«In science we are always in line because we cannot see the return»

Tatiana Gallego Flores lives in San Sebastián, just over 700 kilometers from her native Don Benito, although in reality it is the closest she has been since she finished her degree in Biology at the University of Badajoz. That was about 15 years ago and since then she adopted a nomadic life, for her, something natural in the life of a scientist. It is not her to achieve the publication of research in Science, the most influential scientific journal in the world. She has achieved it by being the icing on the cake, but not the end point, of a globe-trotting career.

It is true that as soon as he finished his degree, he returned to Don Benito to work at the Alsat factory, but he soon assumed that science would not open many doors for him in Extremadura. It was a friend of his who motivated him to put his first pin on the world ball, in Houston. There, a position as a laboratory technician awaited him and he did not hesitate to pack his bags without barely mastering the English that he had little trouble learning. Molecular biology thus came into his professional life and he would live in the United States for the next six years. Two before crossing the pond again, he met his partner there, the next to motivate a change of scenery with his move to Germany. She asked him if she wanted to go with him; he answered yes.

Science, and love, would then make him make his first stop in San Sebastián as a preliminary step to Germany. At that time, he also worked as a technician in a laboratory in Bilbao that, finally, would make him find a way out to Germany. It was at the Max Planck in Frankfurt, the laboratory where he began a doctorate that had eluded him. «I had always been running away from doing a doctorate because doing it right after finishing my degree seemed to me like it was a step that people took just because, out of inertia. “I wanted to know if science was my life, which in the end was like that,” argues Tatiana, who is now finishing this pending task in San Sebastián. And the nomadic life is almost always at odds with the arrival of a new member to the family. «Three years ago I had my daughter and life in a foreign country, without family, is sometimes quite hard. “We decided it was time to come back,” she says about this decision. Now he only has to write the thesis and this circle will be closed by completing the postdoctorate in the same Leioa laboratory that he was in when he came to live in San Sebastián. Meanwhile, he also juggles the so-called family conciliation, “I don’t want to take time away from being with my daughter.” She is, without a doubt, the most earthly part of him far from science, his daughter Lur, which means earth in Basque.

Tatiana is, in short, a globetrotter who biology and life have taken from one place to another. «She has been different in each country, but always working in molecular genetics research, I have never thought about working in academia, nor in pharmaceuticals; “It has been a very enriching career, and I have gone in crescendo.”

Woman and science

But biology and life also leave lights and shadows, since the happiness of publishing in Science coincided for her with an abortion. “Having to prolong so much in the end takes its toll on you,” she says about what for her is key in the role of women in science. “You almost always have to decide between starting a family and having a career in the world of science,” says Tatiana, who believes this is motivated by the high level of competition that exists. “Many times you have to consider even postponing having children until that you don’t finish a doctorate or start the ‘postdoc’ and that makes you settle for having a child, because when you want to have the second you realize that you can’t or you have abortions.

He thus justifies that “man has it easier, biologically it is like that.” The woman, she says, is forced to stop “because your body is not the same, I, for example, was not able to think the same as when I was not pregnant; hormonally, the brain changes and, in fact, we even lose gray mass. She knows what she says, because the brain is her work table and what is published in Science is her basis. “It has always been thought that there were more conserved parts of the brain and other newer ones,” he begins by explaining his study, “thanks to the single cell technique, which is taking single cells, we have seen that there are actually areas that They seemed very conserved and that they have cells that are conserved, but others that are totally new. “It is more of a ‘mixture’ of cell types than parts that have been conserved or parts that are new.” It is, she adds, “about understanding the brain through knowing its history.”

Science in Spain

However, he believes that human beings are still very far from knowing how the brain works, “it is very difficult to study and it is always done with very small parts.” Unfortunately, it does not seem that future advances can come from Extremadura. “Science here is not non-existent, because there are people who work and fight for it, but it could be managed better and provide more opportunities,” he demands, aware that science “many times does not provide money in the short term and if it does not “You see short-term revenue, it is not usually invested as much as in the tourism or agricultural sector, which are very necessary and are more exploited in the region.” For this reason, he assures, most of his classmates in Biology have ended up working far from science or far from Spain.

At the national level the situation is not more optimistic. «We always go to the queue because we don’t see the profit. There are excellent people who cannot squeeze out that excellence, they have to give up family and friends,” he says. For Tatiana, artificial intelligence is the future, “but without basic science it would not be possible.”

She was one of those who once renounced the closeness of family and friends, years later she finds another reward when she sees part of that sacrifice reflected in Science magazine, something that will continue to be a utopia for countless scientists. Tatiana already has the framed cover, a gift from her partner; and remembers that her mother did know how to invest in science: “She always tells me: ‘I couldn’t buy you a Mercedes, but I gave you a race and here you can see the result’, she does know how to see the long-term result.” ».

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