Dr. Alicia Kowaltowski is a Professor of Biochemistry at the Chemistry Institute at the University of São Paulo in Brazil. She was awarded her PhD in Medical Sciences from The State University of Campinas in Brazil, and she conducted postdoctoral research at the Oregon Graduate Institute (now known as Oregon Health and Sciences University). She is a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow (2006) and recipient of the CAPES-Elsevier Award (2014). Alicia is with us today to tell us all about her journey through life and science.
People Behind the Science Podcast Show Notes
Life Outside of Science (1:56)
Alicia has played the violin ever since she was a kid. She continues to enjoy playing classical music in small groups locally and while traveling.
The Scientific Side (3:04)
Research in Alicia’s lab focuses on energy metabolism. She and her colleagues are answering important questions about how the food that we eat is transformed into energy and other molecules in our body.
A Dose of Motivation (3:57)
Just do it, and get it done.
What Got You Hooked on Science? (5:00)
Growing up, Alicia was surrounded by science since her parents were university professors in computer science and architecture. Science always looked like fun, and it seemed like scientists were happy and really liked their jobs. Her interest in biology was inspired by an excellent science teacher she had in her early teens. Alicia attended a technical high school where she received a lot of training in laboratory work, and this prepared her well to immerse herself in research as an undergraduate.
The Low Points: Failures and Challenges (13:29)
One frustration Alicia has faced working at the bench is not being able to reproduce results. It is common for students starting off to get inconsistent results. Sorting out why these inconsistencies are occurring and getting through this learning curve can be difficult. Another frustration she faces is seeing talented students and post docs come through her lab who have incredible innate ability and intelligence, but do not excel because they are not focused on working hard or are not in love with the process of science.
A Shining Success! (17:30)
The things that have made Alicia happiest lately are the successes of her students. Recently, two of her students won a prestigious Latin American award called the Life Sciences Award. Alicia won this award when she was a PhD student, and it has been wonderful to see her students achieve this honor as well. She also really enjoys seeing her former students go on to become professors at good institutions.
Book Recommendations (19:01)
Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
Most Treasured Travel (20:06)
Alicia was able to attend a small conference deep in the mountains of Austria where all of the scientists attending worked specifically with mitochondria. The conference was held in a beautiful small town of about 200 people. Discussing science during the conference hours and going for walks with fellow researchers along the picturesque mountainside made for an exceptional experience.
Quirky Traditions and Funny Memories (22:32)
During her PhD, journal submissions were still done by sending the paper through the mail. Alicia’s advisor had a tradition of kissing the paper for good luck before putting it in the envelope to send it off. When the two of them were sitting together to submit their first manuscript online, Alicia remembers him staring at the submission page for a moment before leaning over and kissing the computer screen.
Advice For Us All (27:15)
For those starting their own scientific laboratories, it is important to tackle some big questions, as well as smaller questions in case the big ones don’t work out. Make sure to carefully choose the people you bring into your lab, ask exciting questions, and try to keep things balanced. Also, keep in mind that science is a fun and world-changing endeavor that we need to keep investing in.
Alicia was born in São Paulo, Brazil in 1974. She completed her medical training (1997) and PhD (1999) at the State University of Campinas, Brazil, having done part of her doctoral work in the University of Maryland in Baltimore, USA. Her post-doctoral training was concluded in 2000 at the Oregon Graduate Institute, USA. She was then hired by the Department of Biochemistry, University of São Paulo, Brazil, where she is currently a Full Professor and President of the Graduate Studies Committee. She is also Vice-President for Education for the Society for Free Radical Biology & Medicine, treasurer for the Brazilian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (SBBq), and chaired the Gordon Research Conference on Oxygen Radicals in 2014. She specializes in the understanding of the relationships between energy metabolism, mitochondrial ion transport and redox state and is the author of more than 100 peer-reviewed international publications, which have accumulated over 6000 citations, with an H-factor of 42.