Labtimes 2017-06

Lab Times 6-2017 page 65 Careers The European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) annually rewards an outstanding young researcher for their contribution to life sciences in Europe. This year’s winner of a hand-crafted gold medal and an accompanied bursa- ry is Israeli cell biologist Maya Schuldiner. We spoke with her about her research and how to successfully combine motherhood and the stressful life of a scientist. First Class Mother Scientist Researcher Profile: Maya Schuldiner, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot S ince 1986, EMBO’s Gold Medal has served to acknowledge the role that young independent team leaders play in building a strong research environ- ment. In 2017, Maya Schuldiner received the award for her significant insights into protein synthesis, trafficking and quali- ty control. Schuldiner’s research focusses on how systematic approaches in yeast can help solve fundamental questions about the cell biology of organelles in general. This is not the first high-profile recog- nition for this cheerful Israeli scientist. In 2014, she was chosen as one of the most promising biologists under the age of for- ty by academic publisher Cell on the occa- sion of their 40 th anniversary. Schuldiner is also a beneficiary of a European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator grant that sup- ports excellent young research groups. Early career Currently, Schuldiner is an associate professor at the Weizmann Institute of Sci- ence in Rehovot, Israel, at the Department of Molecular Genetics. Influenced by her academic parents, her professional path be- gan in the 1990s at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “I first wanted to study medi- cine but after several months abroad, spent with a biology book that my brother offered me, I said that’s it! I literally moved moun- tains at my University to get me into a biol- ogy course.” In her first year of undergrad, she joined the lab of Nissim Benvenisty at her alma mater to pursue a PhD in the genetics of early embryonic development. Maya de- scribes her PhD adviser as a person, who taught her everything about mentorship. She laughs talking about those days. “I was rather clumsy at the bench at the time but that was where I met my husband Oren. So, who says a PhD is a waste of time!” In 2003, after finishing her PhD, the two decided to go to the USA together and had to think thoroughly, which city would suit them both. This is a very common situ- ation for couples, where both partners are researchers and often one has to make com- promise by accepting a position, which per- haps is not the most attractive option, in or- der to remain close. The only way to go Fortunately, Maya and her husband both found satisfying postdoc positions at nearby universities, Oren at Stanford and Maya at the University of California, San Francisco. “Fifteen years ago, it was easier to find large concentrations of good labs in the USA. We knew that if we wanted to live and work in Israel in the long term that is the way to go. I’m happy to see, today, how European science has developed since and is not lagging behind anymore. There are numerous high quality labs across Europe- an countries,” reports Maya, who is current- ly on a sabbatical at the Technical Universi- ty of Munich (TUM), Germany, where she hopes to transfer her knowledge of protein function in yeast to a mammalian model. Maya also uses this “off-time” to think about the future of her lab, “Although one cannot predict the dynamics of a research group over a longer period of time, I’m now trying to plan where my whole lab is head- ing in the next ten years. I’m really trying to get a sense of what the next big questions are, to be solved in our field.” For her postdoctoral research, Maya’s curiosity grew beyond the borders of her initial field. “I felt at the time that I really wanted to dwell deeper in the mechanis- tic aspects of cell biology. How organelles function and interact with each other in or- der to support the whole cell,” Maya said, adding how she has always been a curious mind that likes to move to new questions and change fields once in a while. Schuldiner lab

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