Young scientists from Brazil have joined the School of Medicine this semester as part of a new exchange program launched by Zygmunt Derewenda, PhD, and a colleague at the University of São Paulo, Luis Carlos de Souza Ferreira, PhD, the dean of the Institute of Biomedical Sciences.
Professor Derewenda previously launched a similar exchange program for students from Poland, to great success. Now he has formalized the program with the University of São Paulo for three years.
The first group of Brazilian researchers consists of Nayara Fernanda Barros dos Santos, who is working in the lab of Owen Pornillos, PhD, in the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics; Igor Rafael Correia Rocha, who works with Jaideep Kapur, MD, a neurologist and the director of the UVA Brain Institute; and Flavio da Silva Mesquita, who works with Marie-Louise Hammarskjold, MD, PhD, and David Rekosh, PhD, in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Cancer Biology. A fourth, Marcelo de Cassio Barreto de Oliveira, is scheduled to arrive in October to join the laboratory of Mark Yeager, PhD, in the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics.
Nayara kindly took some time to tell us what life is like now that she is at a new university in a new country.
What is your background?
I am a 27-years-old PhD student from Brazil and I have a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in biotechnology. And I am doing a part of my PhD here. In Brazil, I started my PhD activities working with vaccine development against bacteria, using proteins as antigens. Here, I am working with structural biology, molecular biology and biophysics, studying proteins involved in the process of HIV restriction and understanding the molecular mechanisms associated with this inhibitory activity, as well as the characteristics of the proteins involved in this process.
What made you want to come to UVA?
In Brazil, when I was undergraduate, I always was thinking about going to another country to study something, but I never thought it could be real. So, when I was doing my PhD, this wish was almost forgotten, but there was this opportunity because Professor Derewenda was talking to professor Luis Carlos, the dean of the institute where I developed my activities. They talked about the possibility of bringing some Brazilian students to here, because many Polish students already did this. That was when I applied for this.
My curriculum [vitae] was evaluated, sent to mu current supervisor, a PI [principal investigator], who was compatible. So, my skills, my abilities and experience at the lab were taken into account to know if it could be used on the job conducted by this professor. Therefore, and I was one of the students chosen to come to here. This was the process.
Who is your PI?
In fact, I have two PIs, Professor Owen Pornillos, and his wife, Professor Barbie Ganser-Pornillos, who both are wonderful people, with large experience and knowledge. My project is being conducted in a really great lab with an exceptional structure to work. I am very grateful for the opportunity to learn many new techniques which I hope will open new prospects when I come back to Brazil. So, this is why I am very thankful for this internship.
Have you been to America before?
No, this is my first experience abroad. Bureaucracy was terrible, because I didn’t know how to deal with this kind of thing. I needed to get my visa to come to here which was a long process. Then, the communication, the language. It was something really hard because when I arrived here, I had to speak just in English. So, it was like, “Oh, my God,” it was hard.
Had you taken English growing up? Is that part of the curriculum?
The subject of studies at my University in Brazil, Biotechnology, required me to learn English to be able to read many English papers. Actually, I did just two-and-a-half years of a formal English course. It was not a long time. I also took up online classes to improve my language skills.
Your English is very good for two-and-a-half years. Where did you grow up in Brazil?
I grew up in the State of Paraná, in the south of Brazil. I was born in a small city named Campo Largo. I have always studied in public school, but when I started my bachelor’s degree, I received a full scholarship in a private university, PUCPR, to study biotechnology. After this, I did my master’s in biotechnology at Carlos Chagas Institute, and I moved to São Paulo to do my PhD at the University of São Paulo.
How has the move to America been for you?
To move to here? There are two sides. First of all, it is hard, because I am away from my family and my friends and this part is difficult. But on the other side, it’s a big opportunity — not only related to the job, but also personally. You can grow when you learn how to understand other people and another culture. And hopefully my English will get better!
I think the worst part was related to bureaucracy, because the enrollment into the university is a multi-step process that require much involvement. And financial situation was a big issue too, because I needed to spend much money to come here.
Do you feel like you know your way around Charlottesville at this point?
Charlottesville is small and calm city and I was able to visit many places here. I went to Carter’s Mountain and it was a really great experience. I went to Sherando Lake too, a beautiful place to stay. So, there are many interesting places to visit. What is really difficult here is to travel without a car. What I understand is that in the USA, the cities are planned for people that have a car. So, for me, it’s hard to go to the supermarket, for example, because it is really far. I have a grocery store near me, but the prices are much more expensive.
And how do you like UVA?
This is a really big university. I was talking with my colleagues that here we see something totally different from Brazil, because the university seems to have been built first than the city itself. This characteristic helps the students to have contact with many distinct areas. One thing that I really love in here is related to recreation, because I can do many sports, what I really like, because it is also necessary to have time to take care of yourself. So here I can play tennis, volleyball, basketball and do many different activities. I really like UVA, because at this university, the opportunities are really wonderful.