Everyone has a different path into academia: Meet Sara Correia Carreira

Dr Sara Correia Carreira, University of Bristol, is taking part in Soapbox Science Bristol on Saturday 15th July with a talk called: “Now the drugs don’t work- what you can do to save humanity from superbugs”




SS: How did you get to your current position?

SC: I started by studying for a degree in Biology back home in Berlin. After that, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to actually do research and stay in academia, so I spent some time in Spain working in the Knowledge Transfer Office of a research institute, learning all about intellectual property rights, research funding and the whole managerial aspect around science. That was really dull and I realised that I wanted to be in the lab, doing the research. I moved to Bristol in 2008 to work in a research lab at the hospital and really enjoyed it! I now knew academia was the thing for me, so in 2011 I embarked on a PhD, really enjoyed that, and since 2015 I’ve been working as a Postdoc- and still enjoying it!


SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?

SC: My dad and my brother. My parents come from rural villages in Portugal, education was not the number one priority when they grew up. Still, my dad had (and has) a never-ending curiosity, which drove him to explore things he was interested in. He’s constantly experimenting in his own little ways! He passed this spirit on to me and my brother. My brother is six years older than me, so I’ve always looked up to him and wanted to do everything he did. He was massively into MacGyver and Star Trek, and -as a consequence- so was I. I remember playing with an electronics kit that he had and discussing how things worked. He’s now a physicist interested in aspects of the social sciences, and as it turned out, I am also an interdisciplinary scientist, bridging the physical and life sciences.


SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?

SC: Being at the forefront of knowledge every single day. The stuff that I and other scientists are working on right now is unchartered territory, and by the time we publish our work for everyone to read about it we’ve already moved even further forward. I remember a colleague in the engineering department telling me about a recent visit to the Nokia research labs. The stuff they’re working on right now may come the shops in five years or so, but as an engineer and scientist you know about this future today.


SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?

SC: The idea of being in the middle of the people, embarking on a direct dialogue. I’ve been reading focus group reports compiled by several organisations to figure out what the public thinks about antibiotics and antimicrobial resistance, and some things are truly shocking. So I’m hoping that by talking to people directly I can clear up misconceptions and discuss any questions they may have.


SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day

SC: Fun


SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be?

SC: Short-term contracts. Honestly, they kill everything. When you have a complete staff turn-over every three years, how can there be a decent degree of continuity in your research? Postdocs leave and take their expertise with them. People drop out of academia because there is no job security for junior researchers. The nature of research funding has probably to do with that, projects are just funded for around three years during which time you have to 1) do the work successfully (!), 2) publish it in a fancy journal and 3) put in the next grant application to keep the project going. You have to be lucky to achieve all this within your three-year time limit. I wish there were “staff scientist” positions at uni, similar to the positions in industry.


SS: What would be your top recommendation to a woman studying for a PhD and considering pursuing a career in academia?

SC: Same as for a man: find a research topic that genuinely excites you, nothing is more soul-destroying than slaving in the lab for something you don’t really care about. And stop comparing yourself with others, everyone has a different path into academia and yours is as right as mine.

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