Published 24 August 2023 by Ulrike Böhm

Women in Research #LINO23: Mirian Krystel De Siqueira

Mirian in the lab. Photo/Credit: Mirian Krystel De Siqueira

Mirian from Brazil is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA. Her current research interests rely on understanding the landscape of translation regulation in the development of obesity and systemic metabolism. The adipose tissue is a dynamic endocrine organ that plays a central role in energy homeostasis and undergoes significant alterations in obesity. However, how this highly transcriptionally active tissue regulates protein synthesis is poorly understood. Therefore, they aim to unravel the complex mechanisms underlying ribosome biogenesis and translation efficiency in adipocytes and their contribution to the development of metabolic disorders such as obesity.

Mirian participated in the 72nd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting and took the time for this interview.

What inspired you to pursue a career in science / in your discipline?

I think I have always had an inherent curiosity about the natural world and a desire to understand how things work. The opportunity to make discoveries, contribute to knowledge, and solve complex problems can be highly motivating.

Who are your role models?

During my formative years in academia, I have had several mentors who have taught me personally and professionally. One scientific role model to me is Yasmine Belkaid, Ph.D.

Yasmine is currently one of the best immunologists in the field and is internationally recognised for her excellence and innovation in science. I admire her genuine interest in helping all her mentees to develop personally and professionally to succeed in their careers. Her training helped me develop a professional identity and convinced me that I can do the same for other women with similar aspirations.

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

I grew up on a small farm in Brazil. During childhood and young adolescence, I was constantly challenged to overcome structural adversities in Brazil, such as poverty, breaking away from gendered expectations for women in STEM, and having limited opportunities for higher education. As the youngest daughter of uneducated farmers, I relied on the public education system through high school, which was under-resourced compared to private schools in Brazil. However, the small farm I grew up on cultivated big dreams. My aspiration was to become a woman who worked at the cutting edge of new discoveries and inspired other women in the same way that I had been inspired. This inspiration is what drove me to win a full-merit-based scholarship in college. However, during my freshman and sophomore years, I still needed to work full-time at a bank as an administrative assistant to cover my expenses, and I had to have all my classes at night – an exhausting but extremely rewarding experience. As time passed and I had more opportunities, I was finally able to start working on what I was passionate about. I had the privilege to explore several fields in Biomedical Sciences as an undergraduate intern at the Laboratory of Forensic Chemistry and Forensic Sexology and as an undergraduate research assistant at the Laboratory of Molecular Virology.

Inspiration combined with hard work made Mirian get to the point in her career where she is today. Photo/Credit: Don Liebig/ASUCLA

With the thought of women who have come before me and done the unthinkable, I worked as hard as I could to become a scientist. This inspiration motivated me to apply to Science without Borders – a highly competitive undergraduate program sponsored by the Brazilian Federal Government to promote the globalisation of science and improve education. This experience allowed me to participate in a 2-year training program at Rowan University (NJ, USA), which enriched my academic training and drove me to keep studying hard as I later graduated at the top of my class in Biomedical Science (2016). Thanks to the amazing opportunity to study abroad, I also learned English quickly and well enough to give talks about my previous research experience and expand my scientific network. Moved by the strong support of my previous supervisors, I was later accepted into one of the best universities in Latin America: The State University of Campinas – Sao Paulo, for my master’s. My formative years during my master’s exposed me to even more women who pushed me to become a better scientist.

My experiences as a mentee of women in science reinforced my decision to become a principal investigator, so I applied for a Ph.D. program in Molecular, Integrative, and Cellular Physiology at UCLA in 2019. My current research as a Ph.D. candidate aims to understand adipose tissue biology and its implication in obesity. I have been fortunate enough to work under the supervision of an outstanding Ph.D. supervisor, Claudio Villanueva, Ph.D., who is committed to encouraging underrepresented students to thrive in academia and has embraced my ambitious dreams. I am confident that a career as a principal investigator will afford me the best outreach and mentorship capabilities I seek to empower other women further.

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

My coolest project is the next one! I have worked on amazing projects ranging from molecular virology and mucosal immunology to obesity. What amazes me in academia is the freedom to study something you are passionate about. I believe that as you gain more experience, your work’s quality and innovative aspects will constantly improve. I am excited about the new interests I will develop in the future, especially after attending the Lindau Meeting and meeting so many outstanding scientists!

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

I think my college graduation was one of my biggest accomplishments. It was hard balancing working full-time and studying, but I did it! I felt immense pride in graduating as the top student in my class.

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

For Mirian, keeping a good balance between work and personal life is very important. Photo/Credit: Mirian Krystel De Siqueira

Science really fulfills me, and I am passionate about my work. As a senior graduate student, my day-to-day life is pretty much focused on research. However, I value my quality of life a lot, so I try to balance my personal and professional life as much as possible. Even though I live in Los Angeles (known for bad traffic), I usually walk to the campus every day (25 minutes), practice Pilates daily, refill my “caffeine stocks,” and go to the lab. Since my project involves biological experiments, I spend most of the day performing experiments, analysing data, mentoring undergrads, and keeping up with the literature. My days off are days for rest and rejuvenation. I love to go on runs around my neighborhood, explore the latest fashion trends, and visit my favorite bakeries.

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

I really value the innovative aspect and the quality of science. So, in the future, I want to become a principal investigator and keep doing cutting-edge science in my field. In addition, I hope to improve opportunities in science for minorities in Brazil actively. I would love to have the ability to one day provide fellowships/help with training grants for promising young scientists in Brazil!

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

Anything but research. It is nice to unplug from the academic world in whatever way I can at the end of the day, whether relaxing with some reality TV drama shows or cooking something that reminds me of home. There is nothing that I enjoy more than unwinding from a long day of experiments with something that makes me laugh or tastes delicious. I also enjoy reading about philosophy and how the new generations are emerging, and the impact of that in our contemporary society (currently reading Byung-Chul Han books).

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

Be a fashionista! The dominant narrative for women in STEM is that we cannot exist as our true selves in a male-dominant space. This is simply not the case; you do not have to give up anything that makes you unique to be a scientist. I think this is a crucial point to be shared, especially if we want to attract more female scientists in STEM and show how diverse our lifestyles can be. Remember, you have the potential to make significant contributions to the scientific world no matter who you are or where you come from!

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

Clinically, I think we are already experiencing that in the field of obesity. We are finally developing therapies to treat obesity as a chronic disease and improve the quality of life of those patients. With the rising numbers of obesity in children and young adults, we do need to focus on treating the existing obese patients and prevent the development of secondary pathologies.

Regarding basic science, I think the main breakthrough will be understanding and integrating how different stressors impact adipose tissue homeostasis. Omics-related techniques have been increasing a lot in the past years, but more recently, the interaction of sublevels of metabolites, genes, and protein expression has been gaining attention. I think the understating of how the heterogeneity of cell/organelles work will be vital to understanding how this tissue is regulated in health and disease.

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

To Mirian’s understanding, science should not be an exclusive club. Photo/Credit: Mirian Krystel De Siqueira

Change needs to happen at the structural level, meaning that universities, research institutions, and funding organisations must prioritise increasing the number of female scientists. In practice, this means addressing the challenges of balancing a demanding, competitive career in science with the obstacles of raising a family. I have met many women who were discouraged from STEM fields because they viewed it as incompatible with their desire to raise a family simultaneously. Science should not be an exclusive club.

Changes that need to happen include family-friendly policies such as flexible working hours, affordable childcare options, increasing wages in high COL areas, and paid parental leave. Additionally, a greater emphasis should be placed on highlighting the accomplishments of women in science. Visibility is crucial for inspiring young women to pursue careers in science without sacrificing personal obligations. However, these changes can only happen from an institutional commitment to fostering an environment inclusive of women.

Further Information

Ulrike Böhm

Ulrike Boehm is a physicist and science enthusiast. She works as an optical scientist at ZEISS in Oberkochen, Germany. Previously, she did her Ph.D. studies at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen in the Department of NanoBiophotonics of Nobel Laureate Stefan Hell, followed by research stays in the US at the National Institutes of Health and HHMI’s Janelia Research Campus, developing tools for biomedical research. She is generally passionate about designing and building (optical) instruments to image, probe, and manipulate (biological) structures. Furthermore, she is passionate about science communication and open science and is a huge advocate for women in science.