Short biographic note
Javier is a PhD student from Spain with a BA in pharmacy from the University of Barcelona and experience assisting a bioinformatics startup applying pharma industry standards (ALCOA+; 21 CFR Part 11) in their processes as a QA Officer.
Specializing in Industrial Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical research, he had gained real-world knowledge at the Service of Development of Medicines (Pharmacy Faculty, University of Barcelona) assisting in drug development. Expanding on that experience, was a Postgraduate course in Quality Assurance applied in drug R&D; and a year working in a Bigfinite, a bioinformatics startup, helping to develop quality control systems and ensuring data integrity.
At Bigfinite, he also learned industry-standard automated software testing and acquired Python coding knowledge with voluntary courses and veteran mentors.
1st June 2019
Question 1: Tell me about your background.
Javier: I am a pharmacist; I have a master’s degree in pharmacy. My expertise is mostly related to drug development and IT because after I finished my pharmacy degree, I worked for an IT company and I was able to learn programming, data science, etc. I was always interested in this field and I think it was a very useful learning experience.
Subquestion: Did you do any internships?
Javier: During my degree I did an internship at a chemical analysis lab. Later, I did an internship at the Service of Development of Medicines (SDM) of the University of Barcelona, at the faculty of pharmacy. After that, I did an internship at a company that specializes in applying machine learning and artificial intelligence to data obtained from drug manufacturing. I haven’t done any international internships: this is actually my first time being outside of Spain professionally, so it is pretty exciting.
Question 2: Can you describe your current PhD project in one sentence?
Javier: I would describe my project as ‘Developing a system for measuring nanomechanical parameters of cells and tissues in an automated way, to make AFM more accessible and making working with biological samples easier.’
Question 3: What is the biggest difficulty you are facing within your research right now and how do you plan to overcome it?
Javier: Right now, the biggest problem is that I am new to the biomechanical and biophysics world. There is a lot of underlying theory that I have to learn. The same thing with the AFM technique: I have to learn the fundamentals of the technique as well as the electronics. For me, working with tissues and cells is also a big challenge, because I had never worked with eukaryotic cells before. And finally, that most of the AFM instruments work with a closed proprietary software, and to be able to develop automation is very challenging because you have to interact with those systems and you don’t really know what is happening in there because it is completely a proprietary code.
Question 4: What do you think is the next big improvement in your field of expertise?
Javier: AFM is a technique that obviously provides many interesting benefits as it can image a surface as well as assess nanomechanical properties of cells and tissues. However, it’s a technique that requires a lot of expertise: you must establish the parameters very well, know the instrument in detail and perform the calibration very carefully. So, it’s a technique that is hard to get into. I think that improvements can be made in that way: without sacrificing its benefits, making it more accessible and making it easier to study larger areas and a higher number of samples. This would be beneficial for the ‘bioworld’ as you have a lot of variability within your system, so it is important to work with a high number of samples to get a statistically significant result. Other potential improvements would include the mechanical models routinely used as well as combining other techniques with AFM like fluorescence, traction force microscopy, etc.
Question 5: What is the most helpful way for you to get feedback on work you’ve done?
Javier: When it comes to software development, I think the most important thing is to talk with the user (the person you are developing it for). That way you can get input: maybe new ideas for features, design feedback, etc. Also, if you are not an expert on the field, like I am not with AFM, it’s very important I talk to people who have worked with it every day for many years.
Question 6: Give me an example of when you failed at something. How did you react and how did you overcome it?
Javier: When you start working for the first time, it is easy to feel like you are failing a lot. For example, when I started working at Bigfinite. I had some experience working in programming and software development, but as a hobby, not in a professional way, so I was making many mistakes. I really had to step up and study on my own, do many online courses, etc. This experience taught me a lot about the importance of self-teaching and continuous learning.
Question 7: What 3 traits do you believe are most useful to succeed in this occupation?
Javier: One that would be very important is to be motivated and have passion for what you do. A second one would be to have vision. Knowing what society requires or knowing what would be interesting and being able to think how to get there and which are the necessary steps. Lastly, persistence. If you give up after things don’t work out the first time, you are never going to succeed in a PhD.
Question 8: What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your CV alone?
Javier: Well I am a person that really enjoys the sea and I really miss that being here in Lille. One of my biggest passions is scuba diving, which I used to do back in Spain.
Question 9: What do you do on your free time and do you have goals for your free time?
Javier: Actually, I am starting to learn the piano. It’s a bit of a cliché, but because I don’t play any instruments, I thought I should start learning. I like music very much and enjoy going to concerts and watching orchestras perform, so to play an instrument would be beneficial to understand music better. Also, I would like to do more tracking around France as well as start climbing some mountains.
Question 10: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what 3 things would you bring and why?
Javier: Is internet an option? (laughs) I guess I would go for the practical approach: maybe a weapon for hunting, some instrument for entertainment and also a toolbox. My main objective would be to get out of there.