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A Homeward Bound Scientist: Setting Up a Stem Cell Research Lab in Seville

Posted by , on 29 November 2023

Hello, my name is Elena Camacho-Aguilar, and I am excited to be contributing to the “New PI Diaries” section on The Node. As you might have already deduced, I am a new PI. A few weeks ago, on November 9th, I joined the Andalusian Center for Developmental Biology (CABD for short) in Seville as a María de Maeztu Junior PI. My lab will leverage stem cell research, mathematics, and computational methods to study early embryonic development. We are interested in uncovering mechanisms by which cells interact and interpret dynamic signaling to transition into different cell types and create spatial patterns, with a focus on embryonic-extraembryonic interactions. If this sounds like something you might be interested in, don’t hesitate to contact me, as we are looking for motivated scientists to join our team! In particular, we are actively looking for a lab technician/research assistant. Our website is still in the making, but I hope to be able to share it soon! In the meantime, feel free to follow me on X for more regular updates.

Immunostainings of in vitro cultured human pluripotent stem cells under different experimental conditions.

Not going to lie, these past months have been a bit of a rollercoaster. I feel like I started to blink last April, when I accepted my new position, and when I opened my eyes, it was already November. During these past seven seconds months, I had to get ready to finish my postdoctoral position at Rice University and start as a new PI at the CABD. Among other things, I had to finish manuscript revisions, finish some experiments, submit a grant, learn a new experimental technique, put all my data and code together in a way someone else can find it and use it, start MTAs to transfer cells across the Atlantic, contact vendors to set up my new lab, as well as get married and prepare for an international move1. Luckily, it all happened quite smoothly, and I can say I’m safe and sound in Seville.

Meme showing a person blinking the eyes. Before blinking it's April 2023, after blinking it's already November 2023

Figuring out what to say in this blog post allowed me to reflect on the peculiar aspects of this transition that I had not realized. First, after 10 years abroad, I am very lucky to be coming back to my hometown, where I left as a newly graduated college student. Secondly, while I left as a newly graduated pure mathematician, I am coming back to set up a quantitative stem cell research lab. What I mean is that, while I am coming back to a familiar city and culture, there are many things that I still need to adapt to and figure out. I am back to the same geographical point but under a very different condition. However, I am very lucky that my past mentor and new colleagues are helping a lot in making this transition easier; they have been incredibly welcoming and supportive of me. In the following months, I will have to finish ordering materials, receive our cells (wish me luck at border control), interview candidates for our technician position, and start doing experiments. I can’t wait to see how the lab develops and do our first experiment in Seville! Will keep you posted!

1 I also completed the SDB New Faculty Bootcamp, which I totally recommend if you feel a bit anxious about the different aspects of becoming a new PI. I learned many things from project management, managing your budget, grant writing, mentoring, etc., and the virtual meetings were a lot of fun.

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