Catarina de Almeida Marques - Postdoctoral Research Associate - Institute of Infection Immunity & Inflammation - University of Glasgow

Issued: Tue, 11 Aug 2020 00:00:00 BST

Tell us a fun fact about yourself

I was a huge football, MotoGP and F1 fan growing up. That used to surprise people a lot the first time they met me.

Tell us about your career journey so far

I started by studying microbiology at the University of Lisbon, in Portugal. I studied all types of bugs: viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi. In my final year, I worked with the malaria parasite, and have done my career in parasites ever since.

Still in Lisbon, I did a masters, where I tried to understand how a type of vaccine against malaria works. After that, I moved to Glasgow where I did my PhD. Here, I changed parasite and tried to understand how the parasite that causes sleeping sickness disease, the trypanosome, duplicate their DNA. After that, I moved to Dundee, where I continued to work on the trypanosome, and almost two years ago, I moved back to Glasgow. I now work with another parasite called Leishmania, which causes some nasty diseases worldwide, trying to figure out how they duplicate their DNA.

What was your favourite subject in school and why?

I had several over the years! If I have to chose, it would be biology and maths.

I really liked biology because we learned about so many different things – human body, molecular processes and chemistry, then all the groups making up the tree of life, the theories of evolution…

I liked maths a lot, I always saw it as a game that I had to solve, so it was always my favourite homework and the tests I enjoyed the most. I didn’t have to memorise things; I had to understand them and then apply when needed. It was challenging. 

What subjects/qualifications are useful for your role?

From high school? Biology, chemistry, maths and english.

Other qualifications, my undergrad in microbiology – which gave me background to work on multiple aspects of my role; and my certificate in english – as a non-native english speaker, I am really glad I had english both in school and after school since I was 9 until I was 17, when I did my first certificate exam in english. All literature in science is in english, so it’s crucial to be proficient in the language.

What is a normal day in your role like?

I get in, and plan my day, if I haven’t done so the day before. Some of the things I work with take long hours and require equipment that is shared, so I need to plan them. Once that’s done, I go into the lab, and put on my lab coat and gloves, and start. Usually I check on my parasites that are growing inside flasks, and decide if I need to move them into a new flask (they get quite crowded and then don’t grow so well).

I work mainly with DNA, which stores all the parasite’s information. Lots of the times I need to take it out of the parasites, and check it using something called polymerase chain reaction (or PCR). I do a lot of PCRs. Sometimes I also check the parasites under the microscope, they are fluorescent so it’s pretty cool! I do other techniques but it’s tough to explain here. I also do some bioinformatics, so sometimes I spend time at the computer and not in the lab.

As part of my job, I also do a lot of data analysis, reading (see what other people are doing in my area, and what new techs are there), and writing – I need to write down the work I do so other people can get access to it. On specific days we have meetings with all the lab members and we show off what we’ve been doing and give/get suggestions on it, and see other people come to the Uni present their work.

What is your favourite thing about your job?

The unknown. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I have a hypothesis, what I think is going on. Then I need to figure out how to test it. Then I test it and analyse the results. Is my hypothesis correct? Either if it is or not, I then need to decide what to do next. The best is when I come across something that no-one has come across before. For example, I saw something in the parasite that has been there for millions of years, but I was the first one to see it! That feeling, is amazing.

Another thing is meeting so many people from so many different places. It’s great to meet other cultures; it has made me grow a lot both as a scientist and as a person.

Can you suggest an activity that could be done at home that illustrates an aspect of your work? 

Look at onion skin or pond water under the microscope (those toy microscopes would work too). Probably also extract DNA from strawberries (there are lots of videos on youtube but this one is good can use vodka instead of alcohol, and a toothpick instead of tweezers).


If you're a STEM Ambassador in Scotland and want to share your story you can download the form here.