How would you describe your role with CSL?
I am the Director of In Vivo Biology in Research. In the end, I help to improve our patients’ lives through science. My team’s role is to generate data that can be applied to human disease to support selection of novel medicines, proof of efficacy studies, and support clinical programs of more advanced products. I ensure the scientists on my team have a clear vision of what our goal and contribution to CSL’s portfolio and growth is. I plan and schedule activities based on the priorities and strategy of the company, ensure the resources are adequate and identify areas of growth and development for my own staff. I work globally with other research teams from CSL’s sites in Switzerland and Germany and interact frequently with clinical teams in the United States.
What did you want to be growing up and how did you come to work in STEM?
I’ve always had multiple interests. As a child I was drawn to nature and reading, so I dreamed of becoming a writer and literature teacher, and living in a country town close to nature. As a teenager, thanks to the fantastic teachers I had at high school, I developed an interest in science and ended up studying engineering and chemistry. I was in love with math, physics and chemistry. Biology was always on the radar and it wasn’t until I started university that I found immunology fascinating, so I changed gears. I ended up lecturing at university for 15 years, making my way from Uruguay to Australia and eventually to CSL.
What was your first job and what did it teach you for your career?
My first job was an unpaid support role for the immunology department at the School of Chemistry, University of Uruguay. Although it was unpaid, I got to observe and learn about the complexities of the immune system and the devastating diseases that occur when it doesn’t work well. This led to a placement at the Free University of Brussels working on immune tolerance. That’s where I realized that multidisciplinary teams, many years of research, multiple setbacks, collaboration, resilience, creativity and perseverance are key to successful drug development.
How do you strike a balance between work and personal life?
In my role, this is a hard goal to achieve. As a global company, our operations are around the clock across different time zones in a variety of projects, so the working hours can be extensive. Exercise and interaction with nature are the best relaxing therapies for me and I commit to switching off electronic devices when I am spending time with my loved ones. I also make deals with myself, promising myself a long weekend or a short holiday after a period of intense work, and this has worked out quite well.
What would you say to women aspiring to work in STEM?
STEM is a great career path but you need to know what is motivating you and be clear on the skills and commitment required. For CSL employees, we are all about being patient focused. Working long hours is not an issue if you love what you do, so my first message is just do what you love; that job or career that makes you feel excited so you can’t wait to start the day. Selecting a profession is not easy, but a career in STEM is an international career which I consider a great advantage for those who love to explore the world and work in different cultural environments. It is challenging and highly intellectual but also creative, and this blend is possibly only found in STEM. Collaboration is key so working with people is core to a career in STEM. Resilience is critical. Most of the experiments and ideas will not work, so you can’t define success through short-term objectives. Instead, you need to focus on the big picture vision and long-term objectives.
What career achievement are you most proud of?
During my time as a lecturer in the immunology department in Uruguay, as many as 50 percent of my students chose to work in immunology. To me, this is amazing as it means they not only understood and enjoyed the subject, but I was able to motivate them to follow a career in immunology. Many of them are still working in the same department and others have found jobs overseas working in STEM.
I am also proud of having developed the ability to work in different environments: universities and industry, and different countries such as Belgium, Sweden, Cuba and Australia. I have published several scientific papers which makes me proud as well. However, I consider my proudest achievement to be motivating the younger generation to work in STEM and being able to help them as much as I can.
What was the biggest career challenge for you and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge has always been working in a different language, like French in Belgium and English in Australia. My first language is Spanish so living and working in a different language is personally and professionally very challenging. It took a long time before I could change others’ perception and convince them that even if I haven’t fully mastered a language I can be a very effective scientist.
To improve my language skills, I avoided speaking Spanish when I was overseas and I read and listened to the local language continuously and committed to use it no matter how hard it was. It took me about a year and a half to feel comfortable with English when I moved to Queensland where I worked for five years in the Queensland Institute of Medical Research before moving to CSL.
What inspires you?
Seeing my team excited and motivated. Being open to all ideas and everyone listening to what is said. The feeling we might have a breakthrough any day. Not knowing and wanting to find an answer. The long-term vision to improve human life by developing new medicines.
How does your role support CSL’s promise to patient communities?
I am very focused on what we need to achieve to move our medicines as fast and effectively as possible into the clinic and, in doing so, to align my priorities with CSL’s strategy.
What is your passion outside of work?
Reading, writing and gardening. I can’t live without a book, a pad to write whatever comes to mind and lots of plants!