The Faces Of NGC

An Interview with Karla Azucena Juárez Núñez

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Karla is a PhD candidate in the International PhD Programme (IPP) at the Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB), Mainz. She works in the team of Dr. Anton Khmelinskii, where she studies replicative ageing in budding yeast on a genome wide scale by taking advantage of high-throughput techniques.

At the end of 2020, she joined NGC as a blog writer and she is now a communications officer. In this interview, she shares her interest in biology, her PhD life, and NGC.

Q: Where are you from and which field of study did you follow?

I was born and raised in Mexico. While I was always fascinated by nature, mainly by plants, the interest in biological sciences as a field of study properly arose in high school. Back then, I got involved in casual training sessions for a biology contest in my state. Behind the training for the contest, there was a fabulous professor who made sure we had fun while going through the vast fields covered in biology, from taxonomy to molecular biology.  This had a big impact in my life as I enjoyed every single session, made friends that are still in my life, and decided to apply for Biotechnology and Biology programs in different universities with no hesitation.

Q: Why did you decide to pursue a PhD and how did you find this position?

After my university studies in Biotechnology engineering, I decided I wanted to do more science and devote more time to biotechnology. Therefore, I applied for a master’s program in plant biotechnology, where I worked with maize to understand the genetic basis of its local adaptation to different environments. I loved the time during my masters since I was so passionate about the topic, and so I was firm that I wanted to keep working in science. Against all odds, I decided to switch fields and try to get into a PhD program where I could study ageing, a topic which also fascinated me but I had never had the opportunity to study deeper into it. A colleague from the institute where I did my masters had the chance to be part of a summer school programme in IMB and this is how I first heard about the IPP program.  

Q: What does your life look like as a PhD student? Do you like your job?

My PhD life has been in constant change. The struggle of not knowing what to do or being incapable to do it faster was my life in the first year. Along the years, professional confidence came together with the experience in the techniques and in the topic. I also had to learn that overworking leads to burnouts, and that we should not normalize this. Outlook became my best friend, and through detailed planning of my scientific days, I won self-control over my outside-of-the-lab life. From the COVID-19 pandemic, I also learned and solidified the idea that even for wet-lab scientists, there are many things to work on and read about when one cannot go into the laboratory. I am also happy now that home office for a wet-lab scientist is better accepted; we all need time out of the lab to plan, analyze, reflect, write, and re-plan our research in peace.  

Currently, I am still very interested and excited to shed light into my biological question. So yes, I am still happy with what I do every day.

Q: How do you see your future? Would you like to stay in academia or would you prefer to explore other options?

I want to keep holding hands with science. During my university time and before my masters, I had the chance to work in industry. I really loved the dynamics! Nevertheless, I was working in a consumer goods company and later in an automobile company, which did not make me feel fulfilled. Now, I would like to go back to industry, but within the biotechnology or pharma sector, where I can put into practice the skills that I have acquired and trained in science.  

Q: Why did you choose to join NGC? What do you like the most about it?

As I was feeling more in charge of my PhD research, I decided I wanted to be involved in a scientific communication project on the side. The universe must have heard me thinking because I then read an advertisement by the NGC in the newsletter of my institute and they were looking for more people. Therefore, I immediately wrote an e-mail to the NGC team to see if there was a fit for me. It was a match! I slowly got into writing, advertising, and helping with the management of the NGC blog.

Probably what I like the most, is that all the members of the NGC are part of it for the same reason, for the pure joy of contributing to the communication of science. I believe as scientists, it is our duty to make science understandable and reachable to different groups in society.

Q: You are a blog writer and communications officer for the NGC. Could you tell us more about these roles?

As a blog writer… I write. We discuss within the team topics that could be interesting to write about and we just get down to it. We read, research, write, ask others for content editing, and finally we go through language editing (since we publish in English and for most of us, English is our second language). I have now also gotten a drawing pad and I have the aim to make my own covers for as many articles as I can manage.

As a communications officer I am responsible for the creation of content on the blog, preparing the edited articles to be published through a blog-management platform, and promoting the articles on social media.  


Written by Isabelle Arnoux; Edited by John (JJ) Fung. Featured Image: NGC/Design.

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