Ana Raquel Soares

Assistant Researcher, iBiMED, University of Aveiro

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If you have a passion for any STEM subject, don't deny it.

What do you do?

I am a biomedical researcher. My research tries to understand how protein synthesis is regulated and what triggers the accumulation of aberrant proteins in different disease contexts ranging from viral infections to cancer and neurodegenerative disorders. My focus is in a particular RNA molecule, known as transfer RNA (tRNA), which is the adaptor molecule that establishes the link between the genetic information coded by our DNA and the aminoacid entity that will be part of the newly synthesized protein. In many disorders, tRNAs are not able to properly translate the genetic information leading to the production of deleterious proteins. I investigate why this happens and how can this be reverted.

Why did you choose this field?

Since a very young age, I knew I wanted to be a scientist. I pursued this path since middle school. I was sure I wanted to do fundamental research that could be applied to health sciences. This was why I graduated in Pharmaceutical Sciences. In my last University year, I had the amazing opportunity to do a research internship at Utrecht University, at the Department of Pharmaceutical Technology, where I developed synthetic particles that could be used in Gene Therapy (delivery of genetic material to cells, instead of chemicals). I quickly understood that I wanted to know more about the mechanisms that regulate protein expression, and decided to do a PhD on this topic. During my PhD I found that small RNA molecules were crucial for the process of protein synthesis and their intrinsic mechanisms were involved in many biological processes and diseases and, since then I work in this field and every day I find it more fascinating.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

I am very happy with all my achievements. I believe they all happen when they should. I took the degree I wanted, I did my PhD with honours, I was able to immediately secure a post doctoral fellowship, followed by a junior scientist contract, 2 financed national projects, 1 european project, and recently and assistant researcher position. Sometimes I feel I am lucky, but deep down I know all my achievements were due to a simple thing: hard work but without forgetting to live in between. I don't think I would change much in my past, or even say something to my younger me, unless... "keep going, follow your dreams, if you stumble, don't worry! Believe in yourself and just keep on trying and dedicating with all your heart to every challenge you face. Everything will be ok!"

Why do you love working in STEM?

Being a biomedical scientist is fascinating because we are understanding our intrinsic cellular mechanisms. It is amazing to know how a single cell is so complex. Also, working in STEM is challenging and highly dynamic. Our mind is always sharp and we wake up every day with the feeling that today could be a Eureka day! Even if most days are not... I can't see myself doing anything else.

Best advice for next generation?

If you have a passion for any STEM subject, don't deny it. There are no impossibles. Anyone can thrive in STEM. If you feel you don't have support, contact any scientist, teacher you know and I am sure that any of us will do our best to help you to pursue STEM. Don't be shy and talk to people. Don't mind that others may say "that is not for girls" or something worse than this.... Be you!

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

“If you want to go fast go alone. if you want to go far go together.”

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