Joaquim Contradanças, MSc
Despite a great passion for Zoology, Biological Engineering was my first choice to keep open as many career opportunities as possible. I tried to make the bridge with research on Biology by exploring distinct topics and getting a hands-on sense of the daily lab work during my summer holidays.
Never missing an opportunity, I worked with E. coli at IGC in a project on synonymous mutations; explored the effects of a viral infection on the aggressiveness of male fruit flies at the University of Edinburgh; tested different CRISPR-Cas9 systems as potential therapeutics for Friedreich’s ataxia, in the Massachusetts Hospital, in Boston. For my Master thesis, I went to an Evolutionary Developmental Biology lab at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, in Heidelberg, to study a brain region of the marine annelid Platynereis dumerilii. Overall, I got to know the real life of a scientist and learnt how important it is to simultaneously enjoy the theory and the empirical work of a project.
For my PhD, I chose to explore animal behaviour, embracing the exciting and very interdisciplinary field of Neuroscience. I got in the International Neuroscience Doctoral Programme at the Champalimaud Foundation, supported by an FCT fellowship and, since 2020, by a Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds PhD fellowship. I currently am using larval zebrafish to study the neural mechanisms of operant conditioning, a behaviour through which animals learn to perform the actions that provide the most rewarding outcomes. I am paying particular attention to two neuronal pathways of the striatum that are key for this behaviour.
Altogether, I have learnt to persevere and to never let go a good opportunity. As well, I found that there is not a single path to follow to achieve our dream work. Our specific backgrounds should not be a problem, but actually an asset in such a multidisciplinary world.