Is not easy to explain with a few words my academic trajectory. For better or worse, it has not been linear nor very conventional. I think that knowing my academic trajectory helps understanding me, personally and professionally. This is my (academic) history about how I manage to become a researcher.
I was born in Manresa, a beautiful town in the region of Barcelona, Spain, in January 1978, but soon the small family that formed my father, my mother and I moved to Móstoles, on the outskirts of Madrid. I think that having been born in the 70s and having been raised in the 80s in a commuter town of Madrid has marked my personality deeply.
Growing up in a big town that looked like a city, where we all were from there and from outside at the same time, with all the political, social and cultural movement in Spain in those years, absorbing musical programs that spread the countercultural “Movida Madrileña” and children’s programs such as “La bola de cristal” where the children were treated as intelligent, independent, free, open and egalitarian adults, having been part of an educational group like my school, because my school was not a school, it was an educational collective, where parents, teachers and students participated in the educational tasks of the centre equally, where the classrooms and the books were as important as the playground and sports, acquire knowledge as much as to develop artistic and plastic skills, collaborate with both adults and children, sing songs in the playground on International Children’s Day or International Peace Day as much as exchange messages on the first computers running state-of-the-art MS-DOS with scientists from the Spanish Scientific Base in Antarctica (my school used the WWW before anyone I have ever met! I am still amazed 😜), because the Public School “Príncipe de Asturias” was more than a school and because my teachers were more educators and encouraging than teachers; and above all being raised in a proletarian family, where I developed a deep social consciousness and a deep sense of the struggle for rights and freedom.
I matured quickly because of my surroundings. I have one brother and two sisters. Yes, I’m the oldest sister of a large family, and that also made me different. I am a tremendously responsible person who thinks a lot about the consequences that each of my actions have for me and for other people, but if there’s something I can say, is that I always did what I wanted, and I was always consistent with it and what it entails. In my life, I only regretted the things I did not do. I say what I think, I have a hard time keeping quiet, in fact I do not like to keep quiet. I can not leave an idea in my head, an opinion; that’s why I like to talk, a lot. I like a lot talking and I like to talk a lot. I like to tell things, I like to explain, and I believe that street education is the engine for a more egalitarian, solidary and environmentalist society. And I like to express myself through other means, not just words. I like to express myself with my hands. I like to draw and paint, I like to photograph moments. I need to channel my expressivism in some way. I feel that I have too much inside.
When I finished school I went to the high school and I continued to grow as a revolutionary. Hahaha! In many contexts, they would define me as an anti-system, and I think they are right; I am. And I like it :) Both at school and in high school I needed to get out of the stablished path; I do not like formal education, I do not like exams, I do not like homogeneity. But I always had some accomplice teacher who gave me extra material and helped me to know other sources and paths of knowledge – that’s how I discovered nuclear physics and quantum chemistry very soon – and how much I appreciate it! I want to be a scientist since I remember, from the first time I thought I wanted to be something. I was always passionate about Marine Biology and I would have loved to embark and spend my life studying whales; nothing thrills me more than seeing a blue whale, huge, intelligent and peaceful. Hopefully one day diving somewhere in the world with João, we will meet one. I hope we [humankind] won’t extinguish them. But I really like a lot physics and quantum sciences. No book has impressed me as much as “Does God play dice? The new mathematics of chaos” by Ian Stewart, which I read with 15 years old. With it I also started reading about String Theory and Astrophysics, and with this I ended up being a freak of Astronomy and Meteorology, also fuelled by my passion for spending time in the mountains.
Despite not enjoying obligations, conventionalism and formal education, I wanted to go to the university to study a degree and then to do a PhD (because I knew that was the path the system had established to become a researcher), at the end of the last year of my studies at the high school, the year in which one prepares to enter the university, the year in which there are the exams that give you a grade that will allow students to enter (or not) in a specific public university and in a specific course, I got the first big disappointment of my school life. My friend David, with whom I shared many hours of study, games, nightclubs and conversations about science and a thousand other things in school and in high school, other friends and I went to the Complutense University (where we had to do these national exams) to see our names on the list and know where and what we would start studying in September. The whole group appeared in the list, the whole group except me 🙁 My grade was not very high, but enough to enter to any university I wanted and apply to some of the courses I had requested. But for some reason my name was not in the list. An effect of the Spanish Babby Boom? I had never felt so bad before, so I could not start university in the next course 🙁 and now what?
After a lot of thinking and rethinking, I applied for a place in the Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry at the National Distance Education University (UNED) and, because there was no limit of places available, I got access (great!: P) and in September of 1996 I started Chemistry. UNED is a great university, I am very proud of having been part of it. It is not a university like the others because there are no classes and you have to study on your own. At the beginning of the course they gave us a program for each subject and references of some basic texts; from there, all the work is yours. You have to prepare the syllabuses in the way you want, study at your own pace and with your own method and at the end of the year you have to attend the exams, which are national, the same in all the Spanish state and also start at the same time.
Self-educated and distance learning methods are not easy but I like them a lot. Without a doubt, this university made me mature at once what could have remained for maturing. It is a very good university that values independent and self-taught students. It is a university mainly aimed at adults who study a second degree, or who have family and work, or who decide to study at the end of their working life. It is not usual for this university to receive students directly from high school like I was. But the faculty, with whom you can communicated by mail or telephone to solve any doubt, and the university itself, did not make distinctions; and I was only 18 years old, and I had to study my way, looking for information in books and other media, without receiving seminars, and attending practical classes (because I had practical laboratory subjects in different centres) at hours outside working hours (from eight to ten at night or something like that), and this made me a different university student, undoubtedly. I developed a great capacity for self-taught work and independence, something I always looked for during my previous years of study and something that has always marked the rest of my professional life. I always liked the method of learning, study and teaching of the UNED, but at this university it is not easy to finish a 5 years degree in Chemistry in 5 years, so after two years I decided to try to access another university.
And so, I continued my degree in Chemistry at the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM) in 1998. When changing universities, I managed to validate some of my subjects, although not all, and I had to repeat some from the first year at the UAM (although at the UNED I had already completed the first year and part of the second). I had started my journey through Spanish universities and the world of curriculum validation, where the student always looses ¬ ¬. The UAM is a young and independent university where I had the opportunity to receive teaching from an excellent faculty, learn a lot, develop information on searching abilities and problem solving skills, acquire habits of good laboratory practices and be a participant in student collectives for the improvement of society in general and of the campus in particular, the social struggle and for the environment, and be a member of the Antares Astronomical Association (moment when I bought my telescope!).
When I started studying at the UAM, my father was transferred in his job and at that moment he had the opportunity to go to his hometown. After a democratic family discussion, as it used to be done in my house with the important things that affected the whole family, we decided that the transfer to Salamanca was good for the family and that all the members would go except for 4: my sister Sonia, our cats Kiara and Simba, and me. So dad, mom, Andrés and Bárbara went to Salamanca and Sonia, Kiara, Simba and I stayed in Móstoles so that I could finish the first stage of Chemistry before moving to Salamanca and not have any problems more with the validations. Sonia also did not get a place in the university (which was good, because at that time she was not sure what she wanted to study), so she stayed with me; and Simba and Kiara always made us company 💜 The next year Sonia did get a place in the University of Salamanca and she found her vocation and she is currently a social educator that apart from her job she helps children in a Barcelona neighbourhood, and Simba, Kiara and I, we continued in Móstoles.
The years at the UAM were very good, but hard. The distance from my home in Móstoles to the campus meant that I had to get up at five in the morning, take a bus to the train station, change the train in Madrid, start classes at eight in the morning, have a free hour per day (which I used to eat, of course), finish classes at seven thirty in the afternoon and arrive home almost at eleven o’clock at night. In one hour I would have to dinner, prepare the food for the next day, read a while and go to sleep.
Definitively my life improved when in the year 2000 I got a place at the University of Salamanca. There, my new faculty was a ten minute walk from home. Something unthinkable for someone who had lived so many years in a dormitory town of a big city like Madrid. Long live to small cities! 😃
Again I had to face the validation of subjects and if in the past it seemed to me that this had not gone very well, Salamanca left that in an anecdote. In spite of having the first cycle of the full degree (in the pre-Bologna system of bachelor’s degrees, the first 3 years corresponded to the first cycle and the last two to the second cycle, when you obtain the speciality), the University of Salamanca decided to do the validation of my subjects at the Autonomous University of Madrid one by one, and of course, as within the study plans there are compulsory subjects at the state level, but others that are optional or compulsory of each university, because the subjects I had studied in Madrid and those that were offered in Salamanca did not match 100%, then I had to do a lot of subjects of the first cycle and I also lost a lot of subjects that I had already done (so the non-validated subjects are in lala land ¬ ¬). Consequences of this: starting Chemistry almost from the beginning, being the oldest student in the class again, having impossible schedules and changing the classroom several times a day. It seemed that starting a PhD would have to wait. Because of all that mess in validation processes and unavoidable family moving from town to town, my years attending Chemistry were simply extending too much and in a large family of low income all economic help is welcomed – I started working in parellel to my studies.
The job that gave us, and I mean “us” because I formed a team (the best!) with my sisters, the opportunity to start without previous experience (like so many other people in those days in Spain) was the catering sector. Our specialization in this case were the luxury restaurants. We did some courses and they hired us through temporary employment agencies (ETT in Spanish), so we worked 18 hours straight (or whole weekends) with contracts of only 4 hours, they paid us little (because the ETT took a good part of our salary), we did not have the right to have the tips from clients (which were abundant because our clients were wealthy and our very work professional) and in the restaurants they rarely gave us the meals, but, nonetheless, were (many) years of interesting fun.
We always liked to work the three sisters together, and we did it very well, and the managers awarded us with congratulations and with more hours of service, which is more money, so it is a good recognition. And as we got known in the field, and luxury restaurants asked for good waitresses, if we were not at the Castillo del Buen Amor where we worked most of the time, we were always the first to be hired. So, at that time, I had as much work as I wanted, more than I could take, but my priority was to finish my degree in Chemistry I was always focused don that.
In those years I also offered classes to children and teenagers in their homes about physics, chemistry and, above all, mathematics, and I was also a teacher in a couple of private schools that prepared university students for their exams in Physical Chemistry and Organic Chemistry. But this required a lot of preparation time, it was worse paid and it did not relax my mind from academic life. I definitely preferred to go to the restaurant 😜
Finally I reached my last year in Chemistry, back in 2006. I chose the specialization of Physical Chemistry. Among the optional subjects there was the “Structure and molecular dynamics”, which I definitively chose. Amazingly, the subject that I found the most interesting in the Universe had no applicants, I was the sole and unique student of that class; no one was interested. But when you come to think of it, it was one of the choices of the specialization in Physical Chemistry, which already recorded the lowest number of followers among all Chemistry students. I will never understand it.
In the second cycle of the degree I had to take additional credits and I didn’t want to chose only those from the Physical Chemistry specialization, I simply liked too many things, so I travelled through all fields of chemistry, Analytical, Engineering, Organic and Inorganic, but above all Physics, of course.
If choosing Physical Chemistry was rare among students, choosing Structure and molecular dynamics was even more. Later, I found it was because people did not like the teacher, well, performing molecular dynamics and calculate a link energies in the computer did not attract many people also (besides me), but neither did the teacher’s personality; he was a pretty poorly educated and elitist guy. That year, I was the only student who passed his part in the exam, and he also gave me the highest grade. This would not be remarkable if it was not for what I am going to tell you now.
The first day of classes in “Structure and molecular dynamics”, I went to the classroom in which the student’s guide said that we would have the classes. After waiting half an hour without anyone else, neither the students nor the teacher arrived, I decided to ask in the secretary’s office if there was any information that I did not know. They told me no, that I was enrolled in the course, that the teacher was the same as always and that there had been no change in the schedule or in the classroom. I decided to ask in the department if someone had seen the teacher or knew that day was absent and had not been able to notify to the students. It turns out that I found him in his office, doing calculations on his computer. He worked in the excited states of HF (Hydrogen fluoride) dissociation. I knocked on his half-open door and told him that I was a student of his subject and that I was waiting for him in the classroom. Without even looking at me, he said that there was only one person registered and he was not obliged to teach, so he had decided not to do it. I was blocked for a second, I could not believe what I was hearing, and then I told him that if it was going to be like that, he should have warned me at the beginning of the course, when I could still make a change in my enrolment, which was not possible anymore, and it was not fair that I lost the opportunity to finish my degree that year, lost the enrolment money of that year and I would have to enrol in another subject in the next course. He said it was not his problem, but I insisted that he give me an option to pass the subject and graduate; I suggested that he propose me to do a job, or prepare the subject on my own and do an exam. In the end he agreed to think about it for two days. On the third day I went back to his office and before he opened his door completely he said “Susana! Why you did not tell me the other day that was you! Come in, come in! This subject is not for anyone, but you are not anyone, you are special! Let’s start the classes”. I was amazed but I entered the office and approached one chair next to his on his desk, and so we started a series of lectures on quantum chemistry and structure and molecular dynamics that took us all the semester. Far from liking or praising me his words, I felt he was the class of man that people had always said he was…, but I needed the credits to finish the career degree, and wow! I love the theme!
During the classes we also discussed about the possibility of starting a PhD with him and the idea did not displeased me. In fact, I was excited. After such a tumultuous academic path, I was going to be able to start my PhD. It was already the year 2005, nine years after I first started my degree, I had spent much time as a waitress and did not had an excellent academic record to get a doctoral scholarship, therefore, having someone interested in me and in the field in which I was most interested was very good. At the end of the classes we agreed to meet in September to begin planning the subject of the thesis and my work for the coming months and years. Perfect! I spent that summer serving more and more meals, studying Advanced Organic Chemistry, the last subject that separated me from the degree of Bachelor in Chemistry and working in a laboratory in Aquimisa S.L. (I had to know how it was to work in a company, doing routine analysis and with a schedule, as I imagined, I did not like it).
September came and the expected moment to schedule my doctoral thesis came as well. I went back to the office again, opened the door and said hello! I still remember the eyes with which the professor looked at me; they showed arrogance and contempt. He said: “I can not direct your thesis. In the last week something has happened, a recommendation has arrived and I can not say no”. After a second I said: “A recommendation? Is a person with a good recommendation because he is very good or is he plugged in? “, to which he replied: “You know how this works, Susana. There are things that I can not decide and there are things that you have to accept whether you like them or not. Good luck”. Luck? If there is something I have never believed in, is in luck. What is that? I believe in work and in probability, but why leave my future in the hands of luck? He did not even offered me the chance to work with him for a few months to learn something else. But… what else?, anyway I did not like the kind of person he was. I don’t like to interact with people I don’t like, so why stay there?
That summer I applied for a place to start another degree, in Biochemistry. I had become too addicted to Biophysics and biomolecules and it seems that I can not live without learning new things. For a person that does not like regulated education, I really enjoy the courses, Hahaha! And, as always in my life, plans B are part of it and there is always one in my head.
In September I was admitted and started classes. Perfect! Something new was beginning to take shape. During that course I applied for a scholarship for the exchange of students among Spanish universities during the following academic year and I got it (good!), so the next course I left the University of Salamanca and returned to the Autonomous University of Madrid (but I couldn’t afford to stop working in the restaurant, because the scholarship was not enough to live in the capital city of Madrid, much more expensive than Salamanca, so on weekends I had to go back to work). I wanted to return to the Autonomous University of Madrid to be able to work in the Institute of Physical Chemistry “Rocasolano” (IQFR, of the Spanish Council for Scientific Research CSIC), centre where one of the most important protein NMR groups in Spain was working, so it only remained for me to be accepted there. After exposing to the people of the group my situation and my ideas, they accepted me to spend all the mornings of that year (in the afternoons I had to go to class to the university) learning NMR and, above all, Molecular Biology. It was a very well spent year because I learned a lot and had a great time with Yasmina (and the rest of the group of students), the girl who was doing her doctoral thesis at the time and who taught me so many things :)
In the “Rocasolano” I felt very good with the people and with the environment, it allowed me to have a great time and learn a lot, and I also love Madrid, I think it is the best city in the world 😃 I would have loved to stay there to do my doctoral thesis but the group lacked funding and I could not get a scholarship (again the marks of my academic record ¬ ¬) so that summer I went back to Salamanca to work and look for a new group. The opportunity was given to me by Valery, a professor with whom I had some practices during the degree of Biochemistry. He was working in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology of the University of Salamanca and collaborating with the Department of Physical Chemistry, so his group was perfect to continue my training. That year, in addition to working with Valery and Laura, his PhD student, I started a master. I chose Structure and Function of proteins, a program in which different Spanish universities participated and also the IQFR, and with which I had to spend a week of intensive classes per month in different cities (Madrid, Seville, Zaragoza, Barcelona). I learned a lot in that course; the teachers were very good and they made us work a lot; those were hard weeks but also very instructive and fun. There I met my “girls Doc”, the proteinmaniacs María, Cristina, Miren, Ester, Cristina and Laura, each doing his doctoral thesis in a different centre and city, with different pasts and lives, but united by proteins and the same way to feel life and live friendship. We’ve all changed cities and lives, and we’re still together in the distance, because good things do not have to change. 💜
With Valery and Laura I learned a lot and I consider him the best tutor and supervisor I’ve ever had. Valery is endearing, intelligent, talkative, serious and cheerful; he has many qualities that I liked from the first day. Valery treated me like a colleague, like a co-worker from the first moment; he always talked with me, always took into account all my ideas, he always valued my work and my way of working. With him I did a great job of characterizing a protein and got my favourite publication 😃 I have such a good memory of my year with him! I would have stayed with him to continue that work and do my doctoral thesis, but I had the usual problem, the lack of funding. I still made the plan to stay; I could continue working in the restaurant and teaching, and work on my thesis ad honorem. It is not the right way, but without the possibility of a scholarship, I could not do otherwise. But, in early 2008 I received an email from Rocasolano offering me an opportunity to do my thesis with a contract!
The offer was to do my thesis with a former doctoral student of the Rocasolano. She had been researching in NMR at the NIH in Maryland for the last ten years and she and her husband were coming back to Spain. In January I went to do an interview in Madrid with Eva de Alba about the thesis, the contract and the profile she was looking for to hire. In April I moved to Madrid to start my doctoral thesis with her in the group of Víctor Muñoz at the Center for Biological Research (CIB) of the CSIC and I was there for more than three years, years in which I learned many things about Nuclear Magnetic Resonance and proteins, and years in which I made very good friends (Mónica, Michelle and Jörg are still here 💜 although we are scattered around the world) with which I enjoyed both the city of Madrid and its mountains and nature. They were very intense years in every way, both at work and outside of it. Never in my life I had dedicated so much time or effort to a project as for those of the CIB. In Madrid, I have never had the opportunity to attend so many times to the theatre, cinema, opera, museums and other cultural events, and never before I had been able to travel outside of the Iberian Peninsula (except during my trip to the end of the high school around the North of Italy, unforgettable for so many things). In those years I made my first trip to India; Tanay, a good friend of the group, invited us to his wedding with Sunita. Nothing has ever marked me as much as that country. India is amazing, unique, colourful, spectacular. Nowhere do I feel like in there.
During those years at the CIB I also had to face cancer. It’s something you never have in mind, you never think that one day a doctor will tell you that a test gave positive for cancer, or at least you never think that it will happen when you are 31, being an athlete and leading a healthy living style. Because of my academic track, I knew several things about cancer that the general people do not know, and that’s why it does not surprised me completely. In fact, what surprised me most is how much my case surprised doctors. It is curious to be the object of curiosity, measurement and investigation. But the truth is that during the years that I have been monitored, the number of chemotherapeutic agents has multiplied by 5. My cancer was lodged in my appendix, and did not gave signals until many years after having started to grow. It was a barely known and unusual cancer, but I don’t think that’s because it has a low incidence; I think it was not thought that many appendicitis were due to a tumour in the large intestine causing the infection of the appendix. It was very strange to tell my mother on the phone that I had cancer. That night I cried more than in any other moment in my life, I cried until I did not feel like crying anymore. And that’s it. Since then, I live with this. I had read that one does not stop being sick until reaching ten years of analytics showing no marker traces. I don’t understand, the different oncologists who have been responsible for my follow-up won’t say anything, just don’t worry. Now they talk about cancer as a chronic disease. The only thing I know is that the follow-ups continue. At least they are not every two months. I always got dizzy just by seeing a needle; now I think I could get my clinical analysis on my own. Well, no. Ha ha ha ha ha ha! Just thinking about it makes me dizzy. Hahahaha! I have seen faces with eyes of pity and mouths that did not know what to say when they knew I had cancer. I never understood it and I will never understand it. Cancer will become a chronic disease when we stop being pity about it, when people ask calmly from when, what type or what you do; and not when doctors decide it. It is stupid to feel pity. It’s a disease, not a punishment, whatever the result. All things in life teach something, and cancer too. I learned not to think that a person who decide not to follow medical treatment for a disease was a person who had given up; It is not like this. Testing every two months, every month, every week is boring. I did not want to do it anymore. I did not care that the tests were for keeping me alive; I did not want to do more, I wanted to be calm, I wanted not to think about that, I wanted to not waste time in the hospital. It is really difficult to assimilate the visit to hospitals as part of the routine, and punctures to drain blood, to inject another contrast, and more radiation hours to do another TAC and check that everything is fine, and no other “don’t move, that only it’s a minute”. It becomes so heavy and boring, that one simply prefers to leave it. I will not think that who does not want to follow a treatment is someone who has given up, is simply someone who prefers to occupy his or her time in something else, who wants to choose, who wants to be free. Freedom to spend your time with whomever you want doing what you like most is as rewarding as it is necessary. It is reasonable and ethical to say enough is enough and live as you want, without thinking about another appointment in the hospital or pharmacy.
Coming back to the CIB and my Ph.D Thesis, I learned a lot in the group and I will always be very grateful for the opportunity I had, but my relationship with my thesis supervisor was not good and I had to get out of there; finally, in August 2011 I left Madrid and went to Barcelona. We did not understand each other. We disagreed on the way we saw science, the way we worked and presented our results to the scientific community, but our biggest difference was in the way we saw life itself, the way we are in the world, but this should not have been a problem, but the truth is that it was. Neither of us was what the other expected, and that separated us. I chose Barcelona to live so to leave behind all the problems I had had in the CIB, to clear my mind, and to be closer to Florence, which was where João was doing his thesis. João is without a doubt the best of my life; if the luck in which I don’t believe exists and to me it corresponded a little piece, I used it all the day I met him. When finishing my work in Madrid I could not go back to Salamanca, where there is no international airport, and in Barcelona yes and there were also several research groups where I could fit. It was the perfect city at that time. In spite of everything, in Barcelona I tried to give shape to all the work that I had done in the CIB, which was a lot, and to present my doctoral thesis even without the help of my supervisor. New problems with her made me finally decide at the end of the year to not defend the thesis. Having a PhD degree is something I needed to continue my scientific career, but I did not need to be a professional scientist or have a degree. In fact the best people I know, my father and my mother, don’t have one, and what is the problem? I was doing a PhD because I wanted to do it, not because I thought that a person with a PhD is more valid than one without it; I was not going to give in to a blackmail like “without this” or “without me” you are nothing. I decided to close that chapter of my life and start the next one.
The first thing I thought was to let time go by doing something else. Go back to work in a restaurant? Work on whatever was offered to me? Supermarket cashier? Why not? Go to Florence with João? The latter option would not have been good for João’s scientific career and the rest would not have been for mine, since I was willing to go ahead with it. I can not be long without doing anything, and I like to learn new things. I also needed to get away a little bit from the world of NMR, proteins and Structural Biology; It is a world too small and it was better to wait the waters to calm. So I found a group in the Institute of Environmental Diagnosis and Water Studies (IDAEA) of the CSIC as well (I think that in the university there is too much inbreeding and I’m not attracted to teaching, and I also like doing research in public institutions) that worked in the study of the contamination of aquatic systems. It was going to be a radical change of area, but I am Chemist, I could do Analytical Chemistry, and also my research would have a direct impact on the struggle for the conservation of the environment. I could fit in without problems, I just needed someone to trust in my ability to learn quickly and work. I wrote them and in the beginning of 2012 I was working there. The problem, as always, was the lack of funding, but, also as always, while I or my boss got a scholarship, I would work on something else; this time I was again teaching at an academy. I spent two years studying the mercury levels of the Ebro River and its Delta and its entry into the food chain. I spent a lot of time measuring mercury and methylmercury in Audouin gull eggs (Larus audouinii) and with this I became an enthusiast observing birds, branding birds or even trying to photograph them. Did I say that I love photography? I even have a prize for mountain photography, hehe! But that’s another story: P
After two years working in Environmental Chemistry I accumulated desire to return to Structural Biology and protein Biophysics. The truth is that I was bored at IDAEA. I felt that I didn’t do as much as I could do, that they didn’t take profit of all my abilities, that we didn’t get as far as we could get. It turns out that we investigated the contamination of aquatic systems, but the divulgation, ecology and solution of environmental problems did not matter. It was not as stimulating as I expected and I missed the proteins. I could not stop thinking about to investigate unstructured proteins and find the key to the relationship between sequence and structure. These two quiet years in research due to the lack of scientific ambition around me helped me to improve my training in statistics, to complete and approve the only three subjects that I had left of the degree in Biochemistry (finally! During my years at the CIB I could not attend classes nor even go to the exams ¬¬ so I had that pending) and stay active in the search for funding to finally get a doctorate. And so it happened, just in August 2013 :)
The best of my time at IDAEA was undoubtedly the company of Carolina, Cristal, María, Carmen and Carla. João and I did many things with them. Was good to have them! But we did not have to separate when I left the Environmental Chemistry, no, because my new opportunity to do my doctoral thesis was right next to IDEAE, in the Institute of Advanced Chemistry of Catalonia (IQAC), also of the CSIC and also in Barcelona. In fact, IDAEA and IQAC share building, and my groups of the current (IDAEA) and the future (IQAC) were on the same floor, so I only had to move a few meters: P
In August of 2013, while João and I spent a few days in the Algarve (Portugal) visiting the family, I read through the grants for doctorate. It is not usual that they are published in summer time, but science in Spain is not the way it used to be, and funding calls are not released every year at the same dates, and August is the perfect time to offer scholarships so that nobody realises it and no one applies, you know… Spain… Summer… Sun… beaches… obviously everyone is in front of the computer waiting for the fellowships to be published. The government puts the scholarships in the state budgets, if the scholarships are not requested, the government already has a merit for the elections to having offered the scholarships, and saves that money. Where does that money ends? Well, I don’t know; I would like to think that in social care, but let me doubt it ¬¬. The fact is that I saw the call and looking at the list I find a scholarship to do the thesis in Barcelona (at the IQAC) and associated to the project “Description of intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs) by integrating NMR and SAXS data to coarse grained simulations”. What? A project to study IDPs and use NMR (SAXS I could learn! Cool!) And computational methods! Great! I think I’m good at lab, but I never considered myself a lab coat scientist; I always wanted to know the world of Computational Biophysics and here was my opportunity, I just had to take it 😜 I wrote to the principal investigator of the project with a curriculum vitae and after exchanging emails and doing a skype interview, Ramon thought it was a good idea that I applied for the scholarship associated with his project. Good! It was perfect! At that time João was already in Barcelona with me while writting his doctoral thesis and he already had in his head a couple of groups to appy for Postdoc. We had a plan and Barcelona was in it, so getting that scholarship was a good step. I made all the necessary bureaucracy to apply for it, I delivered all the required documentation and I got it. For the first time in my academic life I had obtained a scholarship to do a PhD. I was going to be a doctoral student different from the rest because of my age and my past, but with the same attitude or more than any other. So good! Finally my chance!
And so, in February 2014, I started my doctoral thesis. It was not the first, but the definitive one, because a scholarship gives a commitment to the supervisor and the doctoral student that a hiring contract does not give (as happened in my previous experience); and well, because at the end of the PhD I would be 40 or 41 years old and I no longer think that my desire to start another thesis would be the same 😁, or will it? 😜 To talk about this I would have to stop using the past tense and use the present continuous, because now I’m in the writing process. Yes, the worst moment of the thesis, the worst moment of life! Ha ha ha ha ha ha! I prefer to talk about this in a few years: P
Having this scholarship gave me the opportunity to request (and get) other scholarships to improve my training. During my PhD I did short scientific stays in Montpellier (France) with Pau Bernadó and in Saint Louis (USA) with Rohit V. Pappu. In Montpellier it was like being at home. João was able to go every weekend and we went through the markets of the town squares and the climbing crags throughout the south-east of France. We really enjoyed it and we thought that Montpellier was a city where we could live a long season :) And my life in Saint Louis deserves its own post in this blog. For me it was an experience like no other knowing the culture and the American people; I always felt like in a movie. I like to analyse the behaviour of people as an individual and as a collective, and without a doubt my experience in the United States deserves a lot of words. Without a doubt, the best thing about the United States was meeting Susan and Mary Lois, my family there. I thought I had spent all my luck knowing João, but I definitely had a little left and I invested it in the best moment finding Mary who then took me to Susan. Now that I’m writing these words, I definitely owe a post to those months in that house with my family in the United States. 💜
And now that I’m writing my doctoral thesis, I feel like a cycle is over. And I’m so excited about the next step! I want to end this and start the next life. I want a new job, a new project, a new question, a new city. I think the best city in the world is Madrid, I love it! and at the moment no other has outdone it, but I’m still looking for 😜 I like to search and I like to change my mind because I like to improve the starting hypothesis, and if it has to be changed, it changes. I like to observe, count, classify. That’s why I like astronomy, biology and photography. I even have a prize for mountain photography! Hahaha! I already said this 😜 but I did not present photos for the prize, I did it for participating. I like to participate, I like to collaborate, I like to contribute to a project to get ahead, and someone from one of our mountaineers clubs created a project, a photography contest, and that project had to get ahead. And then a jury decided that the photo I presented, taken on a sunset in the Alps, deserved a prize. The prize was to be in that mountain with that sun and João. I think that one day I will study anthropology. I always wanted to study physics, because I am passionate about astrophysics, the theory of relativity, chaos theory and string theory. I get chills thinking about some of the things I’ve read about that. I do not know how many books I have. I love books. I like to live in different cities; the worst of it is that my books can not come with me and should always stay in Base Camp (the Base Camp will always be where dad and mom are :)). But I think studying anthropology when I’m older will be fun. I’ve had a lot of fun in my life, I’ve laughed a lot. I like laughing. And I have also fought a lot. I am a fighting spirit and also rebellious, true, too much according to my father. He always told me that it would give me problems, but I do not care, it never mattered to me. I will not stop saying what I think or fight for what is fair.
I have lived in different cities and towns in Spain (Manresa, Móstoles, Madrid, Machacón, Salamanca and Barcelona) and also in Europe (Florence, Montpellier) and even the United States (Saint Louis). I have travelled across several countries (I love travelling!), in some of them up to two and three times (Portugal, Italy, France, Andorra, Holland, Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Bulgaria, Morocco, Costa Rica, India and Nepal). I have climbed mountains in Central System, Peaks of Europe (Picos de Europa in Spanish), Pyrenees, Atlas, Alps, Balkans and Himalaya. Now, after seven years in Barcelona I have returned to Salamanca. It’s time to stop a little and to give shape to the new plan. You have to have a plan always, because when you have a plan, the plan comes out :) and if you have to change the plan, change it, there is no problem; the plan can be changed because it is ours.
If there’s something I know is what I don’t like, if there’s something I regret is what I didn’t do, if there’s something I am is unconventional. I have a deep sense of freedom, which I strive to preserve above all, and I am completely convinced that a matriarchal society would be a free, equal, just, cultured, supportive, collaborative, colourful, happy and ecologist society. I am what I am for all this and for be an older sister. Yes, I am an older sister; I have a brother and two sisters, and being an older sister of a large family also makes you different. I think that everyone should have brothers and sisters, the more the better. There is nothing in the world better than to grow up with your brother and sisters. The next step in my life I still don’t know where it will take me, although I have a plan, João and I have a plan, and also a plan b, as always. Whatever will be the next city we live, the next country we travel or the next mountains that we climb, I’m sure it will be fun. It will be fun and it will make me even freer, because it will be my plan. And best of all, I will do this with João, my life partner.