Silvia's career path has taken her to many different countries, exposing her to a variety of academic cultures. Originally from Portugal, she did her undergraduate degree at the University of Glasgow, followed by a PhD at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany.
She then moved to the US for a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University, where she stayed for four years. After this she moved back to the UK to set up a lab at the MRC’s London Institute of Medical Sciences, through an MRC Career Development Award.
Her lab investigates control principles in cell decision-making, by studying two important cell decisions which serve as paradigms for their research: cell division and cell differentiation (committing to a specific fate), using human embryonic stem cells as a model system.
Cellular decision making
The lab uses a distinctive combination of theory (mathematical modelling and image analysis) and experiment (live cell imaging, quantitative molecular biology, biochemistry and chemical biology). This combination has been key to their ability to uncover regulatory principles in cell decision-making.
The research can also be seen as bridging the divide between cell/chromosome biology (the cell cycle) and developmental biology (cell differentiation and cell fates).
Natural synergies with existing labs at the Crick are already being utilised; Silvia's lab have set up joint meetings with the James Briscoe's lab (Developmental Dynamics), the Kathy Niakan's lab (Human Embryo and Stem Cell) and the James Turner's lab (Sex Chromosome Biology).
A 'scientific home'
Working in London, she naturally became aware of the of the Crick and through hearing more about the Crick’s strategy and talking to colleagues, she realised it mirrored her own scientific training at the EMBL and would be a ‘dream job’ to work here.
Whilst recognising that it might not be right for every institution or for every scientist’s career, she is really positive about the Crick’s ‘6+6’ employment model for group leaders, describing it as an ‘amazing training opportunity’ and calling tenure ‘overrated’.
The application process involved a ‘chalk talk’, a presentation to a handful of senior Crick scientists including Paul Nurse. Silvia understandably found the prospect of presenting her new ideas in cell cycle research to a Nobel prize-winning cell cycle scientist ‘intimidating’, but remembers her interview as a very positive and rewarding opportunity .
She has been impressed by the ‘mind-blowing’ efficiency and competence of the teams that she’s dealt with so far, including those involved in moving her lab, recruitment and setting up IT, and the science technology platforms for their accommodating ‘can-do’ attitude.
Silvia described the Crick as feeling like her ‘scientific home’, because the aspects of her PhD experience at EMBL that shaped her as a scientist are explicit in the Crick’s strategy and culture: the lack of departmental structures, the freedom to pursue curiosity-led research, the emphasis on openness, collaboration, collegiality, multidisciplinarity and the commitment to training scientists.
Silvia is passionate about the importance of mentorship and training for staff throughout the institute, as well as support for women in science. She was the Chair of Mentorship at the MRC LMS, and is keen to continue to get involved in this aspect of academic life at the Crick.
Having successfully moved into the Crick – her lab was running experiments in their first week here — her next priority is recruitment and expanding her lab with two new roles.
Summing up, Silvia said, “I’m really excited to be at the Crick and I look forward to developing my lab and making the most of all the cutting-edge technology and supportive teams that are here.”