From Brazil with love (of science)


Karina Bora de Oliveira

About this time last year, we began selection efforts for 30 Brazilian postdoctoral fellows—part of a joint initiative between Brazil’s Science Without Borders program and MedImmune. The first wave of these scientists arrived to our labs a few months ago, and we’re excited about having them here in Gaithersburg and in the United Kingdom, where they’ll work with us for a period of two years.

We sat down with one of the fellows, Karina Bora de Oliveira, who earned her PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences at the Federal University of Paraná in Southern Brazil. Karina is working at our Gaithersburg site in the Cell Culture and Fermentation department, where her focus is primarily on the glycosylation network of biomolecules. Here, Karina talks about why this opportunity is important, what her experience has been so far and what she hopes to gain from the fellowship.

Welcome to the United States and MedImmune, Karina. Can you talk to us about how you learned about this program and what it means for you?

Thank you very much. I’ve actually lived in the United States before. I did one year of my PhD at the University of Minnesota, which is where I had that first exposure to the Science Without Borders program. Before this, I’d never thought about the idea of studying outside of Brazil. But, this was an amazing professional and personal experience. I could face different academic realities, with different budgets, and that offered great perspective on the scientific connection between academia and industry. This is a challenge for the Brazilian scientific community. That type of collaboration does not often happen within Brazil. So, that perspective led me to seek out an even greater scientific experience within industry overseas, which ultimately led me to MedImmune.

Why is industry experience so important to you as a postdoctoral fellow?

For Brazilian PhD scientists, industry employment exists, for sure. In fact, after graduating I worked as a scientist in a multinational pharmaceutical company in Brazil in its Analytical Chemistry department. This was excellent private sector exposure for me, yet it was not close enough to the scientific research that I so loved and wanted to be doing. Most of the multinational pharmaceutical companies operating in Brazil don’t invest much in scientific basic research, which means that state-of-the-art laboratories are mostly located in the United States, Europe or Asia. Because of this, many of the PhDs in Brazil stay at the universities and don’t have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the pharmaceutical industry research environment. Given this reality, you can understand how significant this opportunity at MedImmune is for my career. I have the chance to work closely with top researchers, acquire scientific training and knowledge from industry experts, and help advance MedImmune’s scientific objectives.

Since you arrived at MedImmune, what have your impressions been? What’s been most valuable about this experience so far?

Well, this is undeniably one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had. It’s very exciting and gratifying to be surrounded by people and other scientists who are equally passionate about their work in the lab and who every day are exploring so many possibilities. When we are in meetings, we are not just discussing budgets and administrative issues; we are going deep into the science. It’s what drives everything here. Also, here, to have access to the best resources and the best conditions to do reliable science is unimaginable; this is so vital and important to me and to all scientists. It is for sure a challenging environment that provides an excellent opportunity for me to use my skills to contribute to the development of human therapeutics.

What do you think is unique about what you bring to MedImmune and how will all of this play into your future?

I think for me and most of my Brazilian postdoctoral colleagues, the resource-scarce environment in which we usually have to conduct research in Brazilian universities makes doing science harder. This, in turn, makes us more creative. We are very good at doing more with less and optimizing our resources, and very appreciative of what we do have. For me, more personally and for my future, I can clearly see myself continuing to work in the scientific field within the pharmaceutical industry, and these next two years will be very important toward fulfilling that goal. I think what’s really great is that my career is becoming quite well-rounded: I’ve got both the academic and industry experience, and now I’m getting even more of the private sector but with the deep, deep science that truly energizes and inspires me.

The Science Without Borders (Ciência sem Fronteiras) program seeks to promote the consolidation and expansion of science, technology and innovation through exchange and international mobility. The initiative is supported by joint efforts of Brazil's Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI) and the Ministry of Education (MEC) through their respective funding agencies, the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) and the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (CAPES). MedImmune, the biologics arm of AstraZeneca, has committed to fill up to 30 positions (fellowships of two years in length) at its research centers in Gaithersburg, Maryland (metropolitan area of Washington, DC, in the United States), and Cambridge (metropolitan area of London in the United Kingdom).

The postdoctoral fellowships cover a variety of therapeutic areas: oncology, respiratory, inflammatory, autoimmune, cardiovascular, metabolic diseases, infectious diseases and vaccines, translational science, antibody discovery and protein engineering, biopharmaceutical development and biosuperiors.

To begin the initial screening process, interested candidates should first send an e-mail to attaching a resume and cover letter (please specify projects and/or therapeutic areas of interest—one or more) in English.

For any questions, please contact