Interview with Dr Victoria Virador (July 2014)

Categories: Meet the researchers

Dr. Victoria Virador talks about her experience as a scientist in the US, how important the EU-US collaboration is and how she dealt with being a female scientist and a mother of 3. Originally from Spain, Dr. Virador has a very good experience with science in the US and how it has changed/evolved in the previous years. Her insight might help younger scientists considering doing research in the US, and stay in contact with European partners as an imperative for their career development.

Can you tell us about your research background?

I am a Chemistry graduate of the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, from where I went to get my PhD at the University of California at Davis as part of a Fulbright program. I studied a grape enzyme involved in fruit browning. There I found my passion for cell biology and applied for a postdoctoral position with the National Center Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. I stayed as a Staff Scientist for a few years and my research revolved around cellular crosstalk in skin models, then in breast cancer models. I also established murine and fly models of diseases related to protein aggregation. Recently I have started my own consulting firm, ‘Virador and Associates’. Our company provides expert advice on a range of ‘in-cell’ assays with a strong focus on techniques related to tissue regeneration and 3D models for drug screening.

You are currently based in the US. What was the initial pull factor for you to consider research in the US and what motivated you to stay on until now?

My initial decision to come to the US had to do with the perception that there were many more opportunities in US science at the time. I stayed because the opportunities to do good science with a comfortable level of funding were there for a number of years, although the landscape has certainly changed of late and we see growing opportunities in Europe.

Do you have any research collaborations with European partners?

While at NCI I participated in cooperative research agreements with European partners, for example we had a very fruitful collaboration with Beiersdorf AG. Recently I have been asked to serve in various European grant review activities (with Germany and Poland). I have several collaborators at the University of Madrid.

If so, what would you say is the added value of the EU-US collaboration in research?

Watching the current activity in Horizon 2020 programs, I am confident that fruitful collaborations will strengthen research on both sides of the Atlantic. In the current economic situation and with high unemployment rates among young people, it is imperative that both the US and Europe promote strong and innovative programs to keep young people entering higher education by providing alternative careers. I have been a strong proponent of industrial PhDs so that many young scientists would consider entrepeneurship early in their formative years. Society and economy will no doubt benefit from this approach.

Given the current situation in the US, would you consider moving back to Europe if an opportunity occurs?

I would definitely consider this possibility.

You are a female scientist and a mother of three beautiful boys, how have you managed the work/life balance? Has it been challenging? Does the US system provide female scientists with good working conditions?

You are right it has been challenging!. I had no extended family to rely on when raising small children which would have been different should I have stayed in my country. In terms of support for female scientists in US, It is hard to generalize considering US diverse institutions of higher learning; overall it can be said that regardless of the will to help female scientists, many hurdles remain to the balance between science and family. However with ingenuity and dedication it is possible to have a very successful career as reflected in this perspective by Emilie Marcus, the chief editor of Cell http://issues.org/29-3/perspectives-2/. From my own experience I can say that balancing both worlds requires constant assessment of one’s priorities but the result is a very fulfilling career. Women scientists have collectively made outstanding contributions to the betterment of society precisely through their dedication to science and to balanced lives.