Bioinformatics ESCI-UPF

Interview with Alberto Meseguer

“Being a great scientist requires creativity, hard work and self motivation”

  • 07/09/2021
  • 3 mins reading time
Alberto Meseguer interview
Photo: Alberto Meseguer

Alberto Meseguer is a new professor of the Bachelor’s Degree in Bioinformatics at ESCI-UPF. He will teach four subjects from the first and second year. He loves teaching and he is willing to be in contact with the students.

Alberto Meseguer studied Human Biology at UPF and for the last five years, he was preparing his PhD in Structural Bioinformatics lab at UPF, under the supervision of Professor Baldo Oliva. He has been focused on studying transcription factors by using structural information to predict their behavior (both their preferences binding DNA sequences as well as finding proteins that could interact with them).

1. You are part of the team of ESCI-UPF, what would you like to do in this new stage?

I like to teach. This is the main conclusion of my PhD. So, as long as I am in a class or talking to students I think I will be happy. Also, this is my first year providing tutorships to students and this looks like a very interesting challenge.

2. Which subjects are you going to teach at BDBI and in which context are they inserted?

I will teach Introduction to Bioinformatics, Biochemistry, Aspects of Physical and Organic Chemistry, and Structural Bioinformatics. The first three subjects are from the first year, the last one is from the second year.

In Introduction to bioinformatics, the objective is that students learn a general view of bioinformatics. They will see how scientists apply bioinformatics and how to solve biological problems with their computers in an autonomous way. This is relevant because during this degree students will have to solve biological problems with their computers in almost all subjects.

In Biochemistry we will cover fundamental aspects of how biomolecules work and how they get related to metabolic pathways. We will also use some bioinformatic tools (such as biomolecule structures and sequence alignments) to understand biomolecules in higher detail.

In Aspects of Physical and Organic Chemistry, the students will learn basic chemistry. This subject is similar to the chemistry done at high school. The objective of this subject is to consolidate the knowledge of chemistry that will be needed in future subjects like Biophysics or Structural Bioinformatics.

In Structural Bioinformatics we study the relationship between sequence, structure and function of proteins. Most of the subject is practical, in the sense that students are asked to work autonomously to solve biological problems using the tools we teach in the subject. I followed this subject as a student 7 years ago and it still is my favorite one.

3. How do you think Bioinformatics can be helpful to people?

Nowadays we live in a world where lots of data are generated in research and health institutions. In this sense, scientists need bioinformatics to process all the data they generate in order to obtain conclusions from their experiments or to create new tools. I also think that bioinformatics is also needed in other areas that are not strictly science: for example healthcare. Hospitals and public health institutions need bioinformatics to keep track of the data of all the patients they are handling. In this case, bioinformaticians use the knowledge and tools obtained by scientists in situations that can have a direct effect on our daily life.

4. What did you study and why did you choose it?

I studied Human Biology at UPF. I chose this degree because I had always been interested in biology and, during my teenage years, in biomedical research. Also, I wasn’t very interested in plant biology (big mistake, plants can be amazing!). During this degree I discovered the amazing power of bioinformatic tools, that is why I decided to study the master’s degree in Bioinformatics for Health Sciences at UPF. In both the degree and the master, I had Baldo Oliva as a teacher in the subject of Structural Bioinformatics. I found it super interesting and it was one of the reasons why I decided to do a PhD under his supervision.

5.  What do you like the most, research or teaching? Or maybe both are complementary?

Teaching, without a doubt. When teaching, you see results from the first day, while researching takes really long to generate rewards. Also, teaching is an activity that brings you closer to people, while research requires you to work alone in your own mind. So for me, that I am not very patient and that I like to be close to people, teaching is way better.

6. What do you like to highlight from your experience in a lab?

I had two experiences in a lab, one was an experimental biology group and the other was a bioinformatics lab. In both, I really liked the contact with more senior scientists because while listening to them you start to ask yourself better questions. Questions that are relevant to the scientific community and that are feasible to answer. Also, in both labs, I was accompanied by super nice people, both supervisors and co-workers, which I think is very important too.

7. Can you say 3 distinctive traits of a scientist? And why do you think they are important?

The first is being a hard worker. I think that it is impossible to be good at anything without hard work, but in science, this becomes even clearer. The second is having the capacity to self motivate yourself. Being a scientist is an unusual job: many times you are your own boss and rewards can be scarce. In such a situation, being able to keep yourself motivated to keep on working can be very hard. The two traits I have explained are, in my opinion, fundamental to survive in science, but they are not what makes science fun. For me, what makes science fun and what differentiates good from great scientists is creativity. Being able to think out of the box and to turn your weaknesses into your source of progress is something I really admire.

8. Rapid questions to Alberto Meseguer:

  • Potatoes omelette or paella: Potatoes omelette (with onion, of course).

  • Sea or mountain: Mountain.

  • Sweet or salty: Salty.

  • Pending trip: the Himalayas and New Zealand (yes, I want to recreate the trekking from The Lord of the Rings films).

  • Have you learned some new recipes during confinement?: Nope, sorry. Actually, I am a horrible cook.

  • Your hobby is: Playing the piano and dancing swing.

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