Sasha Berdichevski is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Cambridge. She studied medical science and physiology, and then switched to tissue engineering. Sasha tells us that her father encouraged her to question the world around her and how she is fascinated by the complex process of tissue formation. Sasha will be talking about “Growing tissues and organs in the laboratory: the future of the transplantation medicine” at the Soapbox Science event in Cambridge Market Square on July the 2nd 2016 12-3pm.
SS: Sasha, how did you get to your current position?
SB: It was a chain of fortunate events, rather than a systematic search. I was about to complete my PhD in Biomedical Engineering at the Technion, Israel, where I really enjoyed the research, but wasn’t sure what are my plans for the future. Moreover, having a family with a small child, I hadn’t considered moving to another country for a post-doc as a default option. However, when I saw an advertisement of a 2-year post-doctoral fellowship in Cambridge University, I jumped at the opportunity. Visiting Cambridge University confirmed that this would be a good decision for me. I began to see moving abroad and starting new research as more like an adventure than a challenge. Now I am involved in multidisciplinary and thrilling research, and have the opportunity to share my excitement about science with the public!
SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?
SB: My father inspired me to learn, question, and doubt, saying that education, knowledge and critical thinking are the most valuable things one can have. Such values were deeply rooted in my mind, and I wanted to do something related to learning, investigation and discovery, and science is one of few fields that combines them all! Therefore, after undergraduate studies, I decided to continue to my MSc degree at the Faculty of Medicine, Technion, Israel. I worked with heart cells, and it was love from first sight! Seeing these cells beating, and being able to manipulate their physiology, fascinated me. Additionally, the desire to see my work contributing to peoples’ lives led me to more applied medical research.
SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?
SB: I work in the field of tissue engineering, where everything is exciting! The human body is such an extraordinary machine; it has always astonished me how amazingly it is organized, yet how easily it is thrown off balance. In my research I investigate how tissues are formed, and try to mimic nature’s design – can anything be more fascinating? The intricacy of biological systems, the thrill of manipulating cell behaviour, reading and comprehending new material, using cutting-edge technology: all these make me love my job!
SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?
SB: Science communication is tremendously important nowadays. Firstly, scientists rely on public opinion. For example, it looks bizarre to the general public that we grow tissues and organs in the lab. However, when people are aware of why and how we do it, it can change their whole perception. Secondly, if science is explained creatively, it can attract people of all ages and cultures. It is about showing younger generations, and young women in particular, that they can become part of an enriching and world-changing action called science, and that things that may seem difficult to understand, or even frightening, can be enjoyable and interesting. Finally, it is an extraordinary opportunity to communicate my own research to a broad audience, showing how much we have progressed in the field of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.
SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day – excitement? Fear? Thrill? Anticipation?
SB: Being my first time presenting at this format, I have a mixture of feelings, including excitement, anticipation, but also a little apprehension!
SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be?
SB: The expectations of scientists are very high. We are judged against our publications, funding, etc., which can produce a lot of stress, and sometimes distance you from the science in which you’re interested. Additionally, other activities that are not directly related to your research are considered ‘’a waste of time’’. Moreover, for female scientists, it is harder to maintain a work/family balance. Therefore I’d like to see a more open evaluation of scientific merit, and more programs to address the equality issues in academia.
SS: What would be your top recommendation to a female PhD student considering pursuing a career in academia?
SB: While at times science can be challenging, it is a highly fulfilling and rewarding discipline. If science is your passion, don’t let other things stop you on your way!