December Research Spotlight on Maria Belen Cassera, Ph.D.

Maria Belen CasseraTell us about your current career position.
I am an assistant professor of Biochemistry at Virginia Tech and a member of the Virginia Tech Center for Drug Discovery. I am also an affiliated faculty member with the Basic Sciences Department at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and with Fralin Life Science Institute.

What are the key experiences and decisions you made that have helped you reach your current position?
Every step of training, from my undergraduate to postdoctoral training, was key to bringing me where I am today. As an undergraduate student, I decided to become involved in research very early in my career. My first publication (as first author) was under the supervision of Dr. Ana Gennaro and Dr. Ariel Silber. Then I decided to head to Brazil to pursue my doctoral degree at the Sao Paulo University in Sao Paulo, one of the most prestigious universities in South America. I had the pleasure of working Dr. Alejandro Katzin who introduced me to the world of metabolic pathway characterization which defines me as a researcher. Another key decision was to come to the USA for postdoctoral training with Dr. Vern Schramm at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. I must also mention that along my research path other people have made a big impact on my career choices. I try not to waste time optimizing the best decision because that is too idealistic for me, especially in these days where we have too many options. I always try to make decisions that move my career forward as fast as possible while always evaluating the outcome.

How did you first become interested in science?
I guess that I was born a scientist. I have been interested in investigating and discovering things for as long as I can remember.

Were there times when you failed at something you felt was critical to your path?  If so, how did you regroup and get back on track?
I always get something positive from even the worst moments in my life. That is what keeps me moving forward. In terms of my career, I would say that I have had difficult moments but I do not consider these moments to be failures.

What advice would you give to young persons from under-represented backgrounds who want to pursue a career in science similar to yours?
Believe in yourself and in what you can accomplish. The most import thing is to listen to others that may have gone down a similar path. One person will not have all the answers, so you may need to ask different people depending on the advice that you are looking for. It is very important to have clear goals. Once you define where you want to go, you can find your path because in science, “not all roads lead to Rome…”

What are your hobbies?
I love to dance, sing, and play the guitar…when I have time.

What was the last book you read?
The Shack by William Paul Young. It was just amazing.

Do you have any heroes, heroines, or role models? If so, describe how they have influenced you?
I have many. As a Catholic, I have a special devotion for the Divine Mercy and many saints are role models in my life as well as my family.

What is it that keeps you working hard and studying science every day?
My curiosity and love for science. I must say that I am a “science-aholic”.  I get amused with every single discovery and when I start something, I have to finish it and know the answer, even if it takes me years.

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