Veröffentlicht 27. Juli 2023 von Ulrike Böhm

Women in Research #LINO23: Mari Carmen Romero-Mulero

Mari Carmen from Spain is also featured on the Women in Research blog.
All photos/credit: in courtesy of Mari Carmen Romero-Mulero

Mari Carmen is a Ph.D. student at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics and the Faculty of Biology, University of Freiburg, Germany. Her project focuses on the assessment of the effect of aging on the physiology of the hematopoietic compartment. She performs this study through the combination of both computational and experimental approaches.

Mari Carmen 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?

Since I was a child, I have been fascinated by nature and have had thousands of questions and curiosities about it. However, I lived in a tiny town in Spain where some professions like “scientist” were not a dream job option then, especially for girls.

My first real inspiration came in the A Levels when my teacher made me fall in love with the biology subject. That is when decided to pursue my studies to become a scientist.

Who are your role models?

I, fortunately, have many role models. To start with, the women in my family and my hometown are very important figures for me, as they were and are extremely hard-working women who constantly fight to make life better and easier for all of us. Teachers and professors along my path were also important figures, as they transmitted their passion for science to me.

Professionally, I am lucky to pursue my project in a lab with amazing women who not only help you improve your scientific skills but also your confidence and your personal life. I continuously meet new role models, highly-skilled and knowledgeable researchers who share my fascination for science.

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

Science is all about bringing valuable discoveries to humanity for Mari Carmen.

My first step in my scientific career was a bachelor’s in Biochemistry at the University of Seville. What I did not imagine by then was that in my first year of university, thanks to Professor Francisco Romero Campero, I would be totally mesmerised by the Bioinformatics subject. This was even clearer after a fantastic research experience in the group of Dr. Tamas Korcsmaros at the Earlham Institute in Norwich, where I understood what being a scientist really means and that Bioinformatics is a very valid approach to studying biological questions from a different point of view. That led me to study for a master’s in Bioinformatics at Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona. I had multiple laboratory experiences during those years that were very revealing for me, as I realised I undoubtedly wanted to be involved in scientific research to answer my questions and bring valuable discoveries to humanity. This got me to my current position in Freiburg, a Ph.D. thesis supervised by Dr. Nina Cabezas-Wallscheid at the Max-Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics, funded by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie doctoral network ARCH (Age-Related Changes in Hematopoiesis). Nina is also a very important mentor for me, she always trusted me and my abilities, and I feel during the last years I grew in all senses thanks to her and the rest of the group. During the whole path, I have faced multiple challenges as an immigrant in other countries. Fortunately, the scientific field is usually multicultural and full of helpful people who make the experience worthwhile and fun.

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

All the projects I have worked on are really interesting. For instance, last year, we published a project in Cell Stem Cell where we performed a multiomics integration to identify metabolic, transcriptomic, and epigenetic hubs relevant to maintaining identity in hematopoietic stem cells. Furthermore, we uncovered a non-classical retinoid signaling axis in HSCs that is crucial for their function. This project was especially interesting for me as I performed the bioinformatics analysis and integration of bulk RNA-seq, ATAC-seq, ChIP-seq, and metabolomics technologies. It was an enormous challenge at the beginning of my bioinformatics career, but I learned how to deal with many types of data and how to depict them in a manuscript to make it easier for the reader to understand the topic.

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

When I see the paper I have been working on is published. I think the ultimate goal of our job is to provide society and the scientific field with knowledge to advance as a whole and enhance our chances of making the world a better place. On the other hand, I know bioinformatics can be confusing for wet-lab people who do not have previous experience with it, so I feel immense pride when my colleagues or other collaborators praise my work and get answers to their biological questions thanks to my analyses.

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

A day in my life starts at the MPI, where I work on different tasks and meet my colleagues for brainstorming sessions. After work, I usually do some sport in the marvelous German black forest, which I reach easily from my place. The next step would be food! I enjoy cooking while calling my family members to hear how their day was. It is extremely important and motivational for me to keep daily contact with them; I feel like that they are much closer.

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

I do not usually think much about the future, but I surely know that I want to do science and enjoy every step of the way. I want to have fun in my job while helping the scientific field advance.

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

I am a fan of anything related to nature, and luckily, I am based in Freiburg, the entrance to the black forest. You can practice multiple sports or go for eternal walks in these mountains. It does not matter how often you hike; it will always surprise you. As far as I am concerned, the possibility of meeting new people and cultures is the most precious present that we got from globalisation, so I also like to travel and discover other places whenever I can.

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

I would tell them to go for it. Do whatever you like the most, do not let others decide what your life will be like. Try to find good mentors and colleagues that support and motivate you along the way, with whom you will grow and discover what you are able to do. Women, we usually diminish ourselves and think we are not good enough or deserving, but we do; we worked hard for it, and we truly deserve the good things that happen to us.

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

As far as I know, artificial intelligence and machine learning are the next breakthroughs in any field. We have clearly seen how much AI technologies like ChatGPT have revolutionised the world and, concretely, science. Many wet-lab scientists are using these platforms to learn, for instance, how to program and perform bioinformatics analyses, so very likely, a time will come when people can use AI to perform a complete automatised analysis of their dataset of interest. Luckily, sequencing technologies constantly advance, and many new ones will appear, and the role of the bioinformaticians trying to decipher the meaning of that data will still be crucial.

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

Biology is a field where many women start their careers, and, unluckily, the positions of higher responsibility are mainly occupied by men. However, bioinformatics, as it is also related to the informatics field, is a career path chosen mainly by men. Thus, I think we should increase the importance of informatics subjects in education so that more girls realise that computers are not a thing of men and they can be good at it. Of course, as in any field, we need more women in these jobs, especially in higher positions, who can serve as role models. Girls need to understand that there is an extensive range of jobs that “belonged” to men, but many women are showing how good we can also be amazing at them.

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.