Opportunities Under Horizon 2020 (2)

(September 19th, 2014) Just like Axelle Viré, also Laura De Vargas Roditi benefited from a Marie Curie Action. Originally from Brazil, she is now a postdoc at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich.

The Brazilian Laura De Vargas Roditi is currently a postdoc in the lab of Manfred Claassen at the Institute of Molecular Systems Biology (IMSB) in the ETH Zürich, Switzerland. After finishing her undergraduate studies in biology and applied mathematics at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Laura joined, for her PhD studies, the labs of Franziska Michor and João Xavier at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, MSKCC, New York, to study cancer and evolution of cooperation using mathematical and computational approaches. In her current position, she is supported by the ETH Zürich Postdoc Fellowship Program, which received about €5 million from the Marie Curie Action “Co-funding of Regional, National and International Programmes” for the period 2011 to 2015. In her work, she is investigating, whether cancers benefit from cooperative interactions amongst their cells, which are responsible for the tumour’s robustness and which may constitute a novel therapeutic target. 

Lab Times: Why did you choose the ETH Zürich for a postdoc?

Because of the group. What we do here in the lab of Manfred Claassen is in many ways very different to my previous PhD work. I knew from the beginning that I could learn much from him. I also felt like I would find the right support to dive into subjects rather far out of my comfort zone. During my interview with Manfred I was very up front about what my areas of expertise were and what they were not. Manfred was very supportive and it turned out that we were on the same page with respect to the direction of our future research. Our ideas and skill sets complemented each other very well, which made me feel very comfortable about joining his lab.

Did you know your current group leader from the past?

Not at all, I believe I found the job ad on naturejobs.com.

How did you become aware of the ETH Zürich Postdoctoral Fellowship Program?

Manfred mentioned it. I was told that it is quite competitive but I don’t remember whether it was made public how many people applied. Honestly, I didn’t try too much to find out about the statistics. I worked hard on the application and did the best I could and Manfred was always available and helpful, when I wanted to discuss anything. It took some effort but it was totally worth it!

Are there any special conditions or requirements because the programme is co-funded by the European Commission?

I don’t remember all the requirements but I don’t think they were too many. Mostly the obvious: you had to join a lab at ETH Zürich. Also, you could not have been in that particular lab for more than six months.

How swift was your move from the US to Switzerland? Tell us some impressions about your first days in Switzerland.

I was quite familiar with Switzerland already. A little less so with Zürich but I was born in Geneva and spent a large part of my childhood in Switzerland. My mother did her PhD in Switzerland and my father worked at CERN for many years, so I had many memories of Switzerland, which probably made the transition a lot smoother (even if I still have to catch up on the Swiss German!). I miss New York City though. A lot. It is a very special place, truly unlike anywhere else in the States or anywhere else I’ve been to around the world, and a very hard one to leave. But I settled in Switzerland very well and very quickly. I remember having some worries on the day I arrived but by the end of the week, it felt so natural to be here. I enjoy living here a lot. I adore my job and the quality of life here is spectacular, the peacefulness, it’s really a great place to be right now.

Are there any special programmes for the integration of foreign scientists at the ETH?

I’m not too familiar with them. I participated in a few “postdoc events” but they did not specifically target foreign scientists. I haven’t looked into it very hard. To be honest, I am working in a very special lab. Everyone is very outgoing and really a pleasure to be around and work with. We all get along well and when I need any help they all are very supportive.

Are there any differences in the daily lab life between the US and Switzerland?

Not too much to be honest.

What about your plans for the future?

I still plan on being in Switzerland for a couple of years. Thereafter we’ll see what opportunities come around. Or what life will bring. Regardless of my previous connection to Switzerland, I never really planned on ending up back here, so life is full of surprises. I rather keep an open mind instead of planning ahead too much. What I know is that I would like to continue working on issues related to biomedicine. I enjoy the puzzles I have to solve on a daily basis. But the motivation that really keeps me going is that my research may eventually help someone in future.

How do you like Zürich and Switzerland in the meantime? What do you do outside the lab?

Zürich and Switzerland are great! Can I call chocolate a hobby? I’m (partially) joking. Plus it’s not really something I only do outside of lab…I really enjoy swimming, baking and painting. I guess all these do not depend on being in Switzerland and maybe that’s not a complete accident. I moved around a lot in my past. The last time I counted it was 10 times in total. I guess after a few moves, your local favourites change, like going to the beach in Rio or stand-up comedy in NYC. But those three mentioned above are ones that have stuck with me over all the time. It takes me a while to settle on local favourites (although I can’t fathom why, I hated the beach when we first moved to Rio). I guess for now my favourite is actually travelling. I love being smack in the middle of Europe and taking short weekend trips to discover new places or revisit old favourites.

Interview: Ralf Schreck

Photo: L. de Vargas Roditi

Last Changes: 10.28.2014

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