Prof. Tina Perica

Tina Perica

Assistant Professor for Biochemistry

 

«To do brave things, failing needs to be an option.»

2008 University of Zagreb, Croatia

2008 - 2013

University of Cambridge, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK

PhD in Life Sciences

Thema: Evolution and dynamics of protein complexes
2013 - 2021 Postdoc: University of California, San Francisco, USA
Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences
July 2021 Assistant Professor in Biochemistry at University of Zurich

Wissenschaftliche Arbeit versus andere Berufstätigkeit: Weshalb haben Sie sich für die Wissenschaft entschieden?

I do not come from an academic family, but I somehow knew from early on that I wanted to be a scientist. I remember, sometime in the nineties, seeing something on TV about the start of the human genome project, and telling my parents I will be a geneticist when I grow up. Also, and this is probably common for many biologists, the narrating voice of David Attenborough belongs to my most vivid childhood memories!

In school I loved biology, but also physics, and later in high school ancient Greek, and informatics. I loved that these subjects, each in their own way, shifted my way of thinking about the world around me: the physical world or the human language and logic. I feel like it is always easiest to learn things that we can relate to our personal experiences. But I would get most excited when school would reveal new concepts that went against my intuition, things like quantum mechanics or biological evolution. These new concepts felt far from effortless, but I enjoyed them even though they were difficult. Now, many years later, my study of biology is a perfect mix of fun and difficult.

Was gefällt Ihnen an Ihrer Arbeit und was ist das Besondere dabei?

In every aspect of life there is some degree of disproportion between success and true value. Our world values confidence, moving fast, making money, fame and prestige. Academic science is unfortunately not immune to that, but I feel like there is still plenty of idealism in most scientists. We try to survive in the real world, but most of the time, if you sit down with a scientist, you will see most of us are in this because we want to understand nature better. Maybe I am too naïve, but I believe that academic science still provides a small niche that allows for deep and free thinking.

Gab es in Ihrer Karriere besonders prägende Durststrecken oder Misserfolge? Wie überwanden Sie diese?

Academic career in life sciences is not easy sailing for most of us. And I am not just talking about the emotional devastation of failed experiments, and the projects often moving at snail’s pace. Those certainly cause acute episodes of misery, but in the larger context of the world, those pains are almost a privilege.

For me the hardest part of my career was finishing my postdoctoral work and looking for a professor position. The biology fields are developing rapidly, and the everyday job is very fun. For that reason a lot of smart people come into research every year, which creates a lot of competition for positions, papers, and funding. There is so much talent around, and so many things we still need to discover, but the cake of academic positions and funding is neither large enough, nor it is distributed fairly.

Welche Person / welche Institution hat Sie in Ihrem beruflichen Umfeld am stärksten unterstützt? 

There were so many people on the way, and each of them played a crucial role at a different point of my scientific development. My undergraduate professors Vlahoviček and Lenhard, who explicitly told me that I am talented for research. Ivan Đikic, who accepted me as an undergraduate into his lab, and his former students Magda Bienko and Nicola Crosetto who mentored me and encouraged me to pursue a PhD.

My PhD supervisor Sarah Teichmann who believed in me, allowed me to develop freely as a scientist, and is still genuinely happy about my progress. Sarah’s kindness and brilliance shaped me into a scientist I am today.

My unofficial mentors Cyrus Chothia, Jane Clarke, and Janet Thornton who often cheered me on.

My postdoc supervisor Tanja Kortemme, who kept supporting me while I was developing my scientific direction and kept encouraging me to stop worrying and just keep enjoying what I do and be true to myself as a scientist.

Hatten Sie (besondere weibliche) Vorbilder, die Ihren Werdegang beeinflusst haben? Welche?

You can notice that the list of my mentors above has many strong women and that is no coincidence. I often actively sought them out and I learned so much from each of them. But the most important lesson I learned is that there are many ways to be a strong woman, and many ways to be a good scientist.

Welche Massnahmen ergreifen Sie als Professorin, um den wissenschaftlichen Nachwuchs (insbesondere Frauen) an Ihrem Institut zu fördern?

I started a month ago, so I do not have anything to report yet. But I am committed to using my position to provide opportunities for women and, in general, people from diverse socio-economic backgrounds. Talent is equally distributed, but opportunities are not!

Welche Tipps geben Sie einer Jungforscherin auf den Weg, die eine akademische Karriere ins Auge fasst?

There is no recipe for being the woman scientist. Some of us are introverts, some extroverts. Some of us lack confidence and are haunted by constant self-doubt, but many women are not. Some of us are wives, and/or mothers, some of us are not. There are no rules, as long as you do good work. My advice is therefore, to always be true to yourself, do the work you want. Have a family if you want to, and do it whenever it feels right for you. Take advice, but in the end, do your own thing.

That being said, have a backup plan. To do brave things, failing needs to be an option.

Ist es aus Ihrer Sicht eine Herausforderung die Balance zwischen Forschung/der praktischen Arbeit in der Klink und der Familie/dem Privatleben zu halten? Wie gehen Sie damit um?

I never really worried about work/life balance, until I became a mother. Both motherhood and research seem like 24/7 jobs and it is hard to get rid of constant guilt that I am simultaneously failing my science and my family. I still sometimes have a strong urge to, like a female pseudoscorpion, simply pour out all my life juices for my daughter, but I comfort myself by thinking that is not what she would want for me.