Around and around until falling in love again with academia

I have decided not too long ago that I was going to pursue my career in academia. After a tough PhD, I have to say that this sounded the craziest idea that I could have… So, how did I get into this decision? After working a while as a microbiologist analyst, I realized that routine is not my thing. I finally understood that is the ability to use my critical thinking, asking questions and improving every day, which drives me and makes me happy. Thus, my decision was easier than it seems and as someone told me recently, I already did my PhD grief.
Importantly, I do not regret the decision to try a “kind” of industry in Portugal as I learned a lot about myself! (I say a “kind of” because I know from many friends that working in industry can also be challenging, which was not my reality). I can much easier deal with the pain of no results than the pain of having the same routine every week. Thus, I don´t feel as these 7 months were a waste of time! On the contrary, I realized that industry job is not what I idealized and I have now a different perspective of what I want to do career wise!
Therefore, I have recently joined a new lab! If I may give an advice, go ahead and endorse projects that you think suits you! Even if they don’t, you will always learn something from them!

Paying ode to Drosophila

As soon as I joined the new lab, I was invited to attend the Portuguese Drosophila Meeting. The meeting was hold in Tomar, center of Portugal, and combined people from different institutes. The major goal of this meeting every year is gathering together the Portuguese scientific community that uses Drosophila melanogaster as a model system, and share expertise: from new tools to new methodologies.

The Portuguese Drosophila Meeting was casual with a good amount of time to socialize. The talks were as broad as you can imagine, from immunology, to developmental biology, population genetics, host-pathogen interaction, neuroscience and oncobiology.

As usual, in this kind of meetings, we have international speakers giving amazing talks. However, what catch up my attention was one of the speaker’s main message: keep spreading the word and show how powerful Drosophila model is. It’s incredible but true, Drosophila is getting forgotten. How many of the new raising scientists know that, for example, the Hippo signaling pathway was first discovered and characterized in flies? Drosophila is the most well understood model organism, studied for more than a century. Its genome is smaller, known since March 2000 and there are libraries of RNAi for all your favorite genes. Moreover, you can manipulate their growth rate by maintaining them in different temperatures (ranging between 18 ºC and 29 ºC). Did you ever try to mutate/insert a gene? In Drosophila is so much easier than mice (imagine an entire year reduced to one month, with amazing genetic tools to know if your gene was inserted or deleted!). And for the sceptics, the fruit fly and humans are not as distant as you can think! Many physiological, neurological and biological properties are maintained between mammals and fruit flies, with about 75 % of the genes that cause diseases in humans have functional homologs in Drosophila!

Finally, you can find more reasons why use the fly as a research model in:


What should you know before choosing a lab

My PhD wasn’t easy and neither was my master. So, you may ask, if my master was “painful” why did I go for a PhD? First of all, I’m crazy, I admit. But I thought that the PhD couldn’t be worse than my master. Wrong! I think it was different but it wasn’t “great”… Do not misinterpret me, I end up having results to publish but they only showed up really late… Nevertheless, after a PhD mourning period (as my PhD supervisor calls it) I realized that I still love science and I actually think I can do science for the rest of my life.

I presume that at least 50 % of PhDs recognize themselves in this story. During my master and PhD (especially when I was struggling with the pain of no results) I would have several talks with my colleagues about how to choose the best project/lab. I now realize that at the time that we have to choose the lab/project most people don’t know exactly what they should pinpoint as key aspects to consider.  Thus, looking to what was my friends experience and mine, I believe that there are some key points that you should take into consideration when choosing a lab and project to work on!

Starting with the field of study (neuroscience, stem cells, immunology…), when students are choosing a lab/project they tend to think that the field of study that they pick is what will define their future path. Well, I believe that is not true! What will define you is your skills! Of course, the field where you will be working on is important, but it will be the combination of what you know theoretically and experimentally that will make you unique. So, don’t forget to ask yourself, if I choose this lab/project what will I learn? Don’t focus your choice only in the field of study.

What about the supervisor? To choose a “good” supervisor you should know yourself! A good supervisor for me doesn’t mean is a good supervisor for you. Why? Because people give importance to different supervisor personalities and methodologies. For example, if you are an open mind you don’t want to choose a supervisor that is closed mind. You should try to know with the lab members how is the supervisor for example in terms of methodologies – do you have to do exactly how he/she says or do you have freedom to design an experiment to accomplish a specific goal previously discussed? Does he/she tries to understand your results when they do not fulfill the work hypothesis? Is he/she able to change the working hypothesis? These are some of the examples that you should consider. Someone told me once “you should choose a supervisor that you admire as a scientist”.

And what about coworkers? I think is obvious that you will take advantage of a lab where people discuss ideas, results and problems! Believe me, you will find so many problems along the way, if you are surrounded with open minds that are problem solvers you will be in good hands! Of course, you don’t know that for sure but you can always have an idea about it when talking with them. Oh, and make sure that there is a “friendly” environment!

Finally, the project per se! As mentioned above, make sure that your project will make you have a hand full of skills. Nevertheless, if you are starting your PhD and you would like to design your own project, make sure that you are engaged in a lab colleague’s work. That will make you learn the lab procedures, you will help on his/her experiments which means you probably win co-authorship on his/her paper and importantly these will give you solid bases of a good PhD hypothesis because you will have then increased your know-how on the subject of study.

At the end, balance the pros and cons of the labs that you are considering and good luck on your choice!

Os porquês da minha vida

Madeirense de raíz, mas já sem sotaque (a não ser quando falo ao telefone com alguém da ilha), sou catalogada como nunca tendo saído da idade dos porquês – assumo que seja por esta minha “irreverência” que acabei diretamente ligada à investigação científica. Fascina-me não só aprender, mas também ensinar. Sou licenciada em Biologia Celular e Molecular (BCM) pela FCT/UNL. Como as células animais eram um mistério, decidi fazer o mestrado em Biologia Celular e Molecular com especialidade em Neurobiologia pela Universidade de Coimbra, onde estudei o papel de uma molécula na morte neuronal, tentando fazer o paralelo com o que acontece após a lesão da medula espinhal. Já mais recentemente, acabei o doutoramento em Biologia Celular, Molecular e do Desenvolvimento. Durante o doutoramento vivi dois anos e meio nos Estados Unidos (colaboração com um laboratório da Johns Hopkins University) e estudei como diferentes estímulos influenciam as células estaminais embrionárias. Enquanto acabava o doutoramento fui à aventura e trabalhei como técnica de microbiologia numa CRO (Instituição de Desenvolvimento de Produtos, Desenvolvimento e Validação de Métodos Analíticos) e CMO (Produção sob contrato e Prestação de Serviços de Análises de Controlo de Qualidade) onde descobri que adoro o laboratório, mas adoro ainda mais desafios! Assim sendo, estou neste momento a transitar para uma nova etapa… aguardam-se agora desenvolvimentos…