And I finally landed in the UK…

Last November I got very exciting news. I was awarded a Newton International Fellowship from the Royal Society and the British Academy. And all the new fellows became news.

It is a very prestigious fellowship for international early career researchers to develop their research in the UK for two years. I will be based at the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford, and I will be hosted by Dr. Aris Katzourakis.

Oxford

When I applied for the fellowship I did not have any idea of how prestigious it was. When reading their e-mail saying that I was successful I remember how happy I was (and I still am). I had been applying for many permanent positions and all of them were unsuccessful. It is a very frustrating feeling. You want to continue doing what you love: Research. However, the competition is so high that you are often left with the feeling of frustration. So that explains my happiness when I received that e-mail from the Royal Society. It is an independent fellowship, and for two years I will continue to develop my research on endogenous retroviruses. Alumni may be eligible to receive £6,000 per year for up to 10 years to support networking with scientists in the UK.

Oxford

It has been nearly a month since I landed in the UK. After several weeks looking for a place to live (I never imagined that would be so difficult to find), I think now things are finally able to find its way. I am now settled in the lab, in my new office, and getting to know new people and researchers.

My new life in Oxford is just beginning and I hope that being in a prestigious university with a prestigious fellowship will open new opportunities for a permanent position in the future. Developing the research I love so much!

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Visiting Researcher in Oxford

Last year I contacted Dr. Aris Katzourakis regarding his paper “The evolutionary dynamics of endogenous retroviruses” and my interest in developing new models to describe the evolution of these viruses in animal genomes.

He invited me to visit his lab in Oxford, UK, and this year I went there for a month. During this time I was able to analyse the simulated data I generated last year, which consisted of DNA sequences of full-length endogenous retroviruses (ERVs). I simulated 10,000 bases, which is the approximately size of an ERV genome.

The time in Oxford was very nice, I was able to interact with his students and discuss my analysis and results. Not to say that Oxford is a beautiful town, and although still cold for me, the weather was actually good considering I was in the UK.

Oxford, UK

I decided to stay in London during my time there. London is an amazing city, with a very efficient public transport. As I still don’t drive, I can say I was in heaven for a month! I visited some very interesting museums there which you can see some pictures below.

1. Grant Museum of Zoology

A small but very interesting museum. If you are a zoologist or just like animals you should check out this museum.

Grant Museum of Zoology2. The Natural History Museum

This is an amazing museum. It was my third time there, and I still haven’t seen everything. You should also check out this museum if you like animals and would like to know more about dinosaurs and fossils. My favorite part in this museum is the mammals and dinosaurs!

NHM3. The British Museum

Another amazing museum in London, and one of my favorites. My favorite part is the collection about Egypt and the mummies.

British MuseumBy doing research we can visit different parts of the world, learn about different cultures, and learn to interact with other students and researchers from different cultures and backgrounds.

Ph.D. in Australia

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During my Masters I was not sure whether or not I should do my Ph.D. project overseas. Actually, I was more towards to stay in Brazil. It was my safe zone, it would be much easier to stay there.

However, at that time, my supervisor was trying to convince me to carry out my Ph.D. project in another country. I still remember as if it was today.

She totally convinced me when she said:

“you should think about a country you would like to live and you should find a supervisor there, and you should just go!”

And that was what I did! I had this H.U.G.E. dream of visiting Australia, but no money to accomplish this dream. Eventually I found myself looking for a potential supervisor in Australia. After contacting a couple of researchers, I end up finding a supervisor at the University of Sydney, Australia.

Ok, maybe that is not the best way of finding a supervisor, but that was how it worked for me.

In 2005 I wrote a Ph.D. project proposal and I send my application to the University of Sydney. I also applied for a fellowship funded by the Australian government: the Endeavour International Postgraduate Research Scholarship (EIPRS). You can find more information [here].

The outcome was positive!

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The University of Sydney and I

I was awarded the fellowship, and in 2006 I moved for the first time to another country to study the evolution of pigs and their endogenous retroviruses.

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The University of Sydney

While it was very scary at the beginning, moving to Australia ends up being a very rewarding experience! You don’t need to come from a wealth family. If, for example, you like research and you would like to be a scientist, you can explore different parts of the world! I had the opportunity to meet people from very different backgrounds – cultural, economic, social, and religious. As I became exposed to this diversity of realities, I gained new perspectives on life and research, and, above all, recognized the importance of respecting these differences. I would recommend everyone to live such experiences.

Master’s degree

AbelzebulIn 2004 I started a Master’s degree in Molecular and Cell Biology in the Oswaldo Cruz Institute.  This is a very beautiful institution in Rio de Janeiro! Check out their homepage!

My undergraduate final project was on phylogenetic analyses of black howler monkeys. And I decided to continue with howler monkeys, but for my Masters I studied another species, the red-handed howler monkey (see picture).

I learned in more details about phylogenetic analyses and making inferences based on their behavior and geographic distribution.

Yes! That is some cool stuff about evolution… understanding whether geographic distribution is related to animal diversity.

I had access to DNA sample of these monkeys. However, it was very difficult to generated DNA sequences for my analyses… And we used to have these jokes about PCR machines being governed by the phases of the moon! Because it is inexplicable how a reaction can work in one day and not in the other! From trying to figure out reasons of why my reaction was not working, I finally managed to have my DNA sequences and my dissertation was finally born!

I end up finishing my Masters in one and half year because I decided to carry out my PhD project in Australia!

Yes! I lived in Sydney Australia for about 4 years and that will be the topic of my next post!

PS. I will create a glossary page to redirect each difficult word that appear in my texts… for example, phylogenetics, PCR etc, etc, etc.

How everything started…

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To be a scientist we need to follow a long road.

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Eventually you will know what type of scientist you want to be (if you don’t decide to quit somewhere in between).

Everything started in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In 1998 I decided to be a computer scientist! Then, I guess, I started my long journey: Bachelor of Informatics was the chosen degree. After one year of studying pure math, and after having that Linear Algebra professor “making” all the drawings with his hands (?), I started questioning myself:

Where are all the cool informatics part?

And I started missing biology classes… So I quit! (Yes, simple like that). And I chose to take the left road…

In 2000 I started a Bachelor of Microbiology and Immunology at Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), Brazil.

Yes! I chose right at that time, studying for me was like a hobby! I had lots of fun with bacteria and fungus, but my passion was viruses! And the best, I did not have to learn how many legs a cockroach has (that would happen if I decided to do Biology).

In 2001 I discover there were cool mammals in the world, and I acquire a new passion! At this year I started in a lab in Brazil working with phylogenetics (phylo what??), and my project in the lab was with monkey DNA. Cool!!!!

I guess because I could not understand what is/was phylogenetics, I fall in love again! I think I wanted to learn all that new stuffs, but at that point it was very very very difficult…

S.T.O.P.

At this point You are probably thinking:

How can someone think her degree was like a hobby and fall in love with viruses, and mammals and Science?

— silence —

Ok, I have other hobbies too, like reading and running and going to the beach, and sleeping (my favorite one)!

2004 was the year!

I graduated and I was finally a Microbiologist and Immunologist! And I discovered I really wanted to be a scientist! I also discovered the road was far of finishing and at that point I didn’t know where was the end, but I was following the yellow bricks.

Next step: Masters degree