Being a successful (and enjoyable) woman in science


Being a successful (and enjoyable) woman in science


To consider a career in science as a woman takes guts. There is tremendous competition for funds. Finding long-term contracts can be difficult, which can cause work insecurity. Long hours can confuse preparations for parenthood and other interests.

Sara Veiga handles them all with ease and enjoys herself in the process. Veiga comes from Braga, Portugal's third-largest city and a deeply spiritual place. She recalls taking lovely strolls around the city's centre, visiting historic cathedrals built when the nation was still a single county, and enjoying "francesinhas," which are meat sandwiches drenched in tomato and beer sauce and one of her favourite cuisines from home.

Her academic career started in 2009 at the University of Coimbra, one of the oldest and most well-regarded universities in the world. She obtained two degrees here, one after the other. She earned a master's degree in pharmaceutical biotechnology in addition to a licence in biomedical sciences.

She was hired as a summer intern at Harvard University in the summer of 2015 to investigate the experimental evolution of genomic instability using yeast as a model of cancer development. She has now expanded her molecular biology research experience both in Portugal and the US.

But her trip didn't end there. Veiga is currently a PhD candidate at Cardiff University. She intends to take a post-doctoral position in the extracellular vesicle field after she graduates. Below, we learn more about her decision to attend Cardiff University, her time spent living in Wales, and three interesting facts about her.

What are a few of the difficulties faced by women in STEM? How can you get over them?

My scientific career has led me to collaborate with female scientists more frequently. I've always been around strong, bright women who are doing incredible work in science, and I am tremendously impressed by all of them. Women still face a lot of obstacles in the STEM fields, though. Recognition for their work and abilities might be difficult, particularly if they work in a profession that has traditionally been more associated with men. Being a mother and desiring to start a family can also be devalued.

Do you still intend to work in STEM fields in the face of all these challenges?

Definitely, yes. I believe that the only way we can encourage more women and young girls to pursue careers in STEM is if we keep moving forward, speaking up, and demonstrating our amazing work in all areas of it. Those discrepancies, which are still very noticeable right now, will gradually become less pronounced. Hopefully, someday, both men and women will find equal attraction in every STEM subject, and younger generations will feel free to pursue any vocation they find intriguing.

Why did you decide to pursue your PhD in the United Kingdom?

I was interested in what it would be like to attend a university outside of Portugal because all of my other academic degrees were earned there. Additionally, there are a lot more options in various universities across Europe than there would be if I just focused on Portugal.

Have you ever had a mentor?

I do have a female mentor from the UKEV-UK Society for Extracellular Vesicles mentoring programme, a professional organisation relevant to my PhD work. Even though we have only had a few meetings, they have been really beneficial and motivating. She has assisted me in identifying and enhancing my transferable abilities and in connecting me with potential people who could have assisted me with my PhD. But I do think I have a few informal mentors. They are all ladies that I have worked with or are presently working with, which is kind of funny. They constantly motivate me to accomplish and be my best work in a variety of inspiring ways.

Do you believe attending a local university would have made a difference?

I disagree, in my opinion. The University of Minho, a top-notch institution in Braga, has received numerous honours on a national and worldwide level for the innovative research being conducted there. It just depended on the circumstances and the resources at hand.

What about Wales do you like best?

Wales is extremely lovely in its natural state. It is incredibly lush and has stunning coastlines, majestic mountains, huge farmland, etc! Since it's a small country, there is a sense of community and connection among the people, who are also quite warm and friendly.

What features about Cardiff would you pick as your favourites?

Because I enjoy eating and sampling new foods, the street food scene in Cardiff is fantastic in my opinion. You may sample a tonne of lovely, cosy, independently owned eateries and pop-ups that are open constantly. Cardiff has lovely parks, which are fantastic when you just need to go for a walk. I also enjoy being able to walk anywhere in the city, which makes me feel content and at ease.

What has so far been your most memorable Wales-related non-academic experience?

The trip I took to the Brecon Beacons with my lab pals is what I remember most about my time here. In the middle of February, we scaled Pen y Fan, the highest peak in South Wales. Despite the fact that it was the most gorgeous day with the clearest sky, I have never felt so chilly in my life. I was smitten.

I may also mention the time in 2018 on Saint David's Day when it snowed here. I had never seen that much snow in my life, so the fact that we had to stay at home made it a thrilling experience.

What kind of cuisine is served in Wales?

Oh, I enjoy Welsh cuisine! Although it isn't all that unlike from British cuisine, there are some truly delicious native meals. My favourite dish is Welsh rarebit, which is served with bacon and onion chutney on toast and a mustard-cheese sauce. Lamb cawl is similar to a stew and delicious as well.

I don't like raisins too much, although I will eat them in Welsh cakes, commonly known as bakestones. There are numerous meals that include leeks because they are this country's national symbol. The meal I dislike the least is more typical of British cuisine. Any food containing beans is off-limits to me because I don't like beans.

What particular aspect of Wales are you hoping to share with your friends and family back home?

I've brought Welsh cakes to the family before, and they've all enjoyed them. Getting them, anything written in Welsh is always entertaining, and you can always laugh when you hear them attempt to pronounce it (I don't even know how because Welsh is so difficult!).

What one thing do you bring from home, and how do you replace it?

The thing I probably miss the most is food, therefore I constantly try to prepare meals that I would eat at home. It's been good to get together and lessen my homesickness because I do have a large network of Portuguese friends in Cardiff.

The sun, however, is something I genuinely miss and can't really replace. Portugal is very warm and sunny, whereas the UK has some rain. The previous few years, spring and summer haven't been too horrible, but I do miss having days and days of clear skies.

What words of wisdom do you offer for foreign students hoping to begin a new life in the UK?

Bring an umbrella and a raincoat. Just have fun there, jokes aside. Great Britain is a great place to live. Cultural variations and specific things you discover along the journey are unavoidable; yet, this is true everywhere in the world. In addition, because of how culturally diverse the nation is, you can meet people from all over the world there.

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