#LINO18 Exceeded My Expectations

Before the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, I interviewed several talented female participants about their career path, their passion for science, their struggles and successes for my “Women in Research” blog – a blog to increase the visibility of women in research. Now after the meeting they shared their #LINO18 highlights with me. Be prepared to be blown away!

Future #LINO19 participants may find more information about the application process here.


Amy Shepherd from New Zealand

“The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting was honestly one of the most surreal experiences of my life. The chance to hear and talk to some of the laureates was a super exciting thought, and it didn’t disappoint. From Richard Roberts’ impassioned talk on how the anti-GMO campaign has led to the unnecessary death of millions of people to Martin Chalfie’s joking advocacy for slightly sloppy science when starting something new, I learnt not about my specific branch of science, but much more about the scientific landscape and our role as young scientists in it.

Amy Shepherd and Harold Varmus during the #LINO18 panel discussion ‘Publish or Perish’. Photo/Credit: Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

A question the laureates get constantly is “How do you win a Nobel Prize?”, but I think the much more interesting one is “What do you do IF you win it?”. A common theme was that after the prize, you really are in the limelight and have a platform to make change. Two examples of Nobel Laureates using their prizes to change the scientific community are Harold Varmus and Randy Scheckman, founders of PLOS one and eLife, respectively, who I was lucky enough to be on a panel with (along with EMBO President Maria Leptin and Springer Nature CEO Daniel Ropers) to discuss the role of ‘Publish or Perish’ in shaping the careers of young scientists – a life changing and exciting experience that’s going to be hard to beat!

What I found the most inspiring and valuable was meeting the other young scientists – representing 84 countries, the different fields and life experience we’ve all had, led to interesting and engaging discussions about specific scientific problems to the scientific community to world issues. I was incredibly lucky to be part of the #LindauAussies, and I think those friendships will last a lifetime. If you have the opportunity to go to this bizarre and wonderful meeting, I would highly recommend it.”

>>Read more about Amy


Rhiannon Edge from the UK

“Every young person with an interest in science should go to this event! Trust me, I’m a Doctor.

The meeting was like a conference on steroids – every speaker a keynote, and the programme packed – I doubt I got more than five hours sleep a night. The Nobel Laureates discussed both their work and their life journeys. Ada Yonath gave a particularly clear, concise, and engaging talk about her research on the ribosome, but she also spoke about her family and the families of her colleagues. She is proof that woman can have multiple roles in their working and personal lives and more importantly that it shouldn’t even be a big deal anymore.  

Rhiannon Edge and Nobel Laureate Ada Yonath during #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Rhiannon Edge

For me one of the nicest things about Lindau is the opportunity to connect with the Nobel Laureates on a personal level. Sitting next to Michael Rosbash for dinner and discussing our mutual respect for the determination of sports-people was something quite surreal. Lindau showed that Nobel Laureates are not that different from the rest of us – (in some cases) they still look forwards to a nice cold beer at the end of a long day! During our time at Lindau the differences between the young scientists and the Nobel Laureates began to blur – they were sympathetic to many of the challenges facing those who are working in science. I think that this is important to take away from the meeting – even the pinnacle of scientific achievement can be reached and surpassed – not by heroes but by people, with a little hard work, luck and an inquisitive mind.  

Many of the laureates used their notoriety associated with the award to pursue political issues. We already know the answers to many of the health issues affecting millions of people but often we choose not to help people. During a lunch with Peter Agre, he talked at length about his recent work as an advocate for improvements in global health (particularly focused on Malaria). I think these individuals should give us hope. I think we need to find our voices as advocates without first having to get a Nobel Prize and really speak up for the issues that still exist not because of a lack of understanding but because of a lack of political will!

As you may have realised, the conference was pretty inspiring!

The young scientists were the very best thing about Lindau. Everyone I met was interesting, engaging and enthusiastic. This made for an atmosphere of togetherness and scientific success that will stay with me for a very long time – as will the memories that I made at Lindau with my fellow young scientists.”

>>Read more about Rhiannon


Edith Phalane from South Africa

“My first impression and a joy-dropping moment was finally being able to see, speak one-one and shake hands with the Nobel Laureates. I have always read about the Nobel Laureates in textbooks and seen them on TV and the internet, so that moment when I finally saw and interacted with them was priceless.

Edith Phalane was a panellist during a Partner Breakfast by the Global Prespectives Initiative at #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

I enjoyed the talks by laureate Elizabeth Blackburn. She is one of the people that I look up to as a female scientist and Nobel Prize winner. Her talk on global science is something that is very close to my heart since I engage a lot in science communication for the public in disadvantaged communities. The talk captured my attention and ignited more hunger in me to do more in terms of sharing science with the public.

One of the other greatest highlights was participating in a partner breakfast hosted by the Global Perspective Initiative as part of the panel where we were discussing ‘Health Innovation in Africa: The Way Forward’. It was really an honour and a privilege to sit and discuss matters that concern Africa; I have never been given such an opportunity. The after effect of the discussion was even more touching and humbling as I witnessed us, the African young scientists, coming together to form a group and collaboration that we want to expand beyond Lindau to discuss, write and publish matters that we face in Africa and implement solution for challenges we face in Africa in our own capacity.”

>>Read more about Edith


Arunima Roy from India

“What I loved the most about Lindau was to hear of each laureate’s journey from their training to their important discoveries. It made me appreciate that each one of us has a unique path ahead of us and that there is no standard blueprint for doing research. Indeed, most laureates stressed the importance of enjoying our work instead of actively planning for a career. It was inspiring, comforting, to hear of their serendipitous discoveries, their errors and of the times they had faltered. It made me understand that no one miraculously conceives of an award-winning experiment or wakes up one day to write their career-defining manuscript. It takes time, effort and a bit of luck. Bottom-line: there is no scientific way to doing science. It is important to understand this, because we often get sucked into habitual pessimism given our frequently failed experiments, paper rejections, unsuccessful grants and so forth. What the laureates taught us is that it is okay to fail, that they, too, have faced such instances numerous times over their scientific careers.

Arunima Roy participated as a panellist in the #LINO18 panel discussion ‘Science in a Post-Factual World’. Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

The Lindau Meeting exceeded my expectations. I think every young scientist that has the opportunity to participate in this meeting, should definitely do so. I doubt we will come across any other opportunity to engage with Nobel Laureates so closely. Outside, there may be the occasional opportunity to hear a lecture or two, but one-to-one interactions like this can only be found at Lindau. I also benefited from this meeting in numerous other ways. One was that it gave me the opportunity to discuss and present my research. Moreover, on a day-to-day basis, I am entirely engaged with my own specific field. The Lindau lectures as well as interactions with other researchers represent a full week immersed in scientific knowledge from across dozens of disciplines. The kid in me was lost in this candy store of exciting research possibilities. It also provides some food for thought and perhaps new ways to think of our own research. It is invigorating to discuss research from other areas, and it is an eye-opening experience; who knows where the next idea will come from or if that interesting researcher you met at the Lindau meeting turns out to be your next collaborator.”

>>Read more about Arunima


Mieke Metzemaekers from the Netherlands

“The 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting exceeded all my expectations and definitely was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I have met many inspiring people from all over the world, of all levels and ages, ranging from undergraduate students to Nobel Laureates. Right from the start, everyone was so enthusiastic and friendly! All participants, each with his or her own cultural and professional background, had one major thing in common: a strong passion for science. It was amazing to see how such shared ambitions are sufficient to let people connect, inspire and motivate each other, while creating a sense of belonging between people from not less than 84 countries. It must be the so-called Lindau Spirit!

Mieke (second from right) with other young scientists during #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Mieke Metzemaekers

The meeting was extraordinarily well organised. The programme was highly diverse and interactive and not dedicated to any specific research field in particular. On the contrary, we mostly discussed the more global issues which all scientists are confronted with, regardless their field of interest or level – such as science and society, leadership, impact factors and how to choose your career path. Therefore, the Lindau Meeting offers unique opportunities to exchange experiences with other researchers; it really allows you to broaden your horizon.

A regular day in Lindau started with a scientific breakfast, followed by lectures, panel discussions, agora talks, master classes and open exchange sessions. These scientific sessions were followed by social events in the evening. The programme was intense, but every evening I went back to my hotel feeling very energetic. In my opinion, the Lindau Meetings are extremely valuable, not only from a professional but also from a personal point of view. It is obvious that I fully recommend every young scientist to apply for this meeting!”

>>Read more about Mieke


Gintvile Valinciute from Lithuania

“The 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting was an amazing experience full of interesting people and inspiring interactions. I felt as a part of something bigger, an international, caring and active community of people who either shaped the science as it is today or will create the science of tomorrow.

Gintvile Valinciute was speaking during the #LINO18 panel discussion ‘Challenges in Personalised Medicine’. Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Every lecture, every workshop, even the discussions in the line for lunch were enriching and very positive. Personally, I enjoyed the discussions on science communication, career choices and current problems of science the most. I believe 600+ people from all around the globe putting their heads together to solve few of the discussed issues could make a great impact on society. Another personal highlight for me was the panel discussion “Challenges in Personalised Medicine” where I was invited to be a panellist. Even though I was nervous, I enjoyed being able to contribute to the meeting with ideas of my own.

Before coming to the Lindau Meeting, I had no idea how to meet new people at conferences, how to approach them, in general, how to network. I think the networking skills and the new contacts, not only the Nobel Laureates, but also the young scientists are the most valuable gifts I brought from Lindau. I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate in this amazing celebration of science and scientists.”

>>Read more about Gintvile


Menattallah Elserafy from Egypt

“The 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting was a true inspiration for me. The lectures, Agora Talks, science walks and discussions were really enlightening, as they touched on many different topics including publishing, ethics, clinical relevance of research and how the world can benefit from science.

I enjoyed listening to the various talks and learning new lessons that will help me along my career in science. These lessons include the importance of basic research, which is mainly driven by curiosity and passion. The laureates described their research with great passion and explained how their findings were not planned, but their hard work and persistence enabled them to explain new mechanisms that no one understood before.

Menattallah (left) with Nobel Laureate Ferid Murad and Ahmed El-badawy during #LINO18. Picture/Credit: Courtesy of Menattallah Elserafy

I also realised the importance of facilitating the application of research findings to solve global problems. For example, Sir Richard J. Roberts discussed the issue of strict regulations that delay the usage of genetically modified food, which could be a great solution for eradicating hunger in Africa. The discussions with Prof. Randy Schekman taught us that science should be judged by its quality rather than where it is published. Finally, all laureates explained that the drive behind research should be the curiosity to answer specific questions and not rewards and prizes.

The participation of young researches from 84 countries made us realise that the world is very small and that researchers from our generation across the globe have the same dreams and aspirations.  I encourage young researches to apply for the next Lindau Meetings to benefit from the experience and enjoy the interaction with the Nobel Laureates as much as we did.”

>>Read more about Menattallah


Rushita Bagchi from Canada

“No words can do perfect justice in describing the week at the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. It was an extraordinary and unforgettable week, and it was truly inspiring in all aspects. The meeting provided the perfect platform to share the experience and knowledge of the greatest leaders in science with the next generation of scientists to encourage us to work hard for the benefit of mankind. A common thread existed among each of the laureates’ stories and their path to success: curiosity, tenacity, persistence, creativity and enthusiasm. The opportunity to meet these great minds allowed me to better appreciate them not just as Nobel Prize winners but as individuals who have overcome many of the same obstacles we all face in our pursuit of science every day. All their stories have resonated with me and will continue to inspire me to never give up and to never lose sight of why I chose to pursue science. The broad diversity of topics discussed in the newly introduced Agora Talks at this meeting was impressive, ranging from the laureates’ journey to the Nobel Prize to personalised medicine to careers in science. It was inspiring to witness the motivation and passion these laureates still showed after decades of pursuing scientific research.

Rushita Bagchi with Nobel Laureate Walter Gilbert. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Rushita Bagchi

The great networking effort and willingness to discuss science by all young scientists was seen every day throughout the meeting. I have gained tremendous knowledge, made new friends as well as potential colleagues at this meeting – a whole new world has opened up to me. Peter Agre said: “Science is an amazing trip; you will never know where it is going to take you”. Science is what brought me to this meeting and enriched me with this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Every young scientist, especially aspiring young women scientists, should find an opportunity to be a part of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings – it will change your perspective of science and its pursuit. A week on the beautiful island of Lindau on Lake Constance, this meeting will truly educate, inspire and connect you with the brightest young and experienced minds in science beyond any boundaries.”

>>Read more about Rushita Bagchi


Nataly Naser Al Deen from Lebanon

“The 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting was indeed a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it by far exceeded our expectations. The scientific spirit around the Inselhalle and the entire Lindau island was phenomenal. We got the chance to meet with Nobel Laureates in many interactive settings, including agora talks, open exchange and the master classes. I was very honoured to have gotten the chance to participate in a panel discussion along with Nobel Laureate Prof. Peter Agre on “Medical Innovations in Developing Nations”. I also was very honoured to conduct a video interview with one of my hero Nobel Laureates Prof. Michael Bishop, and got the chance to attend all the events and various lectures by Laureates, which we learned a lot from.

Nataly Naser Al Deen and Nobel Laureate Michael Bishop during #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Nataly Naser Al Deen

Being able to connect with 600 talented young scientists from all over the world was very fruitful. We all discussed our scientific projects without any boundaries, and we also shared insights and experiences on future collaborations and scientific advice, be it exchanging ideas regarding experimental procedures or asking each other very insightful questions, which made us think of our research projects from various perspectives and multidisciplinary fields. One of my favourite moments was when I held the farewell speech on behalf of the young scientists to thank everyone that made this meeting happen and reflect upon this surreal week. I was also beyond happy to participate in the Max Planck post event that was on its own a very educational and inspiring trip.

I am forever grateful to my institution, AUB, and all the Lindau staff and partners that made this amazing experience possible for us, and I advise every woman in science to apply to the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, because it is certainly a life changing experience. Thank you Lindau!”

>>Read more about Nataly


Forough Khadem from Canada and Iran

“Attending the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting was a once-in-a-lifetime, unforgettable, astonishing adventure that started for me with the incredible moment of winning the Lindau award at the Canadian Student Health Research Forum and being nominated to attend the Lindau Meeting. Two years later, I received the exceptional selection email from the Lindau Meeting’s committee, the consequent emails from the staff (Nadine, Karen and Nasrin) which made the trip and the stay at Lindau very smooth and the personalised programme that was tailored for my scientific and professional development interests.

Forough Khadem on Mainau Island during #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Forough Khadem

The amalgamation of the 39 Nobel Laureates, invited guests, undergrads, graduates and post-docs that created a vibrant group of researchers who instantly became a big family and communicated in a scientific and communal level during the meeting and in social events was incredible and hard to describe (it must be experienced!). We discussed topics from personalised medicine, gene modification, GMOs, international industry-academic research collaborations, better publication standards and ways to improve scientific communication. My take home messages from personal encounters with the laureates, guests at panels, dinners, lunches and lecture events are as follows:

1) “Innovative ways of measuring academic achievements other than via the impact factor are imaginable” – Nobel Laureate Randy Schekman

2) “One should follow their scientific interests and no other priorities in pursuing one’s interests.” – Nobel Laureate Bruce Beutler

3) “Don’t be scared to approach laureates and talk to them on a personal and intellectual level. Be persistent and take advantage of the opportunity that all laureates are here to spend quality time with you.” – Nobel Laureates Richard Roberts and Martin Chalfie

4) “Real scientists should spend more time to communicate their research to the community via any communication means especially social media” – Nobel Laureate Peter Doherty

5) “Go after YOUR career dreams no matter how ambitious they are” – guest speaker Alaina Levine (on the Mainau Island boat trip!)

I not only encourage all young scientists to attend a Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, I also recommend attending the Post Lindau Baden-Württemberg one-week visit to research institutes and universities organised by BW-International, which is an eye-opening experience, as I had the privilege to be among the 20 young scientists that went on this post Lindau Meeting trip.”

>>Read more about Forough


Harshita Sharma from India

“Participating in the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting was an excellent opportunity and an unforgettable experience for me, both professionally and personally. The meeting motto ‘Educate. Inspire. Connect.’ summarises it the best, and being a postdoc and early-stage researcher, I could totally relate to the various aspects of science, education and research addressed and discussed by Nobel Laureates and young scientists. Every moment is special to me and words are not enough to describe this phenomenally fascinating week, but I will still attempt to describe my most favourite ones…

Firstly, I was ecstatic and thrilled to interact with the Noble Laureates. They shared with the young scientists their unique success stories in their fields of research and also common qualities which have helped them achieve the best in their scientific careers, such as perseverance, dedication, passion, kindness (and as they say, a little bit of luck!). The beauty of this meeting is how the renowned and early career scientists come together to share ideas, leading to a bidirectional exchange which not only inspires young scientists, but also stimulates the Nobel Laureates.

Harshita and Nobel Laureate Steven Chu during #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Harshita Sharma

Moreover, it was great to meet vibrant and charismatic young scientists (or future laureates, as we were often addressed!) from 84 countries. I made friends for life and it also opened doors for future scientific collaborations!

Last but not the least, I loved the rich format of the meeting with diverse interactions, including laureate lectures, Agora Talks, panel discussions, poster sessions, open exchanges, special evening events and more. It gave us the opportunity to be involved in significant scientific, cultural and social exchange each day. On the last day, the boat trip to Mainau and picnic was also very exciting. A special thanks to the staff and support team as the entire meeting was superbly planned and organised.

Overall, I had a wonderful time at the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting and will always cherish these memories. I would also encourage young researchers to apply and not to miss the amazing opportunity to achieve this once-in-a-lifetime experience! Thank you #LINO18 for a spectacular week in Lindau!”

>>Read more about Harshita


Lara Urban from Germany

Unless it is absolutely impossible, check it out – what good advice from Nobel Laureate Peter Agre. And I heard so many of them in just a week at Lindau. As I listened to the successful scientists talk candidly about their own experiences, with unassuming humour and self-awareness, I felt like I was part of their community, and for that I am very grateful.

Lara Urban (third from left) and other young scientists talking to Nobel Laureate Steven Chu (left) during #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Lara Urban

What made the Nobel Laureates relatable is their willingness to share moments and aspects of their life that are independent of their breakthroughs. I enjoyed chatting to Elizabeth Blackburn about studying in Cambridge and exchanged jokes with J. Michael Bishop on working with poisonous animals during a very entertaining dinner on the waterfront of Lake Constance. I also admired how Steven Chu talked about political responsibilities of scientists in combating climate change on a boat trip to beautiful Mainau Island and the vigour with which Randy Schekman and Harold Varmus championed new standards in evaluating scientific achievements.

The Nobel Laureates are inspiring in that they are ordinary people with convictions, which means that all of our work and convictions, if carried through, can have positive impacts on this world, whether they are acknowledged with an award or not. After one week of listening to the Nobel Laureates reflect on their own lives and meeting like-minded young scientists with similar interests and values as myself, I am assured a life in scientific research is fun, varied and exciting, and we should face it with nothing less than confidence and curiosity. As Marie Curie puts it: Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.”

>>Read more about Lara


Jeerapond Leelawattanachai from Thailand

 

Jeerapond Leelawattanachai and Nobel Laureate Peter Agre during #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Itthi Chatnuntawech

“Participating in the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting is a priceless once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. I particularly enjoyed both the academic and social events as the meeting covers in-depth academic research as well as offering me a unique opportunity to interact with the Noble Laureates. During the meeting, I got to know more about them and how they overcame many obstacles in their careers to be able to achieve the research that transforms many people’s lives. Along with meeting these inspiring Nobel Prize winners, the meeting also offered me a wonderful opportunity to exchange academic ideas, update the trends of current research and make friends with the young scientists from all over the world. I really appreciate and cherish the friendships we have built since it is always my desires to expand the research boundary, broaden the perspective in the field, and help to support each other in the science community. In addition, I am beyond honoured to have been part of the wonderful panel discussion along with Noble Laureate Peter Agre and young scientists from Lebanon and Germany to discuss the important topics for developing countries. I am impressed by the insight and the tremendous care for the others from these panellists. It genuinely reiterates the spirit, “for the greatest benefit to mankind,” of this meeting. I am pleased and grateful for this opportunity to have my voice heard on this far-reaching stage.

With all these reasons, I wholeheartedly recommended this meeting to every young scientist all around the world. Please take this once-in-a-life time opportunity!”

>>Read more about Jeerapond


Shilpa Bisht from India

“The one week which I have spent at the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting were the best days of my life. I realised that it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for an early career researcher as it provides opportunity to meet a wide range of scientists ranging from Nobel Laureates to young scientists. This meeting has totally changed my vision and perspective towards science. The entire week in Lindau was dedicated to exchanging knowledge, ideas and scientific intellects and some of the Nobel Laureates even exchanged their ideas about “how to win a Nobel Prize”.  It was awesome to get tips from Prof. Robert Huber about scientific pursuits and maintaining a work-life balance. He had also shared his thoughts regarding facing difficulties in life, how to find balance during challenging times in life and shared his thoughts regarding moving ahead even after continuous failures.

Shilpa Bisht (second from right) with other young scientists from India during #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Shilpa Bisht

In addition, this meeting also comprised group discussion activities like the Mars Partner Breakfast, Agora Talks, open scientific discussions to exchange views on current scientific issues. These discussions and sessions have given me a great thrust, and now I am more motivated and confident than ever to try my very best in research. In addition to all this, I enjoyed this meeting to the fullest and made new friends from all around the world.

The Lindau Meeting is a one-of-a-kind meeting and provides a terrific opportunity to network with scientists across the globe, be it networking with Nobel Laureates or with other young scientists. It is one of the rarest opportunity that one researcher can have in his/her life and every young scientist must apply and go for it.

In brief, the Lindau experience is incomparable, and one must go for it!”

>>Read more about Shilpa

Women in Research at #LINO18: Rushita Bagchi from India

This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 68th 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).

 

Picture/Credit: Courtesy of Rushita Bagchi

#LINO18 young scientist Rushita Bagchi, 35, from India, is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Colorado Denver, USA.

Her research involves elucidating epigenetic mechanisms that govern the pathogenesis of obesity and diabetes contributing to cardiometabolic syndrome. This work has great translational impact for development of therapeutics for treatment of obesity and diabetes (T2D).

What inspired you to pursue a career in science?

I have always been fascinated by the mysteries of nature and how scientific research helps unfold those in different ways. Curiosity has been my primary motivation for the pursuit of science in school and as a career choice. I always had an aptitude for biology, which formed the foundation of my continued interest in understanding physiological processes. Fortunately, I have had great mentors throughout my life who have inspired me to garner knowledge in various ways, and therefore helped me prepare to embark on this journey towards a career in biomedical research. The elements of challenge and surprise and my intrinsic curiosity continue to fuel my passion for science and research.

Who are your role models?

My parents have been my first and foremost role models. And I cannot express my gratitude in words for their unconditional love and encouragement.

When it comes to being influenced by ideals in science, I have been extremely fortunate to have had excellent mentors at every stage of my academic pursuit. Beginning with my teachers in grade school and professors in India, to my PhD and postdoctoral supervisors- each of them has had unique traits or skills that I have fancied of embodying someday. On a broader scale, I have been always in awe of the late Nobel Laureate Oliver Smithies for his simplicity and humble approach towards such an illustrious career in science. I had the opportunity of meeting him in person, and listen to him about his journey to the Nobel Prize. Being a woman in science myself, I have always found positive reinforcement looking up to women like the late Barbara McClintock who received the Nobel prize in 1983 for her pioneering work in the field of cytogenetics.  She was born in a family with lesser privileges, but overcame all obstacles to pursue her dream and devoted her entire life to research. Two other female scientists that I admire for their relentlessness are Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and Elizabeth Blackburn. I continue to be inspired by these women even today.

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

While pursuing my undergraduate degree in zoology in India, I realised that my longing to learn was growing by leaps and bounds. To satisfy my curiosity and eagerness to learn more about physiology and allied sciences, I went on to do a master’s degree as well. Throughout both these degree programmes, I was blessed to have some extremely supportive mentors who always pushed me to set and achieve higher goals. My academic pursuit was put on hold for a short time due to personal reasons. But soon enough, thanks to my ever supportive husband, I was able to successfully enroll in the PhD program at the University of Manitoba in Canada. Dr. Michael Czubryt as my Ph.D. supervisor taught me valuable life skills, and most importantly to believe in myself. I began to understand and appreciate the intricacies of scientific research under his tutelage, and that continues even today in my postdoctoral training program at the University of Colorado Denver. My doctoral degree training taught me to be diligent, organized, critical and think independently. After successful completion of my PhD program, I moved to Colorado, USA to pursue my postdoctoral training under the supervision of Dr. Timothy McKinsey. My training in his lab so far has taught me to be fearless in doing the groundwork and pursuing novel research ideas. I am hoping that what I have learned from my mentors will help propel my career in biomedical research.

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

Every project that I have worked on till date had its own defining moments. Being able to elucidate the novel role of a transcription factor in regulation of fibroblast function in the heart was an exciting and “cool” project during my PhD program. Successful completion of complex experiments in this project gave tremendous satisfaction. One of my postdoctoral research projects investigates the previously unknown role of a chromatin modifying enzyme in metabolic disease. This is a very exciting and yet another “cool” project to work on as this has great translational potential.

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

It is difficult to define a particular time when I have felt immense pride in myself and my work. The best rewards and proudest moments for me have been the recognition that I have received for my work in the form of opportunities to present my work at international meetings and grant support received from national funding agencies. Although, I must say that it is a matter of immense pride in being the first ever successful nominee from the University of Manitoba to attend the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. I was selected through a national research competition for graduate students in Canada, and secured the top spot to earn the nomination.

Picture/Credit: Courtesy of Rushita Bagchi

What is a “day in the life” of  like?

My usual day starts early at 6 am when I wake up and take time to go through my emails and newly published articles or perspectives in my field of research. Sometimes before heading to work, I try to spend some time catching up with the rest of the world on social media or doing data analysis. It is pretty much time to hit the ground running as soon as I reach the lab. Around noon would be time for lunch with colleagues from my and other labs in the division. Early afternoon, I take a little time to catch up on emails before returning to the bench again to wrap up experiments for the day by the evening. Most evenings are long, but I attempt to plan out next day’s work in advance to save time the following day. I am usually back home by 8pm, when I prepare and have supper. Before bedtime, which is conventionally around midnight, I read articles or reviews to keep myself updated about research topics of interest.

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

As a young scientist in training now, I aspire to transition to the next step in my career as an independent investigator in recent future. Leading a research laboratory focused on studying mechanism of pathogenesis of cardiometabolic disease, I hope to contribute to the biomedical community through development of novel therapeutic strategies to treat patients suffering from debilitating conditions such as diabetes and heart failure. I am also committed towards training the next generation of biomedical researchers when I embark on my journey as an independent scientist.

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

Music is food for my soul, and culinary adventures teach me the art of experimentation. When I am not in the lab, I listen to relaxing classical music and am deeply investing my energy in creating my culinary “masterpieces” in the kitchen. Being able to create a unique dish in the kitchen somehow brings me the same joy and satisfaction that I would get from the successful completion of a complex experiment at the bench.

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

Patience and perseverance is what will propel women in the sciences. One needs to find mentors who support women in science- it does get very lonely out there. It is important to create your own network which comprises colleagues, peers, and role models who are committed to helping one succeed even in the face of obstacles. Nothing is impossible to attain once you set your mind to it.

In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in physiology or medicine?

With the current trend in use of gene editing technologies, especially the CRISPR-Cas system, we are not far from seeing the use of this tool in its current or improvised form in the clinic to treat patients harboring rare life-threatening genome mutations. Our knowledge of drug discovery tools and platforms has grown tremendously in the past few years, and this will pave the foundation for the emergence of novel and highly efficacious therapeutics for treatment of difficult to treat pathologies.

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

Opportunities and incentives to be retained in research should be increased for women. More women go to school and complete their degree programs successfully now than ever before. But not all of them find themselves in careers in science long-term. Individuals in higher seats of administration and policy makers are the ones who can truly effect a change in the system and help retain women as scientists and professors in the workforce. It is high time that gender equity, whether it comes to opportunities or pay scale, becomes a priority in our societies beyond political and social boundaries. Women need to support and mentor women, but so do men.

Women in Research at #LINO18: Kayoko Shioda from Japan

This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 68th 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).

Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Kayoko Shioda

#LINO18 young scientist, Kayoko Shioda, 30, from Japan, ia a 2nd year Ph.D. student at Yale University.

Her research is about epidemiology of infectious diseases with a focus on vaccine preventable diseases. She is studying the population-level impact of vaccines against pneumococcus both in developing and developed countries. Her goal is to generate evidence to help control infectious diseases more effectively, in collaboration with hospitals, government, and international organisations. Enjoy the interview with Kayoko and get inspired!

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in science?

My goal was formulated in my childhood when my family moved from Japan, our home country, to the Republic of South Africa. Living there for three years, I noticed a number of things that were different there. I learned that the burden of HIV/AIDS was extremely high in South Africa. I saw many families in rural area suffering from zoonosis, which you do not often see in Japan. I observed and also experienced racial discrimination a number of times. I was deeply shocked by differences in poverty levels, life expectancy, education, safety, infrastructure, and so on. These days in South Africa taught me numerous life lessons and changed my perspectives. As I grew up, I realised that these issues are intricately connected to each other, requiring a multidisciplinary approach to address them from multiple fronts. Because I was especially interested in infectious diseases and zoonosis, I decided to pursue a career in veterinary medicine and public health. I am truly grateful for my parents who gave me an opportunity to live in South Africa and to find my lifework.

Who are your role models?

Although I have many role models – both males and females – here I will introduce one of my female role models, Dr. Tomoko Ishibashi. Dr. Ishibashi, who is also a veterinarian, has led a number of programs to improve animal welfare, food safety, and veterinary education at World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. She is also a bright, strong mother of two children. I met her when I was an intern at OIE during the veterinary medicine program. She taught me ways to make contributions towards solving global health issues as a veterinarian and showed me how to balance work and personal life, which is important to many of us. I am truly delighted that I had the chance to get to know her, because it was challenging to imagine how to develop a career as a female veterinarian, especially because the veterinary medicine program at the University of Tokyo did not have any female professors when I was a student.

Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Kayoko Shioda

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

My dream to become a veterinarian persisted after coming back from South Africa, so I matriculated in a 6-year veterinary program at the University of Tokyo. Among a broad range of topics taught in the program, I was drawn to infectious diseases and decided to conduct research on the canine distemper virus for my dissertation. I studied genetic mutations of a new strain of this virus isolated from a canine case and how these mutations affect their phenotypes using cell lines and animal models. I was also strongly inspired by the concept of epidemiology and public health when I took these classes in my fourth year. I learned that veterinarians play important roles in the field of global health. Stories about veterinarians working in African countries to respond to outbreaks of various infectious diseases were particularly interesting to me, as I always wanted to go back to and work in African countries where my dream was formulated. The courses made me realise that I would like to be involved in global health initiatives as a veterinarian, although I was not sure about concrete steps to achieve this goal.
During the last two years of the veterinary program, I learned through internships and talking to faculties and alumni, that one way to achieve my goal is to obtain a master’s degree and learn more about public health and epidemiology. Thus, I decided to go to a Master of Public health (MPH) program at Emory University. I chose to study abroad to expand my network and improve my English skills to work globally. Emory provided great opportunities to be involved in international collaborative projects.
My days at Emory changed my life. As many international students’ experience, it was not easy for me to study everything in English and live in Atlanta without a car and with a limited amount of student loans. However, it gave me an opportunity to make the first step towards my dream, which is to work as an intern at WHO Country Office for Thailand for several months. One of the projects I worked on in Thailand was to control leptospirosis infections in the Northeast Thailand, which became a topic of my MPH thesis. It was my first real experience in conducting a global health project, and I realised that this is my lifework.
Towards the end of the master’s program at Emory, I was applying for more than 50 jobs. Getting a job in the field of global health as an immediate graduate was challenging, because most of the positions require at least a few years of full-time work experience. Thanks to recommendation from my supervisor, Dr. Justin Remais, I was hired by the Division of Viral Diseases at CDC, which had been my dream place. I worked on infectious disease surveillance, outbreak response, and epidemiological research on the gastroenteritis team with Drs. Aron Hall and Ben Lopman and other wonderful colleagues for two years.
Through projects at CDC, I learned how to establish a nation-wide disease surveillance program and strategies for reducing limitations and collecting meaningful data. I also realised that, while surveillance systems collect a substantial amount of data, the use of them is often limited to simple descriptive analyses. Therefore, I decided to pursue a doctorate at Yale to learn methodology of mathematical modeling and explore additional utilities of such data. I would like to contribute to the characterisation of infectious disease dynamics and guide future interventions that can impact public health.

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

One of the unforgettable projects was a response to an outbreak of limb weakness in the U.S. in 2014. State health departments noticed that there were an unusual number of children who suddenly could not move their arms or legs. The etiology and progression of this syndrome was unknown. To address this issue, CDC started a national surveillance within a couple of weeks of the first notification of the cluster in collaboration with clinicians and local health departments. As a research fellow at CDC, I helped collect clinical and epidemiological information and specimens from patients in order to gain a better understanding of the disease and to identify an etiology. Although it was the most challenging project that I have ever worked on, it taught me a number of important lessons, including how to develop a case definition, design a case report form, and formulate a laboratory-testing algorithm.

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

I feel honoured and proud when I work with multidisciplinary teams to solve global health issues. Team work is essential, as public health cannot be improved by a single person. One of the most memorable is an international response against the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa in 2014-2015. My work at CDC was a miniscule part of the whole movement, but I felt that my work was an essential part of the response. I am so grateful that I am granted the opportunity to continue my lifework, because it is an incredible honour to make a difference in people’s lives through populational health.

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

During semesters, I take classes and help with courses as a teaching assistant. For example, in one of the courses at Yale School of Public Health, I lead a 2-hour computer lab every week to teach how to apply epidemiological knowledge and statistical skills that students learn through lectures to real world data or simulated data. Outside classes, I work on research projects at my desk in the lab, at magnificent university libraries, or cozy cafes around Yale. In between course work and working on my thesis, I spend time on a collaborative project with WHO and countries in Latin America and Africa to evaluate the impact of vaccines against pneumococcus in these countries. In the summer of my first year of the Ph.D. program, I went to Malawi for a few months to conduct research on infectious diseases in collaboration with Malawi Liverpool Welcome Trust Research Center. I also work part-time for a start-up company in Japan to develop a small, mobile blood testing kit that can run PCR and ELISA for multiple specimens simultaneously using a very small amount of blood in a short time without any preprocessing of the whole blood.

Picture/Credit: Kayoko Shioda

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

When I was younger, I was not sure if I wanted to work in academia, government, international organisations, or private firms. Thus, I tried to experience each of them for various durations to learn how it is to work in these sectors. After doing so, I am hoping to pursue my career in academia, becoming a faculty member who can generate evidence to help control infectious diseases more effectively, in collaboration with hospitals, government, and international organisations. I hope to be a professor who can inspire and support students through courses and research projects.

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

I have been playing percussion in wind bands and orchestras since my childhood. I am currently a member of Berkeley College Orchestra at Yale University. I also love playing with my dog, Winston.

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

There are a number of ways to work in science / physiology and medicine. You can be a medical doctor, nurse, pharmacist, veterinarian, public health practitioner, researcher, epidemiologist, and so on. If you are not sure, I would recommend that you explore your options by talking to people who are doing these jobs or doing internships or job shadowing. You may be surprised by how willing people are to help you with your career.

In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in physiology or medicine?

Personalised medicine would be one of them. I have also been intrigued by the surge of machine learning, deep learning, and AI in medicine and public health, which will likely trigger impactful change and innovation. I am looking forward to learning more about next breakthroughs during the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting!

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

I believe there is a need to discuss gender diversity based on data. There are many anecdotes of personal experiences, with some arguing that that there has been enough support for female researchers, and others saying the opposite. We need more quantitative and qualitative data to guide our discussion. An initiative to collect data has just started in Japan, led by the Japan Science and Technology Agency. I have been participating in their symposiums and workshops to learn more about the current situation in Japan and would like to help disseminate the information so that we can have more constructive discussions on this topic.


Women in Research at #LINO18: Lisa Nicholas from Malaysia

This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 68th 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).

 

Photo/Credit: Lisa Nicholas/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

#LINO18 young scientist Lisa Nicholas, 34, from Malaysia, is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Metabolic Science, University of Cambridge, UK.

We know that having an unhealthy (higher) body weight when you are pregnant can program a higher risk of both obesity and diabetes in the child, which can persist into adult life. How this happens is not entirely due to simply a transfer of “defective” genes from mother to child but rather exposure of the developing fetus to an obesogenic environment whilst in the womb. Lisa’s research is focused on defining the changes in insulin-secreting pancreatic β-cells of offspring exposed to maternal obesity that causes it to function improperly. She also wants to find out if these changes are the same or different between male and female offspring exposed to maternal obesity to determine if one sex is more at risk than the other. Enjoy the interview with Lisa and get inspired!

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in science?

Science has always been a natural fit for me and as I progressed through school I developed an interest in mammalian physiology and consequently pursued a biomedical science degree. During my undergraduate studies, I was inspired by a series of lectures by Prof. Caroline McMillen on developmental programming, i.e., how poor developmental experience, for example, in terms of maternal physiology and lifestyle can have a profound and long-lasting impact on the health of offspring. Something inside me lit up and I was hooked! Consequently, I pursued an Honours degree and then a PhD with Prof McMillen. One thing has led to another and I still find myself loving my job and I am good at what I do so I am sticking with it! This field of research continues to motivate me, and I hope that my contributions are making a meaningful difference no matter how big or small.

Who are your role models?

I do not have particular role models. I am inspired by people with a strong work ethic, who are relentless in their pursuit of answers to important questions and who do this to make the world a better place.

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

I believe that hard work, perseverance, great sponsors and serendipity is how I have gotten to where I am today. I had a successful PhD under the encouragement and sponsorship of Prof Caroline McMillen. In addition to my research, I won a couple of prizes for science communication, was awarded two international awards, presented at numerous international conferences and secured funding for a research visit to the University of Cambridge. I ended my PhD on a high but was soon faced with the struggle of securing my first job. I started out full of confidence, but this was slowly dwindling with every rejection when I did not even hear back from anyone, which was usually the case. Consequently, I had to broaden my geographic horizons and decided to also apply for positions outside of my home country of Australia. I eventually landed a position in Sweden working on pancreatic islets in a knockout mouse model. Although I had no experience at the time in working with both mice and in islet research, Prof Hindrik Mulder, the PI of the lab was willing to take a chance on me. I also have a very supportive wife who was willing to make the move with me from Australia to Sweden in the middle of Swedish winter! I spent the next two years working very hard to prove to Hindrik that his instincts were right about me. During that time, I published three papers and was successful in obtaining a couple of small grants. It also became clear to me that I would like to focus my research career on studying islets in the context of developmental programming. In order to be able to do this and to drive my own research, I applied for and was successful in obtaining a fellowship from the Australian Health and Medical Research Council to work with Prof Susan Ozanne at the University of Cambridge on her mouse model of maternal obesity. Although this meant yet another move, this time from Sweden to the UK, I have so far had a happy and successful two and a half years in Cambridge. This has also been made easier by the fact that my wife has also been able to develop her own career in the UK. Being far away from family, however, still remains a challenge.

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

Working with sheep has definitely been one of the coolest things I have done in research. During my PhD I worked on a sheep model of maternal periconceptional obesity. Consequently, I spent a lot of time in a farm setting, taking blood from new born lambs, performing glucose tolerance tests etc. I also got to be involved in embryo transfer experiments from donor to recipient ewes working with scientists who were involved in producing Australia’s first cloned sheep, Matilda!

 

Photo/Credit: Lisa Nicholas/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

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

That has to be when I was awarded a C J Martin Fellowship from the Australian Health and Medical Research Council.

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

I am an early bird so my day at work starts early, usually before 7 am. I love this time of day when it is quiet in the lab/office before the hustle and bustle of the day begins. I usually spend most of my time either in the lab or in the animal facility. If I have any reading and writing to do, I usually set aside whole days to do this rather than to split my day. I find that I work better this way.

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

To be a successful scientist who is able to maintain a healthy work/life balance!

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

My two joys in life are cooking and traveling.

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

Go for it! Be brave and persistent, stay positive and find a good sponsor who is willing to speak up about your strengths to others.

In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in physiology or medicine?

I think the next great breakthrough in medicine will be the clinical use of human pluripotent stem cells for regenerative therapy to treat diseases such as diabetes.

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

I think universities and institutes should make a conscious effort to hire and support talented female scientists. I think fellowships geared towards scientists returning after a career break or that offer the flexibility of combining work with other commitments such as caring responsibilities are also invaluable. These will be especially useful for female scientists who have taken time off work to start a family. I also think it is important for promising younger researchers to be actively sponsored by members of the faculty. It goes a long way when someone who is well established vouches for you.

Women in Research at #LINO18: Mariana Alves from Portugal

This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 68th 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).

 

Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Mariana Rama Pedro Alves

#LINO18 young scientist Mariana R. P. Alves, 23, from Portugal, is a PhD student at the EMBL in the Developmental Biology Unit, Germany.

It’s fascinating how animals evolve from a single cell to a complex embryo, but many of the mechanisms at play are yet to be understood in detail. In Mariana’s lab they have the fruit fly as a model and follow the motto “seeing is believing”, so they use imaging techniques to understand how a single cell evolves into an embryo. Specifically, she wants to understand the mechanisms underlying how the spatiotemporal activity of enhancers (regions bound by transcription factors that promote or repress gene expression) is regulated and contributes to complex gene expression patterns during development. If you want to know more, be sure to check their latest paper. Enjoy the interview with Mariana and get inspired!

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in science?

I had a wide spectrum of possibilities in my mind, including literature or journalism, before I decided for my BSc in Biochemistry. What finally drove me to science was the will to contribute to society in the form of a meaningful and translational discovery, such as a vaccine. I was also attracted by the idea that biochemistry is a very challenging subject. Ironically, during my undergraduate studies, I discovered my passion for basic research rather than for translational or clinical research. The pursuit of discovering unknown molecular mechanisms is what is driving me to do research and be a member of the scientific community now.

Who are your role models?

Several people have inspired me. Hard-workers. People with clear work and life philosophies and principles that make me think “wow, how haven’t I thought of this?!” Courageous and bold people who don’t stick to the “norm”. Several friends or colleagues I have met along the way have inspired me in that sense. Over time, I dedicated to podcasting and radio broadcasting, I interviewed over 100 international scientists and found inspiration in most of them. I would highlight names such as Oliver Smithies, Marina Cortes, Martin Chalfie or Tiago Brandao Rodrigues. Marina Cortes is a very special example, because she studies Cosmology, a field completely unrelated to mine, but nevertheless listening to her gave me such an energy rush, such a hype! She was a ballerina first – something I relate to because I also dreamed of being one before I entered high school and broke my ankle – and she currently hikes the world’s highest mountains. I was very inspired by her enthusiasm regarding people having several passions instead of “funnelling” what you dedicate your life to. The ultimate women in science role model is my friend and Lindau Alumni Renata Gomes. Wise and generous, two of the 100 adjectives that could be used to describe her, Renata has been a role model since I met her. Some of the most impactful encounters prior to my time as a PhD student have been with women in science. I would also like to mention Dr. Carlos Faro, someone I would call in time of doubt or when I had to make choices, who recommended Dr. Jose Silva’s lab for my first international experience and who was very enthusiastic and supportive about me gaining experience abroad. I am also very inspired by the women scientists who founded the non-profit organisations DrosAfrica, NativeScientist and Maratona da Saude. My family has been a good source of inspiration as well. Just to mention my father’s resilience and standards, my mom’s strength and generosity, my sister’s resolve to follow her own path or my grandmother’s personal history. Finally, I have a very deep respect and admiration for artists and creative individuals. I am very inspired by creative giants such as Lin Manuel Miranda, Pina Bausch and Beyoncé. What unites artists and scientists is a high level of motivation, discipline, creativity and resilience. The 12 consecutive hours we can spend at the bench are similar to the 12 h a recording artist spends in a studio or rehearsing a choreography. This extreme work ethic and relentlessness are, in my opinion, the qualities one needs to be a great scientist as well.

 

Mariana with Renata Gomes at the 64th Lindau Meeting in 2014. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Mariana Rama Pedro Alves

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

In a nutshell: I think it was essential for me to have an early start in a lab, to get international experience and work in different labs. I also value the time I spent in my MSc a lot, which allowed me to mature my thoughts and ideas before starting my Ph.D. (and applying for several programmes as well!). In addition, I believe that it was important for me to follow my personal career path and dedicate the time I did to science communication and public engagement. I believe I can say that all these aspects added up to positively influence my personal development and development as a young scientist. Finally, I am extremely grateful for all the generosity of my supervisors (formal and informal) and everyone who helped me along the way, and my family who made it all possible.

I really believe my three years as a volunteer trainee during my BSc made a huge difference in my career path. Professor Francisco Ambrosio was really surprised when I knocked his door, still 18 years old in my freshman year of Biochemistry, to ask to volunteer in his lab. I am forever grateful to him for opening his door. It was the perfect lab for a first experience because it is one of the happiest and friendliest labs I had the pleasure to work in during my short scientific career.

Because I started early, after spending 1 year and a half in the lab during my BSc, including summer holidays, I was ready to spend a summer in a lab abroad, which I did in the second year of my BSc. This was crucial for my personal development and shaping the following career decisions. Two international experiences opened my eyes a lot. The first one was my stay in Cambridge, my first time living abroad and exposed to the atmosphere of a competitive research environment [2]. The second experience was a 6-week lab rotation in Copenhagen, in the lab of Kim Jensen. I loved Denmark, the Danes, and Copenhagen, and I had a great time personally and scientifically. Dr. Kim Jensen and his lab welcomed me warmly and I was able to contribute to a very interesting “story” that was wrapping up.

There is an aspect common to my summer internship in Cambridge and my MSc rotation in Copenhagen: both my previous supervisors were open for me to move on and try different things. This can be rare in academia and I highly value Prof. Francisco Ambrosio’s and Dr. Jose Silva’s attitudes – they could not have been more supportive. This was again true for my PhD applications, for which references from Dr. Jose Silva, Dr. Kim Jensen, and Professor Francisco Ambrosio were crucial, and I am very grateful for the time they dedicated and patience they showed helping me to move on in my career [3]. There are many more names to add to my thank-you list, indeed too many…

I applied to several Ph.D. programmes because I have broad interests and was curious about different projects and places. I benefitted from attending several rounds of recruitment procedures because I really got to know the PIs, the institutes, and was able to see very different research environments. I was able to make a well-more informed choice. The institutes are usually understanding of this. The most important thing is that you look at this as a 2-way process. Sure, they are interviewing you, but you are also making an informed choice and you should be critical and rigorous about what you want for yourself.

Finally, I am aware of the privilege I had in many ways throughout my education and the start of my career. I am extremely grateful for my parents’ investment in my stays abroad and am aware that not everyone has these opportunities. For example, when I was in my last year of the BSc, my work was selected for an oral presentation at an international student conference in Leiden. I didn’t have any travel grant but I saw this as a great opportunity, so I asked my parents to finance my trip. Since they would be paying my travel and accommodation anyway, my mom decided to join me along with a friend and my sister, and we took a mini-holiday around the Netherlands. I also feel that since I lived with them during my BSc, I had the time to dedicate myself to my studies, the lab and all my time-demanding extracurricular activities (radio, theatre, etc), since I was alleviated from all the burdens associated with living on your own.

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

This is a very easy answer: it’s my Ph.D. project, which I am currently working on. There is something very special about “seeing” molecular events rather than just graph outputs. I really like to dissect mechanisms and there is still a lot to understand regarding transcriptional regulation in development. I am still new to the Drosophila model and I am constantly amazed by the number of datasets and information that have already been generated for it, they are very helpful when you want to study certain molecular events and mechanisms in detail.

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

I would say, anytime a paper to which I contributed got published. But specifically, when my first first-author paper was published. This is a milestone for any researcher but in this case I felt double the pride because this work was carried out during my BSc. I decided to volunteer at Professor Francisco Ambrosio’s lab in my first year of undergrad and dedicated much of my free time from lectures, exams, and extracurriculars to it. A lot of times I would hear people making fun of me for being in the lab so early on, “wasting my youth time”… Finally, three years of hard work eventually paid off. It felt extremely good to have been able to produce a coherent and publishable story at such an early stage of my scientific career [1]. It was with this project and still in my BSc that I had my first poster and oral presentations including in international conferences.

I was also very proud when, in the summer of 2014, I overcame my fears and lived abroad and away from my family for the first time, to work at Jose Silva’s lab in Cambridge. This was a huge step for me and it paved the way for my definite move away from home 2 years later. Anyone who lives abroad will relate to the fact that there are always new challenges arising, and we should be proud of our daily courage. Here, once again, having people who support you is key – from my family over the distance to the crazily talented and generous Ph.D. student Hannah Stuart who was supervising me and always made sure I felt literally at home. At such an early stage in my career, she really shaped a lot of my “how-to’s” and research principles that I still remember and act by.

Several of my science communication/extracurricular achievements also made and make me proud: doing the press coverage of the Lindau Meeting 2014 for my university radio show, co-organizing the Stem Cell Exchanges Art Project or the coordinating of the video with which my MSc class fundraised almost four thousand euros for neuroscience research in Portugal.

I would also highlight other events such as being accepted in the EMBL Ph.D. Programme after having undergone an intense recruitment procedure or defending my MSc thesis in front of many of my friends and colleagues from my home university.

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

Because EMBL is far from the city center, my day starts with a 20-minute bus ride. It sounds boring, but many EMBL employees take this bus, so there is always someone different to talk to. Then, I usually like having breakfast at EMBL’s cafeteria, because there are flaky and warm croissants. My day in the lab is divided between working with the flies, bench work and imaging and data analysis. The lab usually has lunch together. I usually meet with my supervisor once a week. EMBL has many interesting seminars to attend as well. On my way home, I get to see Heidelberg’s beautiful nature and especially in the summer, when the days are long, it is a very nice way to end the day. I really love Heidelberg’s old town, it somehow magically reminds me of the best features of several cities at home and abroad.

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

I would like to combine my curiosity for the undiscovered mechanisms of life with my will to impact society. During the next 3 years, I aim to discover how to do this and am certain that the Ph.D. and my time at EMBL will equip me with the tools to accomplish that.

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

On a weekly basis, I am learning German and French and like to spend quality time with my friends, going out for dinner or going to the movies. I am interested in science communication and science philosophy so I like to read about it or engage in related activities. Heidelberg is great to enjoy the outdoors, especially during summer, and I really like to get some sun or to swim, although research doesn’t allow much time for that, to be honest. I spend a lot of time listening to music as well – needless to say, I listen to a lot of Beyonce’ (but not only!). On a more sporadic basis, I really enjoy the “performing arts” so I like to go to concerts or dance pieces (being in Central Europe is great for that, especially for the contemporary dance scene, with Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater only 4h from Heidelberg); hopefully when my German is better I will be able to attend theatre plays as well. I miss performing theatre, which I did for several years in a company in Coimbra called Bonifrates. I also like to take photographs and really enjoy travelling. Currently travelling usually means visiting friends living abroad (being in Germany is very convenient for this) or going home to Portugal, which is always nice and refreshing.

 

Play about Women and Freedom. Photo/Credit Bonifrates

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

Start getting experience as early as you can.

Try different things. I was super anxious to return to Cambridge after my summer there. I thought I would use all my MSc rotation time just to go there and start my thesis as early as possible, given my eagerness to go back and because of my fascination with the university’s atmosphere. I was disadvised to do so and rather try something different. I followed this advice and couldn’t have done better. After all, I had had only one working-abroad experience, and I would be very limited if I hadn’t lived and worked in a different country, institute, lab, and field. I believe that if I hadn’t been in Copenhagen maybe I would not have been so open to moving out of the UK to do my Ph.D. It was essential to gain different lab skills and meet another lab.

Don’t rush into a Ph.D. After I spent the summer of 2014 in Cambridge, my supervisor encouraged me to apply for a Ph.D. So I did, and it was a stressful but rewarding experience. I was called for an interview, which I saw as a major compliment regarding my career stage. The interview was unsuccessful (and rightfully so, I was not ready) and it was very hard for me to take that rejection. But fortunately it was a learning lesson, and it ultimately helped me with my Ph.D. applications 2 years later [4]. I also believe it was truly a blessing to have two years before my PhD to mature personally and professionally. With my MSc thesis research, I understood better what I liked (mechanisms!) and how to be a researcher. There is no such thing as too much experience. I remember asking Nobel Laureate Prof. Dr. Harald zur Hausen about this off-the-record after an interview for my radio show, and he insisted “Do a MSc first!”. Though this depends on the individual career background, of course, this is what I would recommend to everyone: Have substantial lab experience and try different labs before you commit to a Ph.D. programme.

Ask for advice. Don’t be shy! If people don’t have the time they will let you know, but if they do you can learn so much from them. Learn from as much of a diverse group as you can.

Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself. Academia can be tricky and there could be times where you need to stand up for yourself, for example, to claim credit that is due and missing. That can be daunting, you do not want to give a bad impression, but you need to stand up for yourself. And credit should be given wherever it is due. Also, do not let your hard-fought and sweat achievements be downplayed by people who will point out all the ways in which you were “lucky”, and don’t be fooled to state that yourself. Finally, you should be aware of “mansplaining” and try to stand up against it.

Do it YOUR way. Follow your instincts and passions, whatever it is that makes you a complete person. Don’t be fooled by people, as senior or important as they might be, who try to tell you how to live your life and who try to convince you that research lives cannot accommodate anything else. It is worth investing time and hard work in projects you believe in. Work hard, don’t fool around, but be yourself.

Take care of yourself. Research can be daunting. PhDs particularly, but it can also feel overwhelming in other stages. Too often there is this weight put on researchers that their failures (a rejected paper or grant, a failed experiment) or successes are direct measures of their personal worth. This can be hard to deal with. I wanted to bring this up because EMBL offers Mindfulness and Stress Reduction training on site, and this is a very important initiative, and I am very glad that EMBL is showing good practice by example by caring about the mental health of their employees – the instructor is Sonja Noss. I am taking the course. We promised Sonja not to make judgments (positive or negative) about it before is finished, so I won’t. But scientists should not be embarrassed of taking care of themselves and acknowledging that it can be stressful. This is where friends and good colleagues also play a very important part.

Celebrate milestones! I believe that no matter how small they are, our personal milestones should be celebrated. And I mean really celebrated. Publishing a paper, having a poster accepted, submitting a thesis, the first time an experimental procedure works, a tiny amount of exciting data, or an interview to the Women in Research blog… Often these events are anticlimactic and science has its lonely and non-eventful times, so we should not be embarrassed to fill our time with celebrations for our small, medium or big accomplishments.

 

Mariana involved in public engagement in London in 216. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Mariana Alves

In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in physiology or medicine?

I hope that we find solutions for antibiotic resistance very soon. I also hope that the scientific scene will leap forward not only in terms of hard science breakthroughs but also from changes in the system. I hope we breakthrough in improving the health of labs, the mental health of workers, gender imbalance, and scientific misconduct of different kinds. Only by improving these conditions, can we keep incredible professionals from leaving academia and increase the chances and the number of great discoveries. 

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

Change is definitely needed and it is true that the academic culture is harder on women than men. I feel that it is less accepted when women are assertive. I think it will be very hard to change without some forceful rules, such as quotas for faculty positions, conference invitations, etc. At EMBL, I see many scientists with families trying to juggle life and research. This inspires me. It should not be such a surprise and inspiration but it is. And I believe that having a kindergarten on campus, for example, is a tremendous help for mothers in science. Another example of improved practice could be to protect women at the beginning of their contracts against dismissal due to pregnancy. Nevertheless, male scientists also have families and family duties. EMBL currently has an initiative by the Diversity & Equality Committee that encourages female scientists to join for lunch and share their “Women in Science” stories. Small initiatives like this can make a difference because they open dialogue and create awareness.


________________________________________
[1] It would be impossible to accomplish these things without a support network, in this case the whole lab – from Professor Francisco who opened the door to me, to Filipa Baptista who supervised me and all the co-authors in this project who lent me their expertise and also their time when I couldn’t be there because of exams or during revisions.
[2] I couldn’t be more grateful to Dr. Jose Silva for accepting my summer stay and welcoming me back to do my MSc thesis.
[3] I should add Dr. Renata Gomes’ generosity for providing personality references as well.
[4] Here again, the help of so many colleagues (advice, proof-reading, etc) was indispensable.

Women in Research at #LINO18: Jeerapond Leelawattanachai from Thailand

This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 68th 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).

 

Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Jeerapond Leelawattanachai

#LINO18 young scientist Jeerapond Leelawattanachai, 33, from Thailand, is a young researcher at the National Nanotechnology Center (NANOTEC), National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), Thailand.

She is currently working on the development of affordable diagnostic tools for developing countries. She is working on a wide range of diagnostic techniques and diseases. However, the one she is mostly focusing on is tuberculosis (TB) diagnosis. Since TB incidences are comparatively high in developing countries, especially Thailand, her home country, this situation highlights the need for a more convenient and affordable alternative diagnostics for tuberculosis and making them available throughout the nation is necessary. Besides, this project could prospectively draw public attention and encourage the research interest about tuberculosis in Thailand, which closely follows the Thailand’s national TB programme of 2017 aiming to promote tuberculosis research in the country.

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in science?

My interest in science goes back to when I was in middle school when students are required to learn several subjects – the one that captivated me the most was science. With this enchantment, I read a vast array of books related to science. To learn more about it, I decided to apply for Mahidol Wittayanusorn School, which was the only special science school in Thailand. At that time, I was also fortunate to be selected to participate in POSN-1st Biology Camp (POSN: The Promotion of Academic Olympiad and Development of Science Education Foundation). In the science-oriented environment, I spent a lot of time surrounded by scientific materials, and I found myself intrigued by the process of conducting experiments. I believe it subconsciously cultivated me to be a researcher. Since then, I have had strong desires to earn a Ph.D. and to be an expert in my chosen field. That was the starting point for me to consider research as a career. Apart from that, what inspired me and pushed me to overcome challenges are the beauty of science itself and the great benefit of scientific discovery that could transform many people’s lives. Knowing that I could utilise my knowledge and contribute back to society through research is very fulfilling and rewarding to me.

Who are your role models?

First, I am thankful to my parents who are also my role models. Without their support, I would not to have been where I am today. Since I can remember, they both have been working hard to overcome many difficult circumstances. Their personal stories taught me that with determination, devotion and commitment everything is possible. Even now in their 70’s, they still work more than eight hours a day, six days a week in hope that they could make other lives better. I wholeheartedly admire them for that.

Second, on a professional level, I have many role models. To name a few who have had great impact on me personally, these are Prof. Wannapong Triampo and Prof. Tararaj Dharakul. Prof. Triampo supported me greatly during my Ph.D. education abroad. Under his guidance, I could be able to publish my first research journal as a first author during my undergraduate study. He also inspires me to contribute to child education and STEM activity. Prof. Dharakul is my role model for women in science. She has great passion for science and teaching. As a mentor, she always encourages me to think about and discuss numerous academic ideas. She constantly puts in extra effort and is willing to make time for her students even after working hours. I feel greatly appreciative to both for believing in me and spending a good deal of their time on me. Their attention and supports play a pivotal role in my career development.

 

Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Jeerapond Leelawattanachai

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

Upon my high school graduation, I was awarded the Rian Di Wittayasat Scholarship, the excellence in science scholarship, to study at Faculty of Science, Mahidol University, where I chose physics major. To understand how biological system works, I joined a biophysics research group and I found much of my research training in the group to be extremely rewarding. As a member of this group, I conducted a research project called Modeling of Signal Transduction via Dynamics of G-Protein-Coupled Receptors: Internalization Consideration. This project was motivated by experimental data and a mathematical model to explain the agonist potency and efficacy of drugs. I extended this model to take into account trafficking events of the receptors to obtain a more realistic model. This modified model provides further mechanistic understanding in signal transduction that is difficult to detect by experimental observation alone. My senior project was categorised as theoretical and computational work. I wished to continue this project, making it more tangible by applying the knowledge into products. Thanks to the Royal Thai Government scholarship for graduate study in the United States, I was able to continue my education in Biomedical Engineering at Cornell University, where I worked on protein engineering, nanoparticle formulation, tumour targeting and in vivo animal studies. In addition, I also gained valuable opportunities of research training in the New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical College, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and the University of Rochester Medical Center.  After finishing my Ph.D., I returned to Thailand and have worked as a researcher at the National Nanotechnology Center (NANOTEC) since then.

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

I love all the projects I have worked on. Therefore, it is quite hard to decide which one is the coolest. However, I would like to talk more about my current work on developing a diagnostic test for latent tuberculosis infection using microneedle technology. I am excited about this project for many reasons. First, tuberculosis incidences are comparatively high in developing countries, especially in Thailand. This situation highlights the need for more convenient and affordable diagnostics, which can be easily distributed throughout the nation. Second, this project could prospectively draw public attention and encourage more research about tuberculosis in Thailand, which closely follows the Thailand’s national TB programme of 2017. Lastly, this project is multidisciplinary, which allows me to utilise my background in physics and gives me the opportunities to meet and discuss research ideas with several experts from various fields which I tremendously enjoy.  

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

I am proud of myself that I could come to where I am today. I have learned a lot every time I passed through challenges and have seen myself grow constantly. To me, every single step in life when I achieved some great things that I have been working hard on makes me very proud. All the scholarships, awards, publications, patents, valuable opportunities or even skill sets that I have acquired throughout the training make me proud. Looking back, I could never have imagined that I can come this far, it makes me feel so fortunate that I am not in a position where I can do what I love and contribute back to society. 

 

Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Kom Wongsawat

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

To me each day is quite different. It depends on what needs to be done at that specific moment. Usually, I plan what I have to do ahead of time and stick to it with space for flexibility. My daily life involves setting up experiments, doing literature reviews and writing proposals or research articles. I regularly attend meetings which could be about research collaboration, special seminars related to my research or administrative work. Sometimes I travel to other institutes or even different country to form collaboration and use some specific research equipment. I am also involved in outreach activities, and I am an advisory judge for a student science project in “Sirindhorn Science Home”, a unified learning center, which is next to the NANOTEC research building, to teach science and technology skills to the youth of Thailand. In summer, I usually teach and coach undergrads during their internship.

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

I have two goals that I want to accomplish in my career. First, I want to do high-quality research which can benefit humanity and improves the well-being of people. It is my ambition to contribute to scientific progress that could translate into medical products. Seeing my developed diagnostic tools become widely accessible throughout the nation, or perhaps the globe, and affordable enough for everyone is my ultimate career goal. Throughout my career, I have seen many people who could not afford medical services that they need. Thus, I want to help filling that gap or at least alleviate the inequality of access to health care, especially in developing countries. Second, I want to get to the position where I can share my experience and knowledge to improve science and technology education in Thailand. I believe that providing our youth with opportunities to develop their science skills will help them become a future driving force for improving the country’s economy and offering a better quality of life to the population of Thailand.

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

I am personally eager to learn new things. I believe that I can grow as a person by developing my knowledge base and taking in new experiences. If opportunities arise, I like to travel out of town to several provinces in Thailand or to other countries around the world. I love to explore new activities like flying an airplane, sailing, learning equestrian, Thai boxing, western cooking, taking pottery class and 10-day silent mediation retreats. I also like playing instruments and I recently have learnt to play harp and ukulele. Other than that, I am especially fond of working with kids as it reminds me of myself when I started to love science. Therefore, I have participated in several volunteer activities and outreach projects.

 

Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Jeerapond Leelawattanachai

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

For women who are interested in science and still not certain whether pursuing this career will be the right way, I suggest talking to several people in different disciplines. Science is a broad field and there are many ways you can participate. Women should not underestimate themselves and run the risk of narrowing their choices in life before finding out how far they could have gone. It might also be beneficial to look for specific internships that you find interesting and give it a try. For women who already work in the field, I believe it is important to find what you love to do, work hard and build your personal identity from it. Have the courage to follow your dreams and you will find each small step forward very rewarding. Also, spend extra effort to get to know people in the field and do not be afraid to ask about what you don’t know.

In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in physiology or medicine?

­­­It is quite difficult to specify one as there are many worthy challenges in science and medicine. For me, I think that a novel method to prevent infectious disease will be the next great breakthrough. We live in a world with continuously mutated viruses, multidrug resistant bacteria and pathogenic organisms with complex latent stage. Developing technology and tools to fight against these diseases and identify emerging deadly diseases is challenging. We are now getting better at vaccines and rapid diagnosis on the known diseases, but we also need to prepare ourselves to rapidly identify emerging diseases and coordinate a respond to prevent epidemics. Besides the breakthrough in infectious diseases, I also would like to see a breakthrough in precision medicine for cancer treatment as well as a breakthrough in the study of social and behavioural science for mental illnesses like depression.

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

While we are now getting better at closing the gender gap, many cultural influences still promote gender stereotypes that drives women away from science careers. This includes gender bias in the workplace and the potential career-stalling effect on women of having children. The underrepresentation of female role models in science can also be discouraging for female students and postdocs who are still deciding whether to pursue career in science. Despite these facts, we are still responsible for creating an optimal working environment for all research scientists. In my opinion, we should consider taking the following actions. First, alleviating the maternity burden. In science careers where each project might take a long time to finish, maternity breaks can stall the tenure track or promotion which force many women to delay having children. In this case, re-evaluating rules and processes for tenure and promotion to accommodate maternity and parental leave is necessary. It is very helpful to develop explicit, clear and written policies for tenure and promotion to be adjusted proportionally to the part-time employment and leave periods (including maternity leave and parental leave) and make them available to all faculty. Moreover, the transparent employment and promotion system will also make sure that women with well-developed skills are being steered toward scientific professions. It might be helpful to provide grants which the mother can use to safeguard her research activities or talented personals.

Another suggestion includes providing extra supports for childcare to enable work related business, like conference visits or collaborative meeting abroad. For example, providing additional travel support for an accompanying babysitter or other support programmes or facilities to help reconcile work and family life. The second action would be to offer mentoring programmes to each specific target group, for example, female Ph.D. students, young female scientists or female tenure trackers. This programme would 1) increase the network of the female researchers, 2) raise the visibility of women in the field and 3) provide role models of successful female scientists who managed to balance work and family-life. These actions aim at encouraging structural and political changes in scientific work environments, to improve the representation of female professionals in STEM fields, and to create a more inclusive workplace within and outside academia where everyone can be successful.

Spotlight on Women in Research at #LINO18

Many talented female researchers are among the young scientists of #LINO18. 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…

Gintvile Valinciute from Lithuania

Menattallah Elserafy from Egypt

Lara Urban from Germany

Amy Shepherd from New Zealand

Rhiannon Edge from the UK

Nataly from Lebanon

Arunima Roy from India

Mieke Metzemaekers from the Netherlands

Miriam Van Dyke from the United States

Forough Khadem from Iran

Edith Phalane from South Africa

Harshita Sharma from India

Chelsea Cockburn from the USA

Lisa Nicholas from Malaysia

Mariana Alves from Portugal

Jeerapond Leelawattanachai from Thailand

Kayoko Shioda from Japan

and

Rushita Bagchi from India.

 

To be continued…

 

 

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).

Women in Research at #LINO18: Chelsea Cockburn from the USA

This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 68th 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).

 

Picture/Credit: Courtesy of Chelsea Cockburn

#LINO18 young scientist Chelsea Cockburn, 27, from the USA is an MD-PhD student in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine in Richmond, Virginia.

Her research focuses on host pathogen interactions between obligate intracellular bacteria and their host cells. In particular, she studies specific lipid pathways that these bacteria hijack with the hope to identify novel therapeutics that block these bacterial mechanisms.

What inspired you to pursue a career in science?

I was convinced I was going to be a professional musician like my parents up until high school. I think a few things all happened at the same time to really inspire me to pursue a career in science and medicine. First, I took a biology class with the most wonderful teacher, Mr. Bair, who recognised that I had a knack for science and was interested in it. He mentored me and encouraged me to study biology in college. The same time I was taking that class, my grandfather had entered hospice and my family took a trip to visit him for the last time. Something about seeing the care that physicians provided to my grandfather and family, while also being able to see a direct application of the things I was studying in class triggered something in me. It was almost as if a lightbulb went off in my brain saying this is what you were meant to do. 

Who are your role models?

I’ve been fortunate enough to have some wonderful role models throughout my life. First and foremost, my parents are huge role models in my life and have pushed me to excel at whatever my chosen path is (although, I think they’ve secretly wanted me to be a scientist since I was a child and would always buy me science kits!). In terms of role models for my career, I really look up to Dr. Kami Kim at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. I did a summer internship in her lab as part of the Einstein Summer Undergraduate Research Program while I was in college. Kami was one of the first female physician scientists I interacted with and she strengthened my decision to pursue a MD-PhD. Randy Schekman is scientist who I really admire for both his quality of science as well as his fearlessness in addressing the problem of open access science and academic publishing reform. I’m looking forward to meeting him at Lindau in June!

Science and medicine benefit when there is a diversity of thoughts and ideas at the table.

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

I grew up in Harrisonburg, Virginia and was homeschooled until middle school. Believe it or not, I actually hated science during that time (mostly because there are so many questions we don’t have answers to), but my parents encouraged me to keep at it by buying me various science kits to do things like grow crystals or do chemistry reactions. I didn’t really like science until high school when I took biology with Mr. Bair. That was the first time science clicked for me and made sense. I then went to James Madison University and majored in biology. While at JMU, I did both microbiology and neuroscience research and also did internships over the summer. I’ve been fortunate to have my internships giving me a wide range of experiences from doing research on honey bees in Ghana, malaria at Albert Einstein, and preclinical drug trials at Amgen in California. I had so many wonderful mentors during undergrad that it is impossible to list them all. However, Dr. Janet Daniel and Dr. Sharon Babcock at JMU have been my biggest cheerleaders, advocates and listening ears as well as shoulders to cry on. I’m not sure I would have even considered an MD-PhD program without their encouragement. Currently, I am involved in the American College of Physicians on the national level and have gained many wonderful, strong women mentors in medicine, specifically Dr. Sue Hingle and Dr. Darilyn Moyer. Their advice about navigating the world of medicine (and leadership!) as a woman has been invaluable to me and helped me solidify my career goals, even when I was doubting myself as to whether I should even continue down this path.

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

I don’t think I can pinpoint a project that is the coolest because each of them was fun to work on in its own way. I really do love my dissertation project because I’ve been able to take an observation from basic science all the way through an animal model. I also love that my project has direct application to the clinic as I’ve discovered that a certain class of FDA approved drugs eliminate bacterial infection. Being able to take your discovery from the bench to the bedside is something that I think every physician scientist aspires to have happen, so it’s been neat to watch this project evolve, and hopefully it becomes a reality for me soon!

 

Picture/Credit: Courtesy of Chelsea Cockburn

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

Any time my work is published in a journal, I feel a great amount of pride in what I do. In the medicine realm, I am on the Council of Student Members for the American College of Physicians and am also on their delegation to the American Medical Association House of Delegates. We do a lot of things related to health policy, such as advocating at the state and federal level as well as working to pass policy within ACP and AMA to benefit physicians and patients. Any time we pass a policy or speak up on issues that directly benefit/affect our patients fills me with immense pride and illustrates the impact we can have in the field of medicine. Such examples include ACP speaking out on issues such as gun violence as a public health issue or urging lawmakers to include women’s health in important policy discussions.

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

I typically wake up around 5:30 am and start my day with lots of coffee and a walk with my dog. Then I head off to my Pure Barre studio for a barre class and then arrive in lab around 8:30 am. My days in the lab vary greatly depending on what I need to get done. Often, I am in the lab doing experiments all day, but sometimes I will be at my desk for a large portion writing up manuscripts or making figures. I usually leave the lab between 4-5 pm, although sometimes later if I have time points for experiments. When I get home, I go to the dog park with my dog or take him on a walk and then go to the gym for some cardio. My evenings vary depending on the night: sometimes I’m doing work or am on a conference call, while other times I’m spending time with my boyfriend or simply just relaxing!

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

While I’m not 100% sure what I want to end up doing, I do see myself havingsome connection to health and science policy (whether that is my main career or a side interest). Ideally, I would like to work for either the CDC or WHO and do outbreak management and investigation. Regardless of what I do, I want to be involved in both the science and clinical aspect of my degrees.

 

Picture/Credit: Courtesy of Chelsea Cockburn

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

I am usually training for either a marathon or triathlon (sometimes both!), so I am often out doing a training run or swim. I also sing in the Richmond Symphony Chorus and am frequently at a rehearsal. When I finally have some downtime, I enjoy gardening, playing board games and drinking wine.

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

Don’t give up. The glass ceiling is a real thing for women. There are many trailblazers who have come before you and made many cracks – it’s up to you to smash through.

In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in physiology or medicine?

That’s a hard question to answer as I’m not sure if there will be a singular breakthrough. I do think we are rapidly approaching a time when we will be able to cure genetically linked diseases in embryos with CRISPR, which brings up a whole slew of ethical issues both for science and medicine. Selfishly, I’m hoping the next great breakthrough will be altering the way we think about treating bacterial infections. Instead of attacking the bacteria itself, what if we were able to alter host cell processes that bacteria rely on in order to treat patients? I’ve shown this is the case with the bacteria I study, so I know it’s possible. And I think this would lead to less bacterial resistance and better treatment of patients.

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

There’s a wealth of data out there that shows that we have just as many or even more (depending on the field) women than men coming through the science pipeline as students and post-docs. However, the biggest disparity occurs when they reach professor level. I think this is due to multiple things. First, everyone has unconscious biases and I do think there is still a lot of bias against women (both conscious and unconscious) in the sciences. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve seen women professors who bring their children to work or leave early to take care of a child be labeled as not serious about their career, stretched too thin or even unprofessional. However, when male professors do this, they often labeled as being a great father or kind/caring. At least here in America, we first need to start by passing an all-encompassing and generous family leave policy – maternity and paternity leave (for both births and adoptions), care of a sick family member, etc. In general, society needs to stop judging women for whatever decisions they make regarding family and career. You don’t want children? Great! You want to hire a nanny so that you can continue to work full time? Great! You want to work part time, so that you can spend more time with your children? Great!  Finally, science and medicine benefit when there is a diversity of thoughts and ideas at the table and the best way to accomplish this is by making sure to specifically include underrepresented groups (women, minorities, LGBTQ, disabled, etc.) when developing policies and in leadership roles. I think science as a field also needs to have better ways of addressing sexual harassment, mistreatment, and racism (of anyone, not just women); there should be a no tolerance policy regardless of what accolades that person has won. I can think of a few prominent scientists who espouse sexist and racist views yet are still lauded. We as a field need to put our collective feet down and say those kinds of views are not welcome in science and create an inclusive environment where all members are valued. 

Women in Research at #LINO18: Harshita Sharma from India

This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 68th 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).

 

Picture/Credit: Courtesy of Harshita Sharma

#LINO18 young scientist Harshita Sharma, 29, from India, is a Postdoctoral researcher in biomedical engineering at the University of Oxford, UK.

Her current research focuses on medical image and video analysis using advanced computer vision and artificial intelligence methods in obstetric ultrasound. Enjoy the interview with Harshita and get inspired!

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in science?

I am a postdoc with an interdisciplinary background in biomedical, electronics, electrical and computer engineering. I was inspired to pursue a career in science through biomedical engineering mainly because I feel motivated to utilise my technical and research skills towards advancements in physiology, medicine and healthcare, directly benefitting humanity. Moreover, I was excited to explore the latest trends in medical technology because I grew up in a scientifically inclined family as my parents are medical doctors. In high school, I was keen to learn physics, biology and maths, and I achieved very good grades in these subjects. So, when I got selected for a bachelor’s in engineering in a government institution in India, I decided to work on research projects combining medicine and technology, such as medical image analysis and speech processing, and in this way, I was introduced to this interdisciplinary field of biomedical engineering, where I could get the best of both worlds.

Who are your role models?

My parents have had the biggest role in shaping my career path and in introducing me to the fascinating world of science. My mother made substantial sacrifices in her career to build a firm foundation of mine. My father always encouraged me to pursue my ambition irrespective of any circumstances. My role models in science are my academic mentors who have advised, motivated and guided me towards achieving my goals and aspirations. These are my current mentor Prof. Alison Noble at the University of Oxford, my PhD supervisors Prof. Olaf Hellwich at TU Berlin and Prof. Peter Hufnagl at Charité University Hospital Berlin, master’s supervisor Prof. R.S. Anand at IIT Roorkee, and bachelor’s supervisor Mr. Akash Tayal at IGDTUW Delhi. Also, I greatly admire the work of Marie Curie, Ada Lovelace and Rosalind Franklin as pioneering women in science. I am inspired by the contributions of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam towards science and technology in India.

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

From 2006 until 2010, I studied BTech (Bachelor of Technology) at Indira Gandhi Delhi Technical University for Women (IGDTUW) in Delhi, India and became an engineer. In my third year, I completed a research internship at the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) which was my first external research experience. After this, I presented three research papers at national conferences, that made me further realise my interest in scientific research and development.

After my bachelor’s degree, I received multiple job offers from private and public sectors in India. But I wanted to pursue higher studies, so went for MTech (Master of Technology) at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee, where I was competitively selected via the GATE exam. During my master’s degree, I achieved the opportunity to perform my dissertation research in Germany via the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) Master Sandwich Scholarship Programme. I applied at the Technical University (TU) Berlin in the Computer Vision group headed by Prof. Olaf Hellwich and expressed my interest to pursue research in medical image analysis. In September 2011, I travelled to Germany, which was my first trip outside India. I worked in a joint research project at Charité University Hospital in Berlin to analyse breast cancer biopsies in digital pathology for the next year and also wrote my first journal publication.

 

Harshita Sharma receiving from Berkman Sahiner the Finalist Award for Best Student Paper; SPIE Medical Imaging 2106. Picture/Credit: Courtesy of Harshita Sharma

Upon my return to India in 2012, I graduated from my master’s and started teaching as a Lecturer at Jaypee Institute of Information Technology in Delhi-NCR. However, my curiosity to perform more research further increased, so I decided to apply for a PhD and in 2013. I was awarded the DAAD PhD scholarship to pursue my doctoral studies in computer vision and medical image analysis in the research group of Prof. Hellwich at TU Berlin. My PhD was a growing, exciting and rewarding experience, as I engaged myself in diverse research activities such as collaborating with Charité University Hospital Berlin and UKSH Kiel, travelling and presenting work at conferences around the world and publishing papers in scientific journals and peer-reviewed conference proceedings.

In April 2017, after 3.5 years, I completed my PhD at TU Berlin. Subsequently, I joined the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Oxford as a postdoctoral researcher. This has been an incredible opportunity where I analysed rich real-world data to develop novel computer-aided techniques in medical ultrasound. I perform my own research and collaborate with colleagues and students. I am also involved in teaching, organisation and volunteering activities.

Obstacles were there at each stage of my career, but I think determination was more powerful to overcome these in my journey till now. I have moved at different locations over the years and acquired invaluable experience, nonetheless stayed focussed on my contribution to science and technology.

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

All the projects are equally close to my heart. I would say my PhD research was really my biggest career defining project because, besides working on a medically relevant topic, I was able to learn so many new ideas and gain specific technical and domain knowledge of the field. During my PhD, I developed computer-aided methods in digital pathology to analyse gastric carcinoma whole slide images using deep learning, and classical machine learning with graph-based image representation techniques. The aim was to understand how visual information captured in high-resolution microscopic tissue images can be utilised to quantitatively describe cancer properties leading to automated prediction effectively and efficiently. The constituting research projects in my PhD were cancer grade classification, necrosis detection, cell nuclei segmentation and classification and content-based image retrieval.

 

Picture/Credit: Courtesy of Harshita Sharma

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

A recent moment of overwhelming happiness was when I received my PhD degree at TU Berlin. Also, around the same time, I was offered a postdoc position at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, University of Oxford, to pursue research in my areas of interest, when I felt immense pride. As a researcher, I feel highly rewarded when I get positive results while solving research problems. Moreover, realising that my research is communicated to a large audience via publications, conference presentations and networking events, such as the Lindau Meeting also makes me feel proud. Being affiliated to renowned academic institutions of the world and recipient of prestigious awards such as through two DAAD scholarships and prizes for best performance during my bachelor’s and master’s degrees have given me great satisfaction. Last but not the least, being a woman in STEM and engineering and carving my own path and career, motivates me to contribute even more to scientific research. I am pleased to know that I can potentially be a role model to several young researchers worldwide.

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

My typical day starts with waking up around 7 am, getting ready for work, cooking and packing my lunch, then usually working from 9 am to 6 pm, with a lunch break at around 1 pm. At work, I am engaged in my own research activities, have regular discussions with my mentor and colleagues, and co-supervise student projects in the research group. Also, I do some teaching with lectures, tutorials and lab demonstrations, and organise seminars and meetings. After work, I stay home in the evenings, talking to my family on video call, watching TV, cooking and reading. Occasionally, I also complete any remaining work in the evening.

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

I am an early-career researcher and aim to become a successful scientist and academic in the future. I will continue to gain knowledge and experience through research and teaching and wish to have my own research group. As a biomedical engineer, I want to contribute towards science and technology by developing novel methods and solutions in healthcare and medicine.

 

Picture/Credit: Courtesy of Harshita Sharma

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

When not working, I like to be at home, spending time with family, cooking favourite meals and watching TV. I like to review journal articles and conference proceedings in my free time. I also like to be out for nature walks and try photography during weekends. Sometimes, I am engaged in outreach activities organised by Oxford University, such as teaching school students.

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

My advice is to just focus on your dreams and everything will fall into place! The sky is the limit, and from my personal experience, a career in science is highly rewarding. Especially, learning medicine and physiology can be very satisfying as it directly involves the effort towards improving the quality of human health. There can be difficulties and challenges on the way, but these can strengthen and empower one to pursue even more in this field.

In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in physiology or medicine?

It is exciting to witness the efforts of researchers who work relentlessly towards advancements in medicine and healthcare worldwide, such as eradication of communicable diseases and widespread research in cancer. This is also accompanied by the rapid progress in engineering and technology. I am fascinated to see the convergence of these two branches, especially, how artificial and machine intelligence, robotics and computer vision are revolutionising the areas of medicine, physiology and biology. Biomedical imaging including radiology, ultrasonography and digital pathology is a rapidly growing field, and in the next few years, I expect to see many more enhancements in biomedical imaging techniques and computer-aided analysis methods which can provide support and assistance to medical professionals worldwide, e.g., in surgery, diagnosis, prognosis and routine check-ups.

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

I would like to encourage women to consider the career path of research and academics. We can ensure that women are equally represented in scientific organisations by introducing systematic refinements such as motivating women to apply to advertised job offers. Special fellowships could be introduced exclusively for women to support their scientific careers. Providing more exposure and networking opportunities to early-stage researchers is important to build their confidence, which can be facilitated through organising women-centred research conferences, development courses, workshops, forums and group meetings. Work-life balance could be improved by suitable arrangements for maternity leave and childcare facilities. It would be very helpful to welcome back women into work after a career breaks and provide the essential support to resume their professional life.

Women in Research at #LINO18: Edith Phalane from South Africa

This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 68th 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).

 

Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Edith Phalane

#LINO18 young scientist Edith Phalane, 27, from South Africa, is a PhD student in Cardiovascular Physiology at the North-West University, South Africa. 

She is currently profiling the demographic factors and investigating the impact of long term HIV infection and ART use on cardio-metabolic factors, as well as liver- and renal function in HIV-infected Africans and controls over 10 years hence, evaluating the long-term cardiovascular health. Enjoy the interview with Edith and get inspired!

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in science?

My interest in physiology was sparked when I was in secondary school, I have always been curious about how the human body functions and how certain diseases occur. Thus, I have always been excited and attentive during life science classes at secondary school.

Who are your role models?

For me a role model has always been someone who rose above their circumstances or background to achieve their dreams and goals. There are no specific people about whom I can definitely say these are my only role models; I am inspired as I see people rising above and beyond.

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

My journey had both smooth and rough rides, but above all I overcame those challenges through the support of family, friends and by the grace of God. I believe hard work, dedication and perseverance were and still are key to my victories in my academic path. I remember after I passed my matric which is an entry level in to a University, I lost my mother (who was the bread winner of my family), and I was thinking to myself how am I going to go to University to study. But because my mom always motivated me that education is the key that opens doors, I told myself I will work hard in my studies to always achieve merit so that I can qualify for bursaries. Indeed, from my undergraduate until now in my PhD, I was able to get financial assistance based on my academic achievements. One of the most difficult and painful moments in my academic path was when I had to leave my MSc programme after two years without graduating as a result of lack of progress with my supervisor and scientific committees that were beyond my control. At a certain point I wanted to give up on my dream of pursuing my MSc and PhD in physiology because of this delay but through the support of family, colleagues and friends I was able to hold on and switch Universities and register the MSc with the institution where I am currently doing my PhD. And by the grace of God, I was able to complete my MSc in one year and the following year (2017) I registered for the PhD. Here I am, after two years of delay, going to attend the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureates Meeting as one of the top 600 young scientists in the world.

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

That would be the ESKOM EXPO for Young Scientist in South Africa. In this project, I basically mentor young scientist from primary and secondary school by assisting them with conducting and writing scientific research project for scientific competitions hosted by the ESKOM EXPO for Young Scientist as a way of motivating the learners from a younger age to remain and grow in science. It always amazes me when I see the learners solving the problems and challenges they face every day in their communities or schools by applying scientific methodology and going back to the communities to implement what they have learnt. In this process, they get to have fun and still discover many possibilities within science. Knowing that I have contributed to a young person, especially a girl child, to realise their dreams fulfils my heart, because it is not every day that you see young girls getting involved in science projects.

 

From left: Edith, a learner she mentored and another mentor. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Edith Phalane

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

Recently, together with my colleague (Blessing Ahiante) we went to rural communities (Tzaneen, Limpopo Province, South Africa) to raise awareness and educate the people on the importance of regularly monitoring their blood pressure as part of the May Measurement Month 2018 campaign. In addition to raising awareness on blood pressure, we also included awareness on diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidaemia and body weight. Together with the local clinics, hospitals, nurses and medical doctors, we were able to measure their blood pressure, test for glucose and lipid levels, check their body mass index and advise on how to live a healthy lifestyle and all of this service was done for free. 

I felt very proud to have shared what I know and understand scientifically and explain to the people in a simple term and language they could understand and relate to. The event was done in an open field and it was cold and raining, so seeing people from all different age groups coming out in their numbers to be part of the initiative really touched me. Most of the individuals who already had one or more of the chronic illness (either hypertension or diabetes) did not even understand what this chronic illness was and how to manage it except form taking the medication, but after explaining to them the importance of living a healthy lifestyle they were ready and willing to implement those suggestions and even requested that we write it down for them so that they can remember it.

As scientists, we often only publish our work, forgetting that the people back in the rural and urban areas do not understand the bombastic terms (scientific and medical) we use in our publications and often cannot read because most of them are illiterate and do not even have access to our work. Hence, it is very important for us to go in to these communities and explain our findings as they impact their lives. If we want to reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease, I believe that awareness and education is key. I believe that, as a researcher, you have not done justice if you do not go back to the communities and share your findings or knowledge on the project that you are working on, especially if it involves the lives of people. In particular, since I am working on cardiovascular disease development in HIV infected individuals, it is of utmost importance to me to go in to these communities to raise awareness and education on how to prevent and manage cardiovascular disease and how to prevent HIV transmission.

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

My day starts at 9 am until midnight depending on how far I have made progress with my work. In the morning, I assist with clinical work, with collecting data on flow-media dilation for one of the studies that is currently running in our department of physiology. During the day, I usually go to the schools where I am assisting with mentoring the learners for ESKOM EXPO for young scientist or I read up their work. From afternoon until late midnight, I work on my research doing statistical analyses, writing up and reading articles.

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

I enjoy doing research and working with the communities by sharing skills and knowledge and also learning from them. After my PhD, I want to pursue a post-doctoral degree to focus more on the mechanism (molecular studies) of cardiovascular disease development in HIV infection to improve the understanding thereof. I want to get more involved in research projects that involve communities with intervention studies to improve the lives of our people.

 

From my right: Edith and other volunteers during the May Measurement Month campaign in Tzaneen, South Africa. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Edith Phalane

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

If I am not doing research I like spending time with my kids, family and friends. It’s also an opportunity for me to assist with the mentoring of the young scientist for the ESKOM EXPO for Young Scientist and doing community outreaches.

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

Follow your dreams and do what you love most. The world of science is interesting, and there are many adventures to explore while having fun at it. Challenges will be there, but know that you are more than a conqueror.

In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in physiology or medicine?

Science is very broad and there are many scientist who work day and night to make discoveries. I believe the next breakthrough in science would be finding cure for HIV/AIDS or drugs to stop transmission of HIV. 

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

I believe women need to see examples or role model of female figures in science to show them that not only man can make it in science, that science is for all and that it does not know gender boundaries or differences. Usually, after having children and getting married women lose their ambition to achieve their dreams due to a lack of support, as they have to multitask being a mother and a wife. Women need support, to let them know that it is possible to study further even if you are a mother or wife. I believe that part-time studies would be beneficial in such cases but most women do not know about this, they think you must be in school full time.

Women are often discouraged to pursue their dreams, I usually receive comments from people (both men and women) saying “who will marry you with your high qualifications, no man wants a woman who is too educated” or “who will employ you with your many qualification, you are over-qualified for a woman”. So women need role models to look up to and seminars on advancing women in science to talk about the challenges women face and how to overcome those challenges.