“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 Portugal and Melania from Italy, and watch this space for more interviews with #LiNo17 female young scientsist in the next few days!

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.

 

 

Andrea d’Aquino Didn’t Think She Would Ever Attend University

Interview with #LiNo17 young scientist Andrea d’Aquino

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 Andrea and get inspired.

 

Picture: Courtesy of Andrea d’Aquino

Photo: Courtesy of Andrea d’Aquino

Andrea d’Aquino, 26, from the United States of America is a PhD Student at the Northwestern University, Illinois, USA. She conducts research on coordination-driven, supramolecular chemistry, which is really the study of the interaction of metals with organic compounds, to form structures that can perform useful and interesting chemistry (such as catalysis, sensing and detection, to name a few).

 

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

It wasn’t until late into my college education that I decided to take general chemistry. I believe I was in my junior year (most students take general chemistry in their freshman year). I was terrified of chemistry and of most science courses; however, when I sat down for my first general chemistry class my mind was opened to a new way of solving problems and a new way of understanding the world. This was an incredibly inspiring moment for me. Even though I struggled with exams and homework assignments, I was motivated to better understand the world through science.

 

Who are your role models?

I have so many role models in my life, and I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today without them. My greatest role models have really been my parents. They have taught me through example and have encouraged me to be ambitious and tenacious and challenged me to be thoughtful in everything I do, and they inspired me to pursue my wildest dreams with unrelenting determination. My other role models have been my older siblings and my identical twin sister, who have always challenged me to be better and to pursue my dreams with passion. My parents and siblings have been great role models and teachers in my life, and I will always be thankful for their love and support.

My high school teachers at Squalicum High School, have also been incredible role models to me. Without my high school teachers I may have never decided to pursue a college education. My college chemistry professors and, in particular, my research advisor Professor Bussell at Western Washington University played a critical role in my life. I never would have considered pursuing chemistry as my field of study, and never would have known how to conduct research, ask questions and solve problems in the lab without his leadership and guidance.

 

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

My journey to where I am today has been an unprecedented one; therefore, my story is a complicated one. I am a first-generation college student and the youngest in a family of seven (youngest along with my identical twin sister). I am originally from La Mesa, CA, but when I was ten years old my family moved to Bellingham, WA where I attended middle school, high school and eventually college. I never thought that I would have the opportunity to earn a Bachelor’s degree, and I certainly never thought I would be pursuing my PhD in chemistry.

I never could have imagined having the opportunity to attend college — let alone graduate school

I really enjoyed school while growing up — I have always loved learning new things, solving problems and being creative. Although I yearned to one day attend college, my dreams seemed far from my reach because of the financial demand and because no one in my family had a college education. I began working when I was 14 years old when I applied for and received a job picking up garbage along Interstate-5. This was a way for me to earn money and help support my family. Throughout high school I worked a variety of jobs to help support my family, and toward the end of my high school education I had a unique opportunity to get involved with a volunteer program with the local police department where I began learning and training for a career in the police force. Although this was an incredible experience that had profound impacts on my life, I still yearned to pursue higher education and earn a college degree. My aspirations to pursue a college education came with great support of my high school teachers and family, and together my twin sister and I decided to apply to college. I applied for many scholarships in hopes of receiving help with paying college tuition and was lucky enough to receive the Gates Millennium Scholarship. Without the help of this scholarship, I don’t think I would be where I am today.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Andrea d’Aquino

Photo: Courtesy of Andrea d’Aquino

 

I settled on attending college in my home town at Western Washington University, where I was able to save money and help my family. My entrance into Western Washington University (WWU) coincided with an intrigue and passion for patterns and problem solving. My passion for problem solving, coupled with a desire to make a positive impact on society and the world, drove me to pursue science. Upon completing my first chemistry course, I came to realise that the problem solving which truly inspired me involved reactions between molecules. My desire to study chemistry led me to conduct research in the lab of Professor Mark Bussell. In the Bussell lab, I pioneered research on heterogeneous catalysts for the production of ultra-low sulfur fuels and renewable biofuels. Although I faced many obstacles throughout my undergraduate career, conducting research at WWU was the pinnacle of my undergraduate experience and was the impetus in my decision to pursue graduate school in the field of chemistry.

With the support of the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, I chose to broaden my chemical knowledge and skills, and pursue a new field of chemical research for my graduate education. I am continuing my chemistry training at Northwestern University (NU), where I am currently conducting organometallic research in the lab of Professor Chad Mirkin. My research focuses on developing novel materials using coordination chemistry, for applications in catalysis, biological sensing and detection. My work in graduate school has opened my mind to a greater world of science and has inspired me to work even harder to solve world problems with science.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Andrea d’Aquino

Photo: Courtesy of Andrea d’Aquino

 

A theme that I have come to recognise throughout my life and educational career has been that mentorship and role models have played a crucial role in my success as a scientist and independent learner. I never could have imagined having the opportunity to attend college — let alone graduate school — however, with the help, guidance and encouragement from teachers, mentors and role models, I have had the opportunity to pursue my dreams and make meaningful impacts on the world through science. The profound impact that mentorship and role models have had on my life has motivated me to give back to the scientific and general community through mentorship and outreach. For the past three years, I have been an active volunteer with Jugando con la Ciencia (playing with science), which is a program aimed to promote science in the Hispanic communities around Evanston and Chicago, IL. I lead science lessons in Spanish at Washington Elementary School, and teach students about diverse topics in science two to three times a month. Through JCLC, I also organise community outreach events such as the Evanston Arts and Science Fair at the Evanston Public Library. Additionally, I helped organise and implement the first HerStory event in collaboration with the Museum of Science and Industry. This event was geared toward middle and high school females and involved a scavenger hunt around the museum where they learned about famous women in various fields of science. The goal of this event was to inspire the next generation of women in science by teaching them about the many influential women who have profoundly impacted science and by allowing them to discover more about themselves. Being a first-generation college student, a woman and an underrepresented minority in science, I have come to appreciate the importance of mentorship. Promoting and inspiring women and minorities in science is important to me because I may not have otherwise pursued science – without inspiring teachers, leaders and mentors. For these reasons, I have taken leadership of many outreach efforts geared toward underrepresented minorities and women in science.

My ambitions of attending college brought with it unremitting obstacles; it took tenacity, but more importantly, great mentorship and role models, to overcome adversities as diverse as registering for my first college course to joining a lab. I hope to continue growing as a student, mentor and scientist, and pursue my dream of being a chemistry professor and a mentor to other students.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Andrea d’Aquino

Photo: Courtesy of Andrea d’Aquino

 

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

It is hard to say which project has been the coolest to work on — each project is different and unique. I really enjoyed the project I worked on as an undergraduate which involved the synthesis of nickel phosphide hydrotreating catalysts. It was a really incredible experience to be able to synthesise, characterise and then test the catalytic activity of my catalysts, and to see their real-world applications. But it has also been a great experience to work on more fundamental and exploratory chemistry in graduate school.

 

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

I am very proud of the work I have accomplished in both my undergraduate research and the work I am currently conducting during my PhD. I never could have imagined that I would have the chance to be a scientist, let alone pursue a PhD in chemistry. It gives me great pride to conduct chemistry research, to solve problems through science and then to share that knowledge with others.

 

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

Gosh, a day in my life is so unpredictable! I think that this may be because graduate school is so unpredictable! Grad school can be stressful, so I like to start my day with a relaxing cup of tea and occasionally a morning run. I bike to work each day (sometimes even in the middle of Chicago winters), and typically respond to emails and get set up for the day. Usually, I will plan experiments the day before and have all chemicals and glassware set and ready to go the next day, that way I can get to work and set up a reaction of an experiment as soon as possible. Throughout my day I tend to have one or two meetings and balance those with lab work, responding to emails, reading papers, writing and discussing science with my lab mates. I typically get home in time for a late dinner, at which point I am almost always too tired to do anything other than relax and fall asleep. My days can be busy and stressful, but I enjoy the intensity and excitement of conducting new and exciting research.

I want to help people and positively impact the world through science.

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

Broadly, I am — and have always been — seeking to positively impact the world by helping people and solving problems. In terms of my career, I believe that I can accomplish this through mentorship and leadership as a professor. It is still a little too early for me to say decisively what it is I want to do with my life after graduate school, but I do know that whatever I do or wherever I go, I want to help people and positively impact the world through science.

 

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

I have many passions outside of my work. The world is a great place with many opportunities and many things to learn. In my free time, I enjoy cooking new and exotic foods, reading, writing, painting, running, playing tennis with my identical twin sister, playing volleyball, volunteering, dancing, exploring the great outdoors, and trying new restaurants. There are so many activities I enjoy, but never enough time to enjoy all of them!

 

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

I can’t identify just one single piece of advice to pass along to other women in science, because there are so many important lessons/pieces of advice that I have learned or have been given that I think are important to pass along. Therefore, my advice is three-fold:

(1) Never give up on your dreams — the sky is your limit.

(2) Be ambitious and unafraid of failure or tribulations.

(3) Keep an open mind.

These pieces of advice have so far served me well, and even now I still remind myself to keep these lessons and pieces of advice in mind and apply them to my own life.

the next great breakthrough in science will be solving the world’s environmental and global energy problems

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

I believe that the next great breakthrough in science will be solving the world’s environmental and global energy problems. I believe these are big issues facing our world and many scientists are working relentlessly to solve them.

 

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

The lack of females in science is of course a multifaceted problem. I think that one thing we need to do in order to increase the number of females in science is begin with grassroots efforts. We need to encourage and inspire girls to pursue science at a young age. We need to support all women and minorities in science and in higher education, and establish environments that are accepting of all backgrounds. I believe that there are many women (and minorities) who have the desire to be a scientist, but have been discouraged in a variety of ways. We must support women (and minorities) throughout all stages of academics, and make sure that we continue to maintain this support in higher education and beyond.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Andrea d’Aquino

Photo: Courtesy of Andrea d’Aquino

Women in Research: Specific Funding Needed, Says Hira Khalid

Interview with #LiNo17 young scientist Hira Khalid

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 Hira and get inspired.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Hira Khalid

Photo: Courtesy of Hira Khalid

Hira Khalid, 30, from Pakistan is an Assistant Professor in Department of Chemistry at the Forman Christian College University Lahore, Pakistan. She is working on the synthesis of biologically active heterocyclic compounds. The synthesised compounds are characterised by different spectroscopy techniques and then screened against various enzymatic activities to evaluate their biological potential. She develops molecular models by performing docking studies of potential compounds from the series. The findings enable her to establish structure activity relationships, which are a main step for drug discovery.

 

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

Firstly, my parents induced love for science in me by developing reasoning and curiosity about life in my childhood – curiosity of finding the answers of questions such as “Why do trees have green leaves?”, “How can a patient be cured with a medicine?”, “How can milk transform into yogurt?”, “Why can I see different colours in a fire work?” or “How do things look different in colours?”. Another great observation was that when I put water into the freezer it forms beautiful crystals of different shapes. There is a long list of smart questions that are answered by chemistry.

So after completing my matriculation in science, I chose the pre-medical for Chemistry and Biology. I was admitted to the BSc Chemistry and then the MS and the PhD in Chemistry which was truly because of my interest and love for chemistry and desire for solving problems to serve humanity.

 

Who are your role models?

Many great people have inspired me as role models and they are in different fields of life. There are males and females who have influenced me: Einstein, Ms. Fatima Jinnah, Celion Dion, Operah and many others. Dr. Andrew J Boydston (University of Washington, Seattle), Dr. Aziz-ur-Rehman (GC University Lahore), who were my research supervisors have influenced me a lot; they are working with excellence in their field of chemistry and in their personal life.

In the field of chemistry, Madam Marie Curie, Robert Thomas, Stephanie Louise, Kwolek, Rosalind and Elsie Franklin have had a strong impact on my passion for chemistry. Though there are many other great women in chemistry, and it is hard to confine with few only. I like women who pursue their education and career along with their family commitments. They have faced all the hardships and resistance because it has never been easy for a woman to pursue her dreams. It is worth mentioning that as a woman in general my role model is my grandmother, who raised my mom with best traits and education even though being a single parent and without any financial support. My mother is my role model because she worked hard for carrying her education and then continuing her higher education with children and job but of course that was not possible without support of my father. She groomed us with all the best.

 

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

In light of my background in chemistry, I did my BSc (Hons.) Chemistry in 2005 and then MS in Chemistry in 2008 at the Institute of Chemistry, University of the Punjab with specialisation in Analytical Chemistry under supervision of Prof. Dr Jamil Anwer Ch. During my MS, I not only learnt the classical and modern techniques but also got the privilege of working with the latest instruments, e.g., HPLC, FTIR and the GFA-Spectrometer. I got a First Class in my BSc Hons. As well as my MS degree and continued my academic career with First Class results.

After the MS, I received the Indigenous Research Scholarship for PhD from the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC). I did my PhD in Organic Chemistry from the Department of Chemistry, GC University Lahore in 2014 under the supervision of Dr. Aziz-ur-Rehman. The aim of my PhD research work was to synthesise novel compounds exhibiting diverse and improved pharmacological potential with an objective to search new contenders of drug with enhanced activity, which could be helpful in controlling many degenerative diseases.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Hira Khalid

Photo: Courtesy of Hira Khalid

I was awarded the “Best PhD Scholar of the year 2011-2012” award by the departmental research committee on extraordinary research work in the first year of my PhD. I was awarded International Research Support Initiative program award (IRSIP) to work with Boydston research group in University of Washington Seattle USA for six months as international student intern in 2013. I had the privilege to work under the supervision of the distinguished Dr Andrew J Boydston on self-immolative polymers. I used advanced equipment and got expertise in instruments such as GC-MS, AV-300, 301, 500 NMR and dry box. I was the first and only Pakistani student who got the opportunity to work at the University of Washington, Seattle as international student intern during my PhD where I not only improved my skills in chemistry but have also learnt a lot about lab management, adaptation to different culture, socialising and interacting with people internationally. I participated in ICPAC 2012, which was organised in Mauritius, where I was the only Pakistani student who gave an oral presentation among 350 participants from 72 different countries. I was included as international advisory member for ICPAC 2014.

I have served GC Women University Sialkot, Pakistan as Assistant Professor for Chemistry from May 2015 to January 2017. I am an HEC approved research supervisor. I am affiliated with a number of national and international societies, i.e, IUPAC young fellow since 2010 till now, member American Oil’s Chemist’s Society (AOCS), life time member Chemical Society of Pakistan (CSP), American Chemical Society (ACS) Chemistry Ambassador, I have worked as Coordinator Chemistry award of National Academy of young scientists (NAYS) of Pakistan 2010-2013. I have more than 25 international research publications on my credit.

I like women who pursue their […] career along with their family commitments.

Currently, I feel proud to serve the Forman Christian College (FCC), a chartered University as an Assistant professor. FCCU has been served by a large number of distinguished educational leaders and teachers throughout its history. Dr CW Forman, Dr Sir JCR Ewing, Dr CH Rice, Dr ED Lucas, Dr SK Dutta, Dr HC Velte, Dr JH Orbison, Noble Laureate Dr Arthur Compton, Maulvi Muhammad Bakar, Dr HD Griswold, Prof JM Benade, Shamsul Ulema, Maulavi Muhammad Hussain, Dr KC Chatterji, Dr P Carter Speers, Dr SL Sheets, Prof MS Bhatti, Maulana Farzand Ali, Dr RH Ewing, Dr EJ Sinclair, Dr Robert F Tebbe and Dr Carl Wheeless are among many who have impacted the lives of students and shaped the future of the college through the years. Under their leadership, the college became widely regarded as one of the very best in the entire subcontinent.

 

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

The coolest project is the project which I have started in my PhD and now I am advancing that project. It is most inspiring to synthesise poly-functional organic compounds with beautiful and complex heterocyclic rings from simple substrates and then conducting their computational studies in which I can see these synthesised compounds in movement and their 3-D structures, and I can see how they will bind with protein to cure a disease.

 

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

The day when I got the letter for being selected for the International Support Award by Higher Education Commission of Pakistan to work in University of Washington, Seattle which is in the top 30 world ranked universities and I was the only and very first Pakistani who got the opportunity to work in UW.

 

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

My day starts at 5 am and I reach my University at 8 am. I make a to-do list for that day, and then I start my tasks. I enjoy teaching my students and then interacting with them regarding their research projects.

Each of my days is different form the other including the experience of class teaching. The exciting thing is this that the whole day is busy with teaching, departmental tasks, mentoring students, looking into results of my experiments and writing them up. To analyse the data after experiments, which involves dedication and mental exercise, is more exciting for me. For me “a day in my life” is a day on which I accomplish my tasks and go through research articles and then on my arrival at home I have quality time with my family.

 

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

There are lot of things to accomplish in a career, completing the on-going projects of Baccalaureate, MS and PhD students as a research supervisor. I am looking forward for my patent, developing the best collaboration with industry so they can invest in research projects which will improve the quality of research in the pharmaceutical industry of Pakistan. I am also planning for prestigious fellowships for post docs, especially the Humboldt/Max Planck fellowship. I also want to participate in international seminars and conferences to present my research work and speak about the role of women in science especially from a developing country which has impression of deprived women.

 

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

I like music, gardening, cooking, traveling, eating and playing with kids.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Hira Khalid

Photo: Courtesy of Hira Khalid

 

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

If there is a will, there is a way. You can do anything. You just need to be focused and passionate. I firmly believe that if you are honest and genuine with what you want to do and you are not selfish with your loved ones then your family will be your key support and you will achieve all the best in your life in all respects.

 

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

In my opinion, the most emerging breakthrough will be synthetic, responsive biopolymers that can be triggered and stimulated by different factors within body.

Developing countries are facing these challenges even more than underdeveloped ones.

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

We could support female contribution as scientists and as professor by providing the opportunities for studies close to their towns so they face less hardship. The jobs must address the other genuine issues of women as they are playing double role in comparison to men that they have to give full time in their jobs and managing their family life.

There is a great need of providing exclusive research funding and fellowships for women scientists, because they have to struggle much harder for developing research collaborations and then pursuing international funding. In the case of developing countries like Pakistan, we do not have good research funding from local industries and find very few funding organisations that focus on women so that we could benefit by their vision and intellectual capacities.

There is a need to announce research funding for women across the globe by prestigious sponsors of science and education to empower women. Developing countries are facing these challenges even more than underdeveloped ones.

“We Need Diversity in Science,” Says Hlamulo Makelane

Interview with #LiNo17 young scientist Hlamulo Makelane

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 Hlamulo and get inspired.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Hlamulo Makelane

Photo: Courtesy of Hlamulo Makelane

Hlamulo Makelane, 30, from South Africa is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa. Her research focuses on the development of highly selective and sensitive methods for determination of organic pollutants in wastewater. This requires the synthesis of polymers and the application of a very novel electrochemical technique in sensor technology, as well as using unusually uncommon sample matrices.

 

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

The most interesting aspect of science that has inspired me is the generation of evidence-based solutions to national and global challenges because as a scientist knowledge gained from research is the gateway to making a positive difference for humankind.

 

Who are your role models?

I do not have specific scientists as role models; I always look at other people’s career in science or even non-scientific fields and get inspired. Personally, I have been very fortunate to have a mother who always inspired me not to limit myself and encouraged me to do what I think is right for my career. I have been inspired also by many people I interacted with in conferences, workshops and in my daily life.

 

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

I became interested in science subjects at high school because of my Physical Science and Mathematics teachers and through participation in the Phalaborwa Foundation Programme for Technological Careers (PROTEC). I had no idea about chemistry as a career and thought that chemistry is one of the baseline subjects one has to do for different career paths in science. Choosing a career path and developing a passion for chemistry came after a school visit to one of the mines around Phalaborwa where I met a female analytical chemist who explained her work, and thus I realised that I could make a difference in the world through chemistry. The stereotype that science isn’t for girls and constant reminders that sciences are difficult and completing a degree as women in science is not easy unless one is extremely intelligent never stopped me from pursuing my career in science. I was persuaded and went on to obtain a PhD in Chemistry with a focus on environmental management for water quality.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Hlamulo Makelane

Photo: Courtesy of Hlamulo Makelane

 

My PhD project involved environmental electrochemistry for developing highly selective and sensitive sensor methods for determining organic pollutants in oil-polluted wastewater. I really enjoyed the experience of working with environmental related issues and understanding the impact of organic pollutants on the environment. This was my introduction into the world of electrochemistry and sensor development using dendrimers and polymers. Following encouragement from the PhD research outcomes, I applied for a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of the Western Cape, where I completed my PhD. The post-doc research that I am currently working on is entitled “Ultra-sensitive AC voltammetric polymer electrode for signalling priority organic pollutants (POP) in coal-polluted wastewater”. This research is enabling me to contribute immensely to the critical issues related to the environmental state of the country and also contribute to the nation building effort of the country through it. Through the experience gained during my PhD research projects and being exposed to science, technology and innovation (STI) indicators at the Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators (CeSTII) as a post-doc fellow, I am more certain that I want to pursue a research career in water quality research for environmental management. This includes environmental electrochemistry and environmental science and technology indicators, as I have developed a skill set suited to the field. I have travelled a lot to national and international conferences, seminars and workshops where I presented my work as I strive to explore new relationships between ideas and facts and in doing so sharpening tools and methodologies in my discipline. I have published my research work in the top sensors and electrochemistry journals.

 

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

I think that most of the projects I have worked on were the coolest projects thus far, because they all contributed to my career growth in many different ways. I find it more interesting that most of these projects enabled me to produce results that are evidence-based solutions to the national and global challenges.

 

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

When I was nominated as an early-career scholar to present my research work in 2013 at Brown University’s International Advanced Research Institutes (BIARI) at “Connections and Flows: Water, Energy and Digital Information in the Global South”. I felt a great sense of achievement because it was my first time to present my research work in the innovative interdisciplinary institute, where a diverse group of young engineers and engineering faculty as well as from engineering education, policymakers and those working in agriculture, environmental studies, urban studies or related fields attended.

 

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

Since I started my career path in research it’s difficult to come up with a “day in the life”; however, it has been a phenomenal journey thus far because I learn something new each day. I write down the things I need to do for the day and I do not remember having a boring day because there’s always something new to learn or do. Some days involve desktop research, reading papers and scientific manuscript writing, and other days involve lab work with more practical work and data analysis. The work usually goes from 9 am to at least 6 pm; however, there are days where I have to work until late.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Hlamulo Makelane

Photo: Courtesy of Hlamulo Makelane

 

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

Firstly, I would like to continue with the development of selective and sensitive sensor techniques for the determination of organic pollutants in wastewater as there are many exciting polluted wastewater questions for environmental management focusing on water quality that need to be answered. Secondly, I would like to focus on science, technology and innovation (STI) to develop the experimental techniques and design appropriate for environmental assessment approaches of a specific case, which will also include building on current technology to assess the environmental impacts.

 

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

I like reading, traveling, meeting with friends, gym and sometimes going for a hike.

 

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

The outright bias that has impacts on our education and career choices as women still exist; however, if you are interested in science/chemistry, go for it, and you will enjoy the discovery that the journey brings. The stereotype that sciences are challenging for women should not prevent you from following your career path in science. Challenge yourself to even go beyond the first degree and obtain the highest degree because I believe that if I made it, you can also make it. We need diversity in science and if you are interested in increasing the number of women in science it will also empower you to think differently about the global challenges, and your creativity will result in good solutions.

 

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

There are many breakthroughs anticipated in shaping the environmental challenges through science/chemistry, but ultra-sensitive sensor systems with high selectivity for the detection of organic pollutants at femto- to atto-molar detection limits are envisaged to be one of the next breakthrough. The device will be cost-effective, reliable and consist of easy-to-use technologies suitable for accurate determination of organic pollutants in effluents, collecting the requisite data necessary in setting environmental standards, and ensuring compliance to regulations on emission limits.

 

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

This question does not have one answer due to the increasing number of challenges female scientists/professors are currently facing. Gender bias still plays a big role in higher education, which prevents an increase in the number of female scientists and female professors. Some of the challenges related to the number of female scientist not increasing the way we would like to see is the lack of support from their departments or institutions where they are based. There is a need, therefore, for the government to address this issue by implementing and monitoring policies that encourages the number of female scientists and female professors to be recognised. The policies should also directly support female scientist by creating a good working environment without being compared to their male colleagues because the science world is still dominated by male scientist. The created platform should work towards closing the gap between male and female scientist as well as bringing inclusion of females in science, which can have far-reaching benefits them. This will enable female scientist to grow in their career and to be recognised for their hard work. Therefore, more women would be attracted to stay in sciences, enhance their careers in the field and become role models to young and upcoming female scientist.