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How to swim succesfully and not be eaten by sharks...

An inspirational guide if you dream of a scientific career

Choosing to pursue a research career is one thing – staying in it and at the same time enjoying it is another. The scientific working field is one big pile of perseverance, prioritizing, dedication, competition, communication, and collaboration just to name a few. No two career paths are the same. Standing at the starting line, both direction, speed, obstacles, and length can seem unclear and unmanageable. Thus, it can be helpful to hear about others’ choices, failures, and successes to find your own path.

Associate Professor Marina Romero-Ramos from the Department of Biomedicine, Aarhus University is happy to share her story, and in addition, give some of her hard-learned experiences away for young researchers to implement in their own careers.

So, are you a young scientist dreaming of a career in research? Keep on reading! You may find help creating your own path.

Marinas scientific journey
Marina grew up in a small village in Andalusia, the land of flamenco, living in a house just adjacent to the pharmacy and biochemical laboratory that her father owned and managed. She often joined her father there, and in the lab, she loved to look at the microscope preparations that he was analyzing, while she wondered about the medicines that were handed over the counter. She knew already she wanted to be a scientist. Determined, she began her studies at the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Sevilla where she volunteered as a research student in the Dept of Biochemistry. There, and fascinated by the brain, she developed her Ph.D. turning her scientific focus to neurodegenerative diseases and Parkinson’s disease in particular.

Her scientific journey has brought her from Sevilla to two different postdoctoral positions first at UCLA (USA), thereafter at Lund University (Sweden), and finally to Aarhus University, where she got her own lab – and became her own boss. Looking back, she has now a better understanding of which of her curriculum activities respectively has promoted and delayed her career.

Based on this she has gathered a list of advice as an inspiration to young scientists who dream of a career in research:

  • Be driven and persistent
    Let's face it, research is hard, and you should be ready for negative data more often than positive ones. Keep going!
  • Find a mentor
    Having a mentor makes an enormous difference, they introduce you to the network and assure you have a piece of good advice when major decisions are happening.

  • Learn to present your data
    Join meetings and conferences. It brings future interaction with outside collaborators and forces you to present your data regularly and to be organized and realistic about how your project progresses

  • Pursue personal grants
    Invest time in grant applications, and don’t hesitate to communicate your awarded personal grants. Anything that means you have been selected among others is a stamp of quality.
  • Supervise and teach
    It is a fact – teaching is very time-consuming at the cost of valuable time in the lab. BUT it is rewarding – you practice your communication and teaching skills, and it is necessary for your CV.

  • Schedule smart
    Major decisions in your personal life, such as when to become a parent, cannot be decided by your job. But, once you take the decision, make sure you talk to your supervisor or your team and plan ahead how the project will progress in your absence. Science does not stop.

    Becoming a parent may seem counterproductive for a research career, but it does not have to be. Be sure to schedule your day in a smart way.  But also, accept your new life, things evolve!

    When Marina became a mother, she brought a microscope at home and decorated a "kids’ corner" in her office. This gave her an opportunity to work from home – even with the lab work- and come to her office often to meet the team.
  • Collaborate and network
    You are as strong as your collaborators are, do not hesitate to find experts that can implement alternative approaches in your project. Be generous, extra co-authors in your manuscript means more brains together and therefore higher quality.

  • Management: Unpaid work is required
    Even if you do not like some of these "political tasks" they are part of your career path. They will also open your eyes to what is happening outside your lab. This work might not directly affect your lab projects, but it will shape you as a person and as a professional.

    Get involved in your community, the one physically close to you, and the one that is scientifically close as well. That means being part of local and international committees, organizing meetings and talks, doing editorial work, and reviewing grants...
  • Decide and accept what you cannot
    Eventually, you will need to take decisions on major issues, and they will be difficult, once you decide, just move ahead, and do not dwell too long on the path not taken. If it does not work or you cannot do something, just accept it.

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Marinas Lab

Marina's lab works on understanding the progressive changes related to the neurodegenerative process of a-synucleinopathies, such as Parkinson’s Disease. They study early pathological changes induced by the mishandling of a-synuclein using in vivo modeling of the disease, and behavioral tests, followed by an anatomical analysis of brain pathology and the different cell populations relevant to the disease using histological techniques. They also investigate the potential of novel neuroprotective strategies in different animal models of the disease.

Available projects
Marina's lab has available projects for Master's and Ph.D. students. Please contact Marina Romero-Ramos directly for more information, if interested.

Marina Romero-Ramos

Professor Department of Biomedicine - Forskning og uddannelse, Skou-bygningen