that success comes from real efforts and not only by any given luck.

 

How did you get to where you are in your career path?

I am from an Italian town in the mountains in the province of L’Aquila. It is since my university years that I left it and moved to study to the oldest university in the western world: Alma Mater Studiorum of Bologna. My dad came with me when I had to take the admission exam to get in the course in Biotechnologies. Luckily I passed it and I was admitted to this fantastic course. In Bologna I learned the fundamentals of a scientific career and a lot of life tips for a successful endeavor in the life sciences. It was there that I first entered in a laboratory and I enjoyed the successes and frustrations of a researcher. In Bologna the course had a really high reputation thanks to the modern setup established by the president of the course Prof. Masotti. Very brilliant teachers and scientists fueled my passion for molecular biology and biochemistry. I learned to ask questions and how to answer them.

I have always been motivated to answer the many ‘Why this’ and ‘Why that’ questions which arose in my mind.

In my practical development as a scientist, I would name, as of fundamental importance, Dr. Bruno Amati and his team at the European Institute of Oncology in Milan, where I worked on my MSc thesis on the role of Myc in stem cell biology, and Prof. Lingner and the EPFL in Lausanne, where I was admitted for a summer school working on telomeric RNA interacting proteins. Later on, I acquired my independence as a scientist under the supervision of Dr. Kriaucionis at the Ludwig Cancer Research within the Oxford University. My Oxford times were gorgeous scientifically and humanely. In there, I was the first PhD student of my supervisor and I could follow my curiosity driven research step by step trying to find the answer to problems as they appeared to me. It was luckily a successful journey that did not stop my motivation to continue with a scientific career. Oxford was a great time for me since I met a lot of role models and super smart people that I always enjoyed having a chat with. My project started from epigenetic and turned into nucleotide metabolism almost from the beginning. That is where my curiosity has been growing in the recent years and in my postdoctoral career too with a desire to broaden the horizon from single genes and enzymes research into a system biology one.

 

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

I would define one of my PhD project the coolest one. It started with the idea of affecting DNA methylation in the cells by administering to them epigenetically modified nucleosides. If this would work then we had a way of reversing a pathway that frequently goes wrong in cancer. However, very early I discovered that this was not the case and later on I found out that cells are not ready to recycle these modified forms of nucleosides. Indeed, they would convert into something damaging for the cell that would lead to their death. This process was only present in certain kind of cancer cells and therefore could be used to achieve cancer specificity. For me this revealed to be a very cool project, since it challenged evolution and I could test hands on how perfect the cellular machinery is in avoiding endangering itself with the incorporation of important epigenetic nucleotides. Indeed epigenetic DNA modifications are inherited through cellular replication and errors in their positioning might be lethal for the cells and the pathways that are related to them.

 

Melania_3

What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself/your work?

I almost never feel pride in myself. There was one time though where I could not believe in reality. When my PhD supervisor got back the reviewers comments from the journal I was already back home in Italy for Christmas holidays. He sent them to me and I thought: Oh no, that is the end of my holidays…When I opened the email it said that he considered them extremely good and I could stay home and enjoy the rest of my holidays. This was when I realised that I could feel proud of my work.

 
 

Photo: Courtesy of Melania Zauri

 

What is a “day in the life” of Melania like?

My typical wet lab scientist day starts around 8 am at home where I check literature while having breakfast. Around 9 am I get to the laboratory and start my day typically in tissue culture or with experiments I think will take longer time. In my intervals or incubation times I check my emails and if long, I catch up on literature or I schedule meetings with coworkers. In my spare time, something I enjoy doing to share my enthusiasm, is science communication (at the moment I manage the Twitter account of my laboratory!). I usually get out of the laboratory around 6 pm to 7 pm and sometimes keep working on data analysis from home. I prefer to be quiet and relaxed and work from home if I have only computer work to accomplish. I need my cooking time and some friends/family time every day and this usually I manage to get it in the evenings.

 

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

In my career I would like to make an impact with my research for people suffering from cancer. This would be for me a life fulfilling achievement. In order to accomplish this, at some point of my career I would like to form a small team of scientists and start investigations into challenging areas of cancer research. I would also appreciate the possibility to do some teaching, as this would allow me to give back to the community what I got from my teachers: enthusiasm for science.

 

Melania_2

What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?

If I am not in the lab my curiosity is oriented towards music and cultural activities. In Vienna I had the opportunity to join the choir of St Augustin, one of the best in town. Additionally, I try to maintain a healthy lifestyle and therefore I enjoy cooking from scratch, sourcing good ingredients for my meals and doing a bit of sport to challenge my body. At the moment I am a bit into running as I would like to qualify to run the New York Marathon at some point in my life.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Melania Zauri

 

What advice do you have for other women interested in science/chemistry?

I would say persistence and a bit of self-confidence are good. I would also stress the fact that a good work-life balance and psychological state help in building confidence and in believing that one is the best supporter of oneself. I would say that in many difficult moments or when women are perceived as disadvantaged, it is best to keep strong and to demonstrate that we do not owe things to other people and we can equally compete with man.

 

In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in science/chemistry?

In cancer research, the next breakthrough will be probably the clinical application of the protein degradation technology. Thanks to this technology any protein that can be specifically targeted by a molecule can be selectively degraded. It offers hope in the targeting of previously thought undruggable genes.

 as long as there is gender discrimination at school or within families, women will believe to be inferior to man

What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?

I think that this is a cultural problem of education and as long as there is gender discrimination at school or within families, women will believe to be inferior to man. I was lucky to grow up in a family that raised me and my brother very similarly on this aspect, as my mother was convinced that man and woman should be considered equals. In many contexts I see this was not the case for everybody. On the other side, I see that in Austria, for example, very limited experiments in a wet laboratory can be conducted as soon as you declare you are pregnant. This might be disadvantageous for women and there should be compensatory mechanisms in place to make sure that this time is not professionally wasted. Many of these things I believe should be discussed at EU level and unified across research locations in the EU.

“My best advice: don’t listen to advice.”

Ada Yonath is an Israeli chemist – an x-ray crystallographer – who spent 20 years studying the ribosome.  Her persistence paid off, in 2000, when, working with other researchers, she successfully mapped the structure of the ribosome, an achievement for which she shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas A. Steitz.

The ribosome is a complex molecule, consisting of hundreds of thousands of atoms.  It’s actually a molecular machine (which is one of the key topics of this year’s chemistry-themed Lindau Meeting).

Residing in the cytoplasm outside the cell nucleus, the ribosome is a protein factory. It translates the coded message in DNA into individual amino acids and assembles them into proteins, which are involved in almost every function of living organisms.  

In mammals, there are millions of ribosomes in every cell!  Take a moment to absorb that.  Millions.  In each cell.  I have trouble wrapping my mind around that fact.  It indicates something about the scale of things.  As small as an individual cell is, it somehow contains – among other things(!) – millions of ribosomes, steadily producing proteins.  And, again, each ribosome is a complex network of hundreds of thousands of atoms.  Mapping its structure is essential to understanding how it functions.  And this understanding has provided great insight into the function – and design – of antibiotics, which can kill bacteria by interfering with protein synthesis.

I spoke with Ada at the 2016 Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting – and she is returning this year for her seventh time – because “being able to contribute to young people is one of the miracles that happened to me after I got the Prize.” 

Watch the video below to hear Ada’s advice for young scientists and non-scientists alike. 

Spotlight on Women in Research at #LiNo17

Many talented female researchers are among the young scientists of #LiNo17. In this interview series, they answer questions about their career path, their passion for science, their struggles and successes and give advice to other women in research.

Get inspired by Karen from Belgium, Jana from Lebanon, Katherine from the UK, Sheela from Malaysia, Shiran from IsraelThao from the US and VietnamFlorencia from ArgentinaMarian Nkansah from GhanaAnna Eibel from AustriaJulietta from ArmeniaHlamulo from South AfricaHira from PakistanAndrea from the USMonika Patel from IndiaAndreia from PortugalDiana from Colombia, Melania from Italy, Emma from SwedenAna from Mexico, Hannah Noa from IsraelEva Maria Wara from BoliviaJulie from the US and Antonella from Argentina

 

 

These interviews are part of a series of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists, to increase the visibility of women in research (more information for and about women in science by “Women in Research” on Facebook and Twitter).

More Female Students Does Not Automatically Mean More Female Academics, Says Andreia de Almeida

Interview with #LiNo17 young scientist Andreia de Almeida

This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, to increase the visibility of women in research (more information for and about women in science by “Women in Research” on Facebook and Twitter). Enjoy the interview with Andreia and get inspired.

 

Andreia_4Andreia de Almeida, 31, from Portugal is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the School of Chemistry (Cardiff University). Her research focuses on understanding the role of aquaporins in health and disease, especially cancer. For this, they use gold compounds designed by the group that are selective and potent inhibitors for these proteins. Additionally, she works in testing new metal-based drugs as anticancer agents.

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in science/chemistry?

I was always a very curious kid and, of course, I also had the traditional microscope that all the scientists had in their childhood. But I have to say that I didn’t always know that this was my passion. I was, and still am, very passionate about all types of arts, especially things that I can make with my own hands. With time, I realised that I liked arts, but mostly as a hobby. I couldn’t picture myself doing it as a career. I then chose a science path for my high school studies and applied for Pharmaceutical Sciences, Biochemistry and Chemistry. I got into Biochemistry and from then on my love for science truly started.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Andreia De Almeida

 

Who are your role models?

All my role models are women and men I met throughout my life. First of all, my mother, who is a very strong and independent woman. She raised me to become empowered and successful and to never feel less than anyone else, regardless of gender. Growing up watching her managing her own business, full time, while raising two children (after we lost our father, on her own) was definitely inspiring and showed me that we are capable of great things.

Secondly, I studied in a chemistry department that has more female scientists than males (for professors the ratio is about 50:50). The thought that this field could be male-driven never even crossed my mind. I also always worked with female bosses in groups with few men. I think that working in a female environment and with such strong and successful female models as supervisors always helped me to feel confident in my work and in myself. So I can say that all the females who I have worked with up to now contributed a lot to how I perceive science.

one breakthrough that I hope comes soon is a new cancer treatment 

How did you get to where you are in your career path?

As I mentioned before, I did my BSc in Biochemistry and then I did my MSc in Structural and Functional Biochemistry in the same faculty. Moving from one to the other was the easiest choice, as they were organised by the same professors, and the MSc was an extension of what we learned in the bachelor course. When I was finishing my master thesis, I met my current supervisor, who was doing a research stay in our lab at that time. She had a position for a PhD student in the Netherlands opening a few months later. That was a big challenge for me: leaving my boyfriend, family, friends and my home country to move to a new country with a different culture, where I didn’t know anyone. It ended up being a great four years. Since then I am working at the School of Chemistry, Cardiff University, as a Post-Doctoral Researcher, which again took our little family to a new adventure and a new country!

 

Photo: Courtesy of Andreia de Almeida

Photo: Courtesy of Andreia de Almeida

 

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

I have to say that the coolest topic I have ever worked on is related to aquaporins. The field is fairly new (a couple of decades) and there is so much to learn and discover that there are always new challenges and new ideas! I am actually really excited to have the opportunity to meet Prof. Peter Agre, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for discovering these little proteins, at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting.

 The thought that this field could be male-driven never even crossed my mind.

Photo: Courtesy of Andreia de Almeida

Photo: Courtesy of Andreia de Almeida

 

What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself/your work?

I think that the time I felt the most proud of myself was the day of my PhD defence. In Groningen, the defense is a public event, very formal, that takes place in an amazing room. After the defense, everyone celebrates and the colleagues of the PhD student prepare a video, illustrating their life during those four years. Having my family there with me, witnessing that day, was one of the best feelings ever.

 

What is a “day in the life” of Andreia like?

This is one of the most complicated questions! My days are never the same, and I think this is why I love what I do so much. One day, I can be working in the lab in the morning, doing different types of experiments, mostly with cells, and then doing some computational work in the afternoon. Some days, I just stay in front of my computer preparing some orders, writing publications or grant applications and correcting student’s reports. Other days, there are seminars, group meetings and meetings with collaborators. There really aren’t days that are like the others! That’s the best part.

 

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

I love the academic world, despite all the politics, and I would love to continue. Ultimately, I would like to become a professor, but the road is still long. I think we have to take it one step at a time and build our own way.

 recruiting female students is very different from increasing the number of female academics

What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?

All kinds of things! I am a blogger/wedding planner, together with three friends, at a blog called Once Upon a Time a Wedding. I have also been a dancer for more than 15 years and I used to teach Salsa and Kizomba during my PhD. Now I have turned to Tango, which is my new passion. Besides that, I love sewing my own clothes (I made my own wedding dress), photographing and painting/drawing. I can’t say I have a boring life!

 

Photo: Courtesy of Andreia de Almeida

Photo: Courtesy of Andreia de Almeida

 

 What advice do you have for other women interested in science/chemistry?

Most of all: do what you love! It doesn’t matter if there are only few women in that field. It may be hard in the beginning. You have to be strong to fight stereotypes (and some mentalities), but don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it!

 

In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in science/chemistry?

This is also a hard question. There are so many things happening at the same time in the most varied fields. I can say that one breakthrough that I hope comes soon is a new cancer treatment. Of course, as scientists, we know that one miraculous treatment is a utopian thought. However, an effective treatment for one cancer type, with less side-effects, would already be such a victory! I believe this can come sooner than we expect, as people are trying to repurpose FDA-approved drugs for different treatments than those they were originally designed for.

 

 

What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?

I think we should start by realising that recruiting female students is very different from increasing the number of female academics. There is actually a big number of female students at universities and some (if not most) European countries have more women than men in higher education. The biggest problem we face is keeping them in academia. I think the biggest challenges reside in showing women that the universities support them – with maternity leave, childcare, among other issues. These issues are not exclusive to women of course, but they do affect women more. When women don’t feel supported, they have a harder time at work and often feel like they have fallen behind their male colleagues (this is often potentiated by bosses and supervisors). Having a good support system in place and making sure that every person is treated fairly (regardless of gender) is a very important step to keep women in academia.

“Learn from Your Failures,” Says Monika Patel

Interview with #LiNo17 young scientist Monika Patel

This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, to increase the visibility of women in research (more information for and about women in science by “Women in Research” on Facebook and Twitter). Enjoy the interview with Monika and get inspired.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Monika Patel

Photo: Courtesy of Monika Patel

Monika Patel, 28, from India is a PhD Student at the University of Delhi, India. Her PhD work is entitled “Base Assisted Chemo- and Regioselective C-N, C-S and C-O Bond Formation with Isotopic Labeling Studies.” Presently, she is working on a project on modifications of existing drug molecules that can decrease dosage levels.

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in science/chemistry?

I would have to say that my mentor Prof. Akhilesh K. Verma inspired me to pursue a career in chemistry. I met him during my master classes, where he taught us various organic reactions. He played a pivotal role in my career to develop interest in organic chemistry. At some point, whenever I stuck in the reaction mechanisms, he always supported me and explained me in a facile manner. Thereafter, I started appreciating the logical thought process and scientific reasoning principles involved in organic chemistry. There were many examples of chemical processes in day to day life that demonstrated simple chemistry. I found all of these a real connection to real world problems very appealing, which made me choose chemistry as a career.

 

Who are your role models?

There are two role models in my life: one is my mother and the other is my mentor. My professor Dr. Verma always says “Never Give up”. Both of them give immense strength and courage to face social and academic adversity. They taught me to cross all the huddles of my life and encouraged me to move ahead in my research career.

 

How did you get to where you are in your career path?

In my family, no one has a research background. My mom is a housewife, my father is a service man and my sister is an MBA. After high school, a guardian of mine suggested me to choose chemistry as my graduation subject and to specialise in organic chemistry for the master.

An important step was to join Prof. Verma’s Lab as a research trainee. At that point, I was not sure whether I would choose a research career. Gradually, I develop interest in searching new avenues in this field.

My mentor Dr. Akhilesh K. Verma is like a father figure to me. What I am today is because of him. No words can express my gratitude for him. Another important mentor is Dr. Hament Rajor. He is my graduation professor who encouraged me to choose the field of research under the supervision of Prof. Verma.

During my school times, I always participated in science projects. The miniature volcanic eruption model was one of my favourite activities. I have enthusiastically participated in various national and international conferences. I have also received a young scientist award from the Indian Chemical Society.

Every new beginning in life brings obstacles along with them. The optimisation of any reaction condition is the major challenge in the field of organic chemistry.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Monika Patel

Photo: Courtesy of Monika Patel

 

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

The coolest project that I have worked on was hydroamination chemistry; it is a very interesting chemistry of nucleophilic addition reactions. We endeavour to develop molecules that play a vital role in many immunological and natural processes. A variety of enamines are found in many natural and synthetic compounds. They carry out interesting physiological and biological activities. The development of methodologies for the synthesis of such molecules and their transformation is a persistent research topic in organic and pharmaceutical chemistry.

 

What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself/your work?

I felt immense pride when my review entitled “Base-Mediated Hydroamination of Alkynes” was published in “Accounts of Chemical research”.

This is one of the prestigious journals of the American Chemical Society, and publishing an article in this journal was really tough as it requires a strong background and mastery in your research field.

My second moment of pride in my life was when I received a Young Scientist Award from the Indian Chemical Society. My complete research work has been presented in front of several experienced scientist and competing with other young researchers from all over India was an amazing experience.

 

What is a “day in the life” of Monika like?

I normally get into work between 8:30 and 8:45. First, I check my emails. I spend 40 percent of my day doing bench work and 60 percent at computer. Setting up for simulations, analysing data and reading/writing manuscripts. I have a quick packed lunch and then a group of us go out for a cup of tea at the University café. When I am doing column chromatography, I will work until I get a purified compound in good yields. The day in my life that I liked the most was when I submitted my PhD thesis. It was the happiest and most memorable day of my life. Many congratulations and good blessings were received on that day. The research has not come to an end; however, the four-year austerity has come to an end.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Monika Patel

Photo: Courtesy of Monika Patel

 

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

After the PhD, I would like to work as a postdoctoral researcher. I also really enjoy sharing my scientific knowledge with other people and spending time tutoring at various institutes. I want to be a successful scientist as well as teacher.

 

What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?

Besides research, I love to interact or chat with people from different cultures, traveling to new places and eating distinguished food that I haven’t eaten before. Exchange of new ideas and thoughts sparks enthusiasm in me. Traveling to new places freshens my mind, and I try to resolve the problems of life/career etc.

 

What advice do you have for other women interested in science/chemistry?

One important advice I would like to give to other women is to “Learn from your failures”. Women need to be dedicated, patient and strong enough to face failures. Science and research have no boundaries. The knowledge you have gained is not enough. The crave or greed of gaining knowledge should not end at any stage of life.

 

In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in science/chemistry?

The next great breakthrough in science will be the introduction of a new subject termed “Biophyschem”, which is the merger of the three subjects Biology, Physics and Chemistry. For any new discovery, all three subjects are equally important.

Another breakthrough discovery will emerge from my new project of modifying existing drug molecules, which will decrease dosage levels in humans.

 

What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?

I think high school/graduates/post-graduate teachers and mentors should encourage female students at the initial stage of their career to choose research as their profession. I believe that the educators act as role models for developing interest among the students. Professors that lead a group could have the same amount of positions for male and female candidates. Female scientists and female professors have more commitments towards family and children, so I believe that support from the family and perks from the university/institution as well as balance between male and female candidates will definitely increase the number of female scientist.