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Mar Albà (IMIM): "Research makes sense especially if you can share it with a team"

Mar Albà (IMIM): "Research makes sense especially if you can share it with a team"

We interview Researcher Mar Albà with the occasion of her visit to the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE) to give the seminar "Evolutionary innovation by de novo gene birth".

20.09.2021

 


Short Bio

Mar Albà graduated in Biological Sciences from the University of Barcelona (UB) and obtained her doctorate from the same University in 1997. During 1997-1999 she studied the master's degree in bioinformatics and molecular modeling at Birkbeck College while working as a postdoctoral researcher in the group of John Hancock at the MRC Clinical Research Center, London. Later, she joined the group led by Paul Kellam at University College London to develop new computational tools to study the evolution and function of viruses. She was awarded a Ramón y Cajal position in 2002 to work at Pompeu Fabra University (UPF). In 2005 she was appointed ICREA Research Professor. She works at the Hospital del Mar Research Institute (IMIM) and teaches bioinformatics classes at Pompeu Fabra University. She has supervised 11 doctoral theses and is the author of more than 85 publications.

 

Research interests

Mar Albà leads the Evolutionary Genomics group of the Biomedical Informatics Research program (GRIB, IMIM-UPF). Over the years the group has worked on various issues related to computational biology and evolution, including the study of regulatory regions of gene expression, the evolution of repetitive amino acid sequences, the evolutionary dynamics of duplicate genes, the development of methods to characterize the effect of natural selection and the study of changes in gene expression during hibernation in lemurs. Very intense work has also been done on the study of genes formed de novo from non-coding regions of the genome. The group uses massive sequencing techniques such as ribosome profiling and direct mRNA sequencing using Nanopore.

 

Let's talk about how you got into research. Have you always been interested in science? What things were you curious about when you were a kid?

As a child I was already interested in science, especially biology, geology and mathematics. My father took us to the mountains and while we went up the lakes he filmed butterflies or flowers, it was a way to collect them. Later I began to read on my own things like the Durrells, Darwin, the theory of plate tectonics ... what was falling into my hands. When I started my degree in biology at the University of Barcelona, it was already clear to me that I wanted to do research.

What do you enjoy the most about research and which is the most difficult thing about life in the laboratory?

Research is exciting when you see something new, strange at first, and then you end up looking for possible explanations and thinking about how to check it. For me it makes sense especially if you can share it with other people, in a team. On the other hand, the most difficult thing is not having stable financing in order to better plan expenses.

Research is exciting when you see something new, strange at first, and then you end up looking for possible explanations and thinking about how to check it.

Research is a job which requires lots of time, but even so the scientific system itself exerts pressure for the publication of scientific articles. How do you manage this dilemma in your group?

Well, it does happen to us that sometimes when we are in too much of a hurry to write, time passes and everyone needs the articles for the next scholarship or the next project. But it is also good to write in a sustained way, so that it is a way of reflecting on the work, seen from the outside, and that helps to progress. Perhaps some time ago there were less publications but more correspondence between scientists.

In recent years, the scientific community has become aware of the gender bias that especially affects positions of responsibility in the academic world (glass ceiling). As a researcher leader of a research group for over 20 years, what has been your experience? Have you ever felt discriminated on the basis of gender or have you felt the presence of the "glass ceiling"?

Yes, I have heard discriminatory comments and in general a paternalistic attitude, especially at the beginning of the stage as an independent researcher. Women are often not promoted in the same way as men and, of course, that in the end results in them not reaching certain positions. We have to switch our mind-set.

Women are often not promoted in the same way as men and in the end this results in them not reaching certain positions.

What would you advise young people who are considering a career in research?

That if they are sure about it, then go ahead for it!

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