“It Is Time That We Write Our Own History in Science!” – Eva Maria Wara Alvarez Pari

Interview with #LiNo17 young scientist Eva Maria Wara Alvarez Pari

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 Eva Maria Wara and get inspired.

 

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Eva Maria Alvarez Pari, 23, from Bolivia is an undergraduate chemistry student doing her Master degree at the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität, Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany. Eva is in the first stage of her academic career. Nevertheless, she is deeply interested in organic chemistry applied to the medicine.

 

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

Well, I consider that question really anecdotal. During the elementary school I was close to failing one year of my studies because of mathematics. Nevertheless, in high school I have been immersed in science more and more. My first approach to chemistry was in 2007, when I started high school. I have been lucky to have an amazing woman as a chemistry teacher who has supported me in every stage of my academic life. She deeply motivated me. Nevertheless I made my first step, when one day I saw in the newspaper a competition that has been launched for high school students. I had a big desire to participate and I asked my teacher to train me for Chemistry Olympics competitions in my city. Although I have won a third place I didn’t feel any regret or depression. I was completely sure, I did my best. Since then I put my heart and soul into the chemistry. I have participated in some of my teacher’s lectures at her technical institute, where I gained my first experience working at lab under her supervision. Since mathematics at high school caught my attention by creating models to explain some natural phenomena, I decided to do a Bachelor degree in mathematics. Nevertheless, there was something missing in my life. Then I realised that if I couldn’t study chemistry I would probably have regrets later. So, I started my chemistry studies immediately. At the end, I have completed both careers. It was really hard to manage the schedules of my different subjects avoiding overlapping of the courses and arranging the transportation stuff to be on time to every single lecture. But when there is passion, everything is possible. Being motivated made it possible to complete both careers in five years; otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have done it without this driving force.

 

Who are your role models?

Definitely my professors have played a big role in my academic formation. I was fortunate to being surrounded by powerful women in chemistry. My chemistry teacher at school was a devoted person who dedicated her life and time to motivate students to pursue a scientific career. She supported me even outside the classroom. We were not teacher and student anymore, but we started to be two people learning from each other drawn by a shared passion to chemistry. During my undergraduate studies, two dedicated women were a continuous support to my scientific career. I feel admiration of their outstanding research projects and their role as women holding high positions in the university which is not common in my home country. They oriented me personally and academically, keeping my motivation to pursue an academic career. Certainly one of my strongest motivations is attributed to Marie Sklodowska-Curie, who gave the first step and opened to us the opportunities to be as equals to men in science.

I have made the best decision of my life and I don’t regret it at all.

Last but not least, my parents have always been concerned about my education and gave me all the facilities to tackle a scientific career. No expense was too great to give me the best education since I was at elementary school. They gave me freedom to decide what I wanted to become. Actually, they are supporting me in my master studies economically, and they even have plans to do so, too, for my PhD studies because they are concern about my deep love for Chemistry.

 

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

Nothing can be done without motivation and constant work. I realised at high school that to become a scientist involves many years of studies. But that is not everything. You must keep yourself in constant learning because science never sleeps. So, even knowing that, I have made the best decision of my life and I don’t regret it at all. Since high school I have set long and short goals to become a scientist, and it also meant to get a better education outside. I am always daydreaming because it keeps me motivated. Since my first day in Germany on October 1st, I have looked for many opportunities to encourage my scientific aspirations. As an anecdote, one day before the deadlines for the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting I have seen a publication on Facebook related to eight women who participated in the preliminary meeting. I didn’t miss the opportunity to apply immediately and because of that I arrived too late to my preliminary Master meeting in Erlangen. Of course, now I am really glad that this happened. The first obstacle I have faced took place, when I decided to apply for a scholarship. Unfortunately, most of the scholarships launched in my home country require one year of work experience, which reduces your aspirations to apply as soon as you have completed your bachelor studies, even considering these studies in Bolivia last five years. This drawback event helped me to understand that if I want to fulfil my dreams there was no other solution than to study abroad by myself and with the economic support of my family. Since I am here in Germany, I had the opportunity to be part of Prof. Heinrich’s group. Their research is focused on Medicinal Chemistry with topics like carbofluorination reactions. Prof. Heinrich has given me a comfortable environment to work, and my colleagues are a scientific family who are always willing to share knowledge and advice. I have been part of seminar discussions of organic total synthesis of some active substances and natural products. There, I found a space to be immersed in a wide spread of acknowledgment so I could start shaping my scientific career. Now, I have many projects in mind and I am also looking forward to getting a PhD position once I finish my Master degree so I can continue building my academic life.

 

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

In my home country during my last year of my Bachelor in Chemistry, I have spent three months working in a scientific institution where I could get knowledge of the use of many of the technical instruments that chemists use to elucidate organic structures. The person in charge, Dr. Marcelo Bascope, is used to giving the interns the opportunity to perform scientific projects during their stay there, which I consider a good opportunity to start with your own scientific project and see your limitations and strengths working in a lab. I decided to carry out the identification of active principles from Nicotiana Glauca, a medicinal plant native from South America, which has as main component the alkaloid anabasine. I spent a month working at this project but the most rewarding experience I had was the freedom to perform every step from sample preparation up to purification and identification using the equipment to elucidate the structure of each component. The satisfaction to complete everything by myself helped me to realise that I was meant to work in a lab. This was the first close experience at the lab doing research. The freedom to work on my own increased my self-confidence, because there was no one telling me what to do or putting pressure on me. It was only me and my research growing day by day like a baby becoming an adult.

Take risks in scientific life.

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

When I was admitted to a Master’s degree programme at Friedrich-Alexander University in Erlangen I was really proud of all I did so far to get an education abroad. Germany is the country for scientific opportunities. I have been here for only six months and I am part of a research team, a PhD student Anna Pirzer (whom I collaborated with in the lab and who gave me freedom to pursue my own ideas) and I are going to publish a research article. I am proud of myself, of everything I have done to pursue a scientific career, every obstacle I had to overcome to achieve my goals and for all the work that lies ahead.

 

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

After I wake up, I organise everything to go to my master lectures and I prepare my material of studies. Every Thursday of the week I am part of discussion in a seminar session related to total organic synthesis in Prof. Heinrich’s group, so I can polish and hone my organic synthesis skills through wide mechanisms of reactions used to synthesise complex molecules. During the afternoon, if I don’t have any lectures to attend I go to the library to look for some books to study for the upcoming examinations or I just stay the whole afternoon studying in the library with some friends or alone. During the evening, I write some e-mails to my professors and colleagues from my home university keeping in contact with them and sharing science in some way while I enjoy hearing instrumental music. My favourites are movie soundtracks. I am fond into Hans Zimmer compositions.

 

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

My scientific aspirations in science are not related to immortalising my name, not even to economic ambitions. I have a big desire to follow an academic career. Nothing is more rewarding than to share and receive knowledge. I have a deep desire to become a Professor and to have my own research group, with active students performing activities regarding science and discussing breakthroughs in chemistry. I have always been interested in discussing and sharing ideas, even during my bachelor studies I used to organise out-of-the-classroom lectures prepared by myself and my colleagues to encourage our understanding of chemistry. At that time, we were aware that our bachelor program and lab courses didn’t provide the same knowledge in some areas of chemistry compared to cutting-edge universities in science.

 

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

My daily activities are not limited to study. I devote my free day doing out-door activities like hiking or taking a walk in the city, it keeps me motivated and I find equilibrium between my scientific life and my personal life. I love writing poems and thoughts as well. During the weekend, me and my master partners go to some events in Germany, go to shopping or run cultural meetings by sharing our typical food. Most of the time, I am with my “German family”. Since my childhood, I had the opportunity to grow up under a constant influence of German culture. I maintain relationship with people who belong to Missionskreis Ayopaya, an institution that is directly connected to Bolivia through German volunteering.

I am pretty sure, the understanding of origin of life through chemistry laws would be the next breakthrough in science.

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

Take risks in scientific life. Don’t be shy or afraid to express your own ideas even if you are mistaken. Try your best in everything you perform and overcome fear of complexities, of academic inferiority, of the unknown and of failure. Trust yourself and keep on moving even when it means that you only advance little by little. Scientific research has obstacles and the time one invests may extend too many years but the results are a lifetime achievement, a satisfaction that your ideas could encourage the welfare of humanity and the development of one’s country. This fills you with happiness. We are not Marie Curies – of course not. It is time that we write our own history in science!

 

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

Regarding my particular interests in organic synthesis, we always have to deal with chiral molecules which are present in nature as single enantiomers. I have completed my bachelor thesis in mathematics related to group and graph theories in order to simplify our understanding of symmetry in organic molecules through mathematics. Unfortunately, it is not simple to reach a general explanation. Most of the complex molecules of life are chiral so there is no way to apply these mathematical models to them. I am pretty sure, the understanding of origin of life through chemistry laws would be the next breakthrough in science.

 the number of women who don’t show interest in academic careers has increased

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

Since I have been in Germany for six months, I have realised that there is no big gap between women and men pursuing a scientific career. Both have the same opportunities and support in the first stage of their scientific careers. The numbers of women are even bigger in PhD research groups compared to men, according to my experience working in the lab. Over the last few years, the gap has been narrowed considerably in developed countries. Nevertheless, the number of women who don’t show interest in academic careers has increased. I think that there are still some prejudices related to the balance between family and academia in women’s lives – that is another reason why some women speed up their graduate studies in order to get a stable position at the university before deciding to have a family. There must be some guarantee that a woman who decides to have children could continue in the same charge after taking a semester off, but, unfortunately, women cannot recover the same opportunities they had before they decided to start a family. Universities or academic institutions must adopt special programmes or work-family policies to support women who decide to start a family before getting tenure and not put their later chances at risk.

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.

 

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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!

 

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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!

 

 

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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.

“The world deserves well-educated women.” – Ana Torres from Mexico

Interview with #LiNo17 young scientist Ana Torres

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 Ana and get inspired.

 

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Ana Torres, 33, from Mexico is a Postdoc at the Texas A&M University in the US. Her research is focused primarily on the theoretical study of the interfacial phenomena relevant for the development of next generation rechargeable batteries. She is also studying the confinement effect exerted by molecular sieves, solvents, nano-structured materials, an inert gas matrix over the chemical reactions, which are important for chemical catalysis. Her motivation is to assist the novel frontier materials design (with enhanced features) using theoretical and computational methods to optimise resources and facilitate the materials implementation for the manufacturing process of technological devices.

 

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

Since forever, science books were the only reading material available at home. Both my sister and I grew up with my two parents who are successful biologists despite the difficult circumstances they had to overcome to pursue a career in science. Their personal stories encouraged me to appreciate my education and science in general. I spent a lot of time surrounded by students, immersed in school, math competitions and science fairs. Also, my parents took my sister and me with them on their field research in natural reservations and archaeological zones. I went with my mother to her postgraduate courses and academic workshops. There was not a lot I could do in my small hometown in Mexico but fortunately, I was invited to participate in the Chemistry Olympiads and I enjoyed it all the way through the National Competition. I discovered my passion for chemistry during high school and I decided to travel a long way daily to Mexico City to the UNAM University and get an academic career in science.

 

Who are your role models?

In many ways, I have been inspired to dedicate my life to science when I pictured my parents doing their daily academic activities with a genuine delight. I enjoyed reading stories about inventors like Edison, Gutenberg, and González-Camarena and enjoyed the Sherlock Holmes adventures. As a child I had the highest scores in school triggered by the discipline at home and motivated by the guiding hands of several exceptional teachers and academicians who invested professional resources into my training. I keep evocative memories of my math teacher, during middle school, who was very dedicated in preparing his students for national competitions. After middle school, I participated in the National Chemistry Olympiads where I met devoted teachers and researchers of the UAEM-Mexico who trained the team and encouraged us to pursue a career in chemistry. My bachelor and postgraduate studies at the National Autonomous University of Mexico contributed to my personal and academic growing. I have been inspired in many ways by committed theorists and advisors: Prof. Fernando Colmenares, Prof. Serguei Fomine and Prof. Perla Balbuena and also the leading academics and theorists Prof. Raul Alvarez, Prof. Fernando Cortes and Prof. Tomas Rocha. Likewise, I shall mention the Nobel Laureates who are my academic life models: Prof. Mario Molina, Prof. Roald Hoffmann, Prof. Robert H. Grubbs, Prof. Walter Kohn, Prof. John Pople, Prof. Konstantin Novoselov, Prof. Andre Geim, Prof. Rudolph A. Marcus and Prof. Martin Karplus.

my parents took my sister and me with them on their field research in natural reservations and archaeological zones

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

The way throughout my current academic position was not easy but constructive and challenging in some aspects. I come from a small, quiet and traditional town in the state of Mexico. Thankfully, I was blessed with my parents’ commitment to provide my sister and me a good education. During my basic education, I participated actively in several science and academic contests. Later on, I enrolled in the public high school and was benefited with a scholarship. That stage was meaningful for my further decision to study chemistry since I was selected to attend Mexico’s National Olympiad of Chemistry. That privilege implied a strong commitment by means of traveling two hours to the school of Chemistry of UAEM-Mexico to be trained for the competition, and then two hours more for the way back. I traveled with my mother after the school in an old van provided by the principal two or three days per week during some months. We arrived at home almost at midnight, tired but enthusiastic about my preparation and the encouraging support within my family. After that fruitful experience of attending the national contest, I decided to study Chemistry in the School of Chemistry of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. So therefore, I spent four hours in a round-trip each day to the Mexico City to pursue my bachelor degree. Sometimes I traveled by car with my father before dawn, but others I had tiring trips in the overcrowded subway and the bus, which arrived in the middle of nowhere where my parents picked me up. After I had my first course of Quantum Chemistry in the university, I joined a theoretical research workgroup. The Quantum Chemistry captivated me and one year later, I obtained my bachelor degree with honours. I continued my postgraduate studies in Chemistry supported by a grant of the National Council of Science and Technology. Usually, there are few students willing to pursue a career in Theoretical Chemistry in my program. Thus, while I studied my advisor and other theorists dictated Quantum and Computational Chemistry post-graduate courses, indeed some of the lectures were first given. As well, during that time, I started my own family and I had to organise my time efficiently to get a functional balance between motherhood, research and teaching. Therefore, through family joint efforts, hard-working and passion for science important achievements were scored: my son loves math and I graduated with honours, gaining the MSc. and PhD. degrees in Chemistry. At present, I am thankful for the support of Prof. Balbuena and I am committed to my post-doctoral stay in Texas A&M University, US. Likewise, I am sharing this experience with my supportive family; we are all growing in academic and personal areas.

 

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

Every single project I have worked on has represented a hot topic for me. My Chemistry Master Project was crucial for my academic growing, since I was assigned to deal with some kind of reactions that computationally develop through the wrong expected pathway. So given that behind every failure is an opportunity to succeed, I just let the theory to guide me to get the pieces of the puzzle. Hence, the experienced guide of my advisor, Prof. Colmenares, and my chemical background converged into an alternative and plausible new two-step mechanism proposal (alternative to the spin intersystem-crossing) that explained for the experimental results and became the distinctive approach of the research group. By the time Prof. R. H. Grubbs held a lecture in the university, I got immersed in some articles on methatesis reactions which led me to work with Prof. Fomine. It was my luck that he noticed that I could have a complementary role in the nanoscience research he was guiding in that moment in view of my previous experience in multireference and ab-initio electronic structure methods. From then on, I had to deal with the electronic structure of polymers and p conjugated carbon-based linear and bidimensional nanosystems. Furthermore, after the 2013 Chemistry Nobel Prize announcement, I was fascinated by the multi-scale methods and the perspective of deconstructing a complex system into an accurate computational treatable one. This perspective helped me to deal with the molecular simulations of nanostructures and large-size catalytic systems and encouraged me to look for my current postdoctoral position which is working on a project focused on the computer-aided design of novel materials with technological applications. In this context, it is sought to contribute to the science development in the field of materials used in cutting-edge energy storage devices.

I had to organise my time efficiently to get a functional balance between motherhood, research and teaching

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

I feel proud when I mentor other young students and I succeed to transmit my enthusiasm for Quantum Chemistry to them. In particular, when I teach and help other students with their research and studies in chemistry I feel very gratified. As well, I value the research that I carried out in my home country headed by great Scientists and a limited infrastructure. I got some awards, they came unexpectedly as a nice reward for a constant work and joint endeavor of my home university and advisors, I feel pleased about it and double committed with my future efforts.

 

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

Currently, I am doing a postdoctoral stay in the Department of Chemical Engineering in Texas A&M University. My day starts early in the morning, so my husband and I start the day helping my child to get ready for the elementary school. Then I spend most of the day in the office interacting with the quantum world through the computer and enjoying my computational research. There, I read some Quantum Chemistry books or participate in a seminar or workshop. It is a fruitful experience to share the office with two young female students, we have a nice environment of mutual support and cooperation. We all come from developing countries and share a strong motivation and commitment on science. My workgroup is very diverse, encouraging and productive; it is leaded by Prof. Perla Balbuena. In my previous group, I was the only woman. At late afternoon, I go back home to enjoy a delicious and healthy dinner with my family. This, however, would not be possible without the wonderful team effort of my family that supports me. Then, after homework, games, handicrafts and origami at home, I benefit of the calm of the night to carry out some calculations and read before I go to sleep.

when I teach and help other students with their research and studies in chemistry I feel very gratified

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

When the bachelor degree is issued by my home university UNAM, the following oath must be taken:
“I affirm to practice my profession with integrity and enthusiasm, always bearing in mind my social responsibility to the community that contributed to my training, ensuring the professional solidarity, the progress of Chemistry and the prestige of our university. For my race, my spirit will speak.”
I am keen to embrace this phrase as part of my everyday service through science and mentorship and willing to impact positively and more directly in the solution of welfare issues and technology development through the research in the field of Theoretical and Computational Chemistry.

 

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

I enjoy walking, running and biking, which let me spend a great time with my son and my husband and undertake physical activity. Likewise, I enjoy the Bible studies, since it provides me a compass to guide my next steps in all the areas of my life. As well, it is a good opportunity to know some colleagues of other research fields and countries out of the office and to enrich each other with great learnings and common goals. I like to talk about quantum chemistry and science with my family and friends, listen science podcasts, computers, hi-tech gadgets, stereograms and the origami. I like farm animals and the country lifestyle, indeed in my home country I have the opportunity to spend some weekends in my parents’ eco-farm to take care of rabbits.

I urge each woman in disadvantaged regions to break away from the traditional molds society has imposed upon us to justify the lack of support to education, science and job opportunities

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

As a woman, I have my own perspective to address problems in several fields of chemistry; organisation and multitask skills enable me to have a good balance between the family and my career. It is important to have a strong discipline and continue motivated along the way to get an academic career on the basis of family ties and academic cooperation. Personally, chemistry can be seen as a high-level marathon that demands several attributes. Endurance to overcome the day-by-day challenges and enthusiasm to keep high levels of motivation to perform high-quality research. To keep the feet on solid ground, persistent academic training and the desire of service and impact in a positive and useful way in the immediate surroundings. The result is reaching the goal bearing in mind that every step is worth the effort! I urge each woman in disadvantaged regions to break away from the traditional molds society has imposed upon us to justify the lack of support to education, science and job opportunities, and to go beyond our own ways and limits to play an active role in our nation and take the challenge to pursue a career in Science.

 

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

The implementation and widespread usage of artificial intelligence in drug discovery, novel materials design, analytic techniques and environmental phenomena.

 

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

The world deserves well-educated women. In Latin countries, commonly women are responsible on their own of the children. They are mainly responsible for their education and the most important: they are laying the foundation of the future generations. Empowering a woman translates into well-educated children, an irreversible and fruitful process, which I witnessed by first-hand in my family. In this line, the thrust and support of women in Science represents an axis of transformation in the society. Certainly, job opportunities for women in Science should increase and special programs for childcare and scholarships for women might raise the number of women that continue their studies and pursue a career in Science.

 

“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. 

Society Needs to Move On from Stereotypical Gender Roles, Says Diana Montes-Grajales

Interview with #LiNo17 young scientist Diana Montes-Grajales

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 Diana and get inspired.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Diana Montes-Grajales

Photo: Courtesy of Diana Montes-Grajales

Diana Montes-Grajales, 28, from Colombia is a postdoctoral researcher at the Center of Genomics Sciences CCG-UNAM (Mexico). She works in the fields of drug design, evaluation of environmental pollutants and ecological genomics. Currently, she is involved in three main projects: the identification of molecules from the rhizosphere with potential for medical or agrochemical applications; the in silico drug repurposing for dengue and chikungunya treatment; and the evaluation of endocrine disruptors and emerging pollutants targeting breast cancer proteins.

 

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

Curiosity and scientific vocation! When I was at school I had a very inspiring professor of sciences, Ariel Acosta. He taught me the basics of biology and chemistry as a discovery process in the lab. We tested and interpreted the results by ourselves with a guide containing previously learned knowledge. This was more than 15 years ago in a public school in Colombia; I did not have access to computers at that time and my text books were not advanced enough to have all the explanations for all the experiments we conducted in the lab. This definitely sparked my curiosity and forced me to think like a scientist by the age of ten. I have had to decide between science and making more money or having stability so many times, but the answer was always the same: I am a scientist.

 

Who are your role models?

I admire more scientists and artists than I can list here. There is a broad range of people that have done amazing things to help us to live better and to interpret our world. However, I do not have role models because every person is unique, and I think having role models could be in a way frustrating. In addition, the matter of science is the novelty, and if you want to do something that has not been done before, probably imitation is not a good choice. So all that I do is trying to learn from others and my own experiences, put more effort in what I do and work hard to improve my skills.

 

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

My interest in science began in my childhood, inspired by the biology class at my school. I enjoyed so much to start thinking in the capability of small things to make a notable difference in biological systems, such as how the properties of the cell membranes are influenced by its chemical composition, and how the food chain is mainly supported by the photosynthesis reaction of plants and algae, which ultimately lead us to survive.

I have had to decide between science and making more money or having stability so many times, but the answer was always the same: I am a scientist.

My inclination for science increased during high-school, thanks to spectacular experiments in the chemistry laboratory – so many different thoughts on nature and behaviour of matter: the replacement of a metal by another in the reaction of iron and copper sulfate, the formation of a visible solid by the combination of two liquid solutions with the formation of a precipitate and the violent reaction of alkali metals with water were some of the things that impressed me in those days. Chemistry was then the career I wanted to follow and study at university, even though I also liked medicine. This was a difficult decision as many people adviced me to study health sciences, as my first option did not sound so profitable. Anyhow, I applied for chemistry in 2005, and I was accepted to the University of Cartagena (Colombia) with the best score in the admission exam. Studying chemistry was a great and challenging experience. In the first semester, I met Prof. Jesus Olivero-Verbel, the director of the Environmental and Computational Chemistry Group, who later became my mentor during my undergraduate and Ph.D. studies.

I was an outstanding student and I had a lot of international experiences. In 2010, I did a three month internship in the Drug Discovery Platform of the Scientific Park of Barcelona (Spain), under the direction of Prof. Jordi Quintana. There, I worked in the development of molecules against transthyretin amyloidosis. In 2011, I started my Ph.D. in Environmental Toxicology, and three years later I was a PhD. Visitor student for six month at the Department of Chemistry of the University of Cambridge (England), under the direction of Prof. Gonçalo Bernardes. There, I performed the spectroscopic analysis of the in silico predicted protein-ligand pairs of endocrine disruptors and breast cancer proteins using circular dichroism, native mass spectrometry and microscale thermophoresis. I also participated in international collaborations with the GBernardes Lab (England) and Prof. Thomas Sanderson of the INRS (Canada), and I attended several short-term courses related to toxicology and medicinal chemistry in the United States, Brazil, Mexico, Spain, France and England.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Diana Montes-Grajales

Photo: Courtesy of Diana Montes-Grajales

 

When I finished my PhD, I was immediately employed as an assistant professor and young researcher at Universidad Tecnológica de Bolivar (Cartagena-Colombia) in 2016. There, I created an elective for engineering undergraduate students called “green chemistry and sustainable engineering”, which is a research-based course. I also started and lead a group of around 40 undergraduate students, which is getting involved in environmental sciences research. I got a new laboratory of research in bioinformatics and computational chemistry, in which we develop mostly studies in drug design and in silico evaluation of environmental pollutants, and I also proposed a new master program in Bioinformatics. That year, I met Prof. Winston Hide of the Harvard University at an international course and he was surprised with the quality of the research presented by me and my students so he encouraged me to continue my training. He told me something like “If you do not do everything you can do, you will regret it later.”

I was working on protein interactions for a while, and these are actually my favorite molecules. But at some point, I realised that I needed to learn about DNA to comprehend the complex molecular mechanisms involved in some diseases and toxicological effects, as well as to understand cancer, one of my main research interests. Then, I applied for the UNAM postdoctoral program scholarship and I was admitted. So I am currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Center of Genomics Sciences CCG-UNAM (Mexico), and I am learning genomics and molecular biology.

 

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

The coolest project was the evaluation of Ruthenium NAC-CORM molecules as agents for the cancer treatment, developed at the University of Cambridge during my PhD. Internship. Cancer is one of the topics that attract my attention the most, and having molecules that release components that both kill the malignant cells and have antioxidant effects is a smart approach.

 I do not have role models because every person is unique

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

This is a difficult question because I do not use to feel pride in myself or my work. I am very self-critical, so I hardly ever feel satisfied with my performance, which results in a never ending improvement process. Being accepted to participate in the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting was a super happy moment for me, because I will have the opportunity to learn from people that have achieved great things in chemistry. Another important moment in my life was when I received my PhD. diploma and the Laureate thesis award, because it meant for me that I was officially a scientist and I was doing it well.

 

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

I wake up around 6 am, I prepare and have breakfast at home, read a little bit and water my Bougainvillea flowers in the garden. Then I go to the lab around 9 am, I check my to-do’s and start working to get them done. Once I finish my experiments – every day is different-, I go to the gym to do Zumba, normally around 7:00 pm and after that I go home, then I continue working a little bit more on my computer, and sometimes in the lab. I love learning new techniques, so when I have a little extra time, I ask others to teach me something about their work and I help them with their experiments.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Diana Montes-Grajales

Photo: Courtesy of Diana Montes-Grajales

 

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

I want to do something meaningful that helps to improve the quality of life for the next generation.

 

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

I love to experience the world through travel and art.

 

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

Forget gender and trust yourself!

  I want to do something meaningful that helps to improve the quality of life for the next generation.

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

The discovery of new antibiotics to attack multidrug resistant bacteria or an effective treatment against cancer!

 

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

Society needs to forget gender roles and stereotypes. We need to change our way of thinking and understand that we moved forward to a modern life and the way we do things now is very different to how things were done before. So, we need great minds of both genders and good education to form humans with critical thinking, and not girls and boys. This is of course not an easy task, because we still live in an unequal society and changing the culture is hard. Some strategies that could be implemented may include the government monitoring salaries and regulation the proportion of inclusion of women in companies and universities, as well as promoting education programs based on equality.

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.