#72 Małgorzata Anna Gazda

This week’s PhDetails #72 is with Małgorzata Anna Gazda (nickname Gosia) who does her PhD at Universidade do Porto. Gosia’s main research interests focus on using population genetics and genomics to identify genes underlying traits as well as applying genetics and molecular methods to answer questions of general interest in evolutionary biology. She is also also keen on tropical biology and ecology and her current PhD project is aimed at understanding of the genomic basis and architecture of singing behavior in canary birds by integrating population genetics, genomics, and linkage mapping approaches.

Prior to her ongoing PhD studies, Gosia graduated from the Jagiellonian University in Cracow, Poland with a MSc thesis about heterozygosity-fitness correlations, supervised by Aleksandra Biedrzycka and Jacek Radwan. Afterwards she gained experience working 2 years in the Museum and Institute of Zoology PAN, Warsaw, Poland and Technical University of Munchen, Germany as a research assistant. Gosia worked in the molecular laboratory, developed set of microsatellites and sexing markers for birds. She also has extended fieldwork experience including tropical biology courses (Venezuela and Madagascar), followed 4 months ornithological field work in New Caledonia. You can find Gosia on Twitter @GazdaMalgorzata.

Well let’s start off talking about completely unscientific stuff: What is your favourite band/musical artist pre 1980?
One of the very special artists for me is Jacek Kaczmarski, whose poetic music was full of historical illusive allusions to Polish history and current situation. I really like combination of poetry and music. Very special song: „Epitafium dla Włodzimierza Wysockiego“.

Favourite band/musical artist post 1980?
I really like Polish Artist Antonina Krzyszton (I know difficult name), mixing poetry and music from around the world (listen to “Inny świat (different world)” based on traditional Malagasy melody.

Favourite movie?
I love cinema, so I have many favorite movies, but one very special for me is „ Summer Fall Winter Spring” by Korean director Kim Ki Duk. 

Do you listen to podcasts? 
Rarely but I do. I was even interviewed at one; if you are intrested in PhDs and science and I would highly recommend it! https://soundcloud.com/phdrinking/drinking-disequilibrium. Sadie is doing a great job as a podcast host; you might be interested being interviewed yourself!

Where do you study and who is/are your supervisor(s)?
I am a PhD student at CIBIO, University of Porto and supervised by Miguel Carneiro.

What year of your PhD are you in?
Forth, just about to finish.

Who’s giving you the money – and for how long?
I am paid by Portuguese foundation of science (FCT), last 4 years, regular time of PhD in Portugal.

Do you have any publications?
From my PhD I have currently 3 published papers and one preprint in following journals: MBE, PNAS and Proceedings B.

1. Toomey, M.B., Marques, C., Andrade, P., Araújo, P.M., Sabatino, S., Gazda, M.A., Afonso, S., Lopies, R.J., Corbo, J.C., and Carneiro, M. (2018) “A non-coding region near Follistatin controls head color polymorphisms in Gouldian finch.” Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci., 285(1888):20181788.
2. Gazda MA, Andrade P, Afonso S, Dilyte J, Archer JP, Lopes RJ, Faria R, Carneiro M. 2018: Signatures of selection on standing genetic variation underlie athletic and navigational performance in racing pigeons. Molecular Biology and Evolution 35(5),1176-1189.
3. Toomey MB, Lopes RJ, Araujo PM, Johnson JD, Gazda MA, Afonso S, Mota PG, Koch RE, Hill GE, Corbo JC, Carneiro M. 2017: High-density lipoprotein receptor SCARB1 is required for carotenoid coloration in birds. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 114(20): 5219-5224.
Gazda MA, Toomey MB, Araujo PM, Lopes RJ, Afonso S, Myeres CA, Serres K, Kiser PD, Hill GE, Corbo JC, Carneiro M. Genetic Basis Of De Novo Appearance Of Carotenoid Ornamentation In Bare-Parts Of Canaries (preprint)

Did you do a masters – where was it and was it about?
Yes, in Poland most people do Master after Bachelor. I studied general biology at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. For my thesis, I did a project focused on heterozygosity-fitness correlations in sedge warbler in Institute of Nature Conservation, Polish Academy of Sciences.

Do you do fieldwork? What is the best fieldwork you have ever done and what made it great?
Yes, I did. I am one of rare cases of people who like both computational work and fieldwork. When I was in high-school I did plenty of bird ringing camps, a great opportunity to get close to birds and get familiar with some research. I also went to New Caledonia to look for gerygone (one of the smallest passerine birds there) to collect bloods samples in the co-evolutionary arm-race project. 
The best field-work? Recently (yes, on my fourth year of PhD I joined other group that I am involved in some projects, and I went with them to south of Portugal to take samples of grapevine. It was very physically demanding (as fieldwork quite often is) but due to great teamwork was great fun! 

How many PhDs did you apply for – what were you looking for?
I have to check, but many. I wanted a great project, with good scholarship with nice model in beautiful place, therefore projects I applied for were very competitive. After my Master’s I did two years as research assistant, I think it was very helpful before starting my PhD. In the end I ended up getting to positions same time so it was very hard choice. Wasn’t easy to say “no” to the project in Marie Curie Framework but I did. And I don’t regret at all!

What is the most bodged piece of equipment you have had to use during field/labwork – did it work?
I had to use some old equipment in the lab, didn’t appreciate it too much, it worked but it was too much unnecessary manual work.

What one piece of advice would you give to a masters student applying to PhDs now?
Take your time, think what you really want, apply for many positions and before accepting one talk with students in that lab. In addition, I think it is great idea to do some internship or research assistant job before going for PhD.

How often do you meet with your supervisor?
I used to sit in his office, so we talked very often, sometimes everyday, sometimes every week, and sometimes less often when me or him were away. I can always talk with him when I need.

What supervisor traits are important to you?
For me it is very important that supervisor gives me freedom and space for my initiatives, ideas. I appreciate good feedback and advice but I like taking decision myself.

What do you think are the worst supervisor traits?
Supervisor who is not really a supervisor, without any will to spend some time and effort with the student. I also don’t like over controlling bosses, I need my space in my project.

In one sentence what is your PhD about?
My PhD is focused at finding genetic basis of traits with high importance for avian evolution.

What has been your academic highlight of the last year?
I just submitted my first “real” proposal, it is Marie Curie Individual Fellowship proposal, let’s see. I also had my first conference talk at ESEB this year.

Have you had an academic lowpoint of the last year – if so what happened?
Of course, many of small lowpoints that can be fixed quickly. The most painful one was that mine and my colleague’s parcels were switched, so my samples ended up in Cambridge, UK instead of California, United States. It took me a while to eventually get them to right place. 

Who has been your academic role model/inspiration and why?
I think from early years my Mum was my inspiration since I went to University (as one of the youngest visitors of course) earlier than I went to preschool, We have even my famous family quotation “I have finished University, now I only have to go to preschool”.

Which academic idol/scientist have you met?
I had a great pleasure to attend Rasmus Nielsen’s plenary talk at ESEB and talk with him personally too, his is one of my favourite academics.

Which academic idol/scientist would you most like to meet?
I would love to meet Jane Goodall, especially that I am very concerned about sustainable lifestyle and I love Africa.

Do you have a favourite paper?
I like many papers. Favourite one hard to say. I really like “Genetic Basis for Red Coloration in Birds” in Current biology by my supervisor. Too bad, I arrived too late to the lab to have a chance to become an author. It was a big deal, the paper got lots of press attention, and I believe it had a great impact on science popularisation, besides of course academic impact.

What has been your favourite conference so far – why?
I loved ESEB this year. Not only because I had a talk there ;). The scientific content was excellent, it was very well organized, I liked idea of streaming, the food was amazing (lots of vegetarian and vegan food), basically no paper or plastic wasted produced. Moreover, the atmosphere was great, very friendly, welcoming.

What hours do you typically work?
Office hours 9:30-18. Plus if needed afterwards, depending on situation.

How do you avoid procrastinating?
Turn off disturbing websites, software and email boxes (and your phone) and focus. Not easy at all!

What motivates you in your day to day PhD life?
My personal development and observing progress of my work and project motivates me a lot! 

What do you do when you’re not working – how do you balance it with your PhD?
I used to dive a lot (now due to last PhD year had to stop this activity), I usually try to go for at least one hike per month. Additionally, I am a tango argentine dancer, so I spent plenty of time on classes, workshops and dancing at milongas (tango dancing parties). I also love travelling, so going somewhere for the trip is important for me.

If a genie could grant you one wish to help with your PhD what would you wish for?
I would love to have unlimited free sequencing that I could do any project I would like to.

What would be your dream job?
Full-time professorship at the university (not sure which country) with own lab focused on marine genomics.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
In 5 years I hope to finish my first or second postdoc and start applying for tenure jobs.

One word to sum up your future in academia:

What do you want to achieve outside of academia in the coming year?
I need to develop my personal website; it is actually related to academia. Completely outside of work, I would like to come back to my GUE training (never had time to repeat exam after my Fundamentals Course) and come back to diving, hopefully with some scientific focus too (yeah, can’t get too far away from science). Not sure if this year my big dream is to climb Kilimanjaro.

What essential tool hardware/software could you not do your PhD without?
ANGSD, it is my favourite tool, which I use very frequently.

Where is somewhere you would like to work in the future?
Do you mean the country or type of place? Regarding country, I am not sure, I like moving a lot and exploring new countries, regarding place I hope to work at the University.

Do you have a favourite organism?
I am big fun of canaries, one of my PhD model organisms, they are really cute, have many amazing phenotypic variation: different colours (white, yellow, red, brownish), body shapes, singing breeds (harz, mali, timbrado) and many others.

Are there any social interactions/meetings which have enhanced your PhD experience?
My group didn’t have one, although I tried to establish one, but it is challenging to put all people together in one time and one place. I also joined other PI journal club and that was a great experience during my PhD. If you are a student look for a journal club, even if it is not offered by your PI.

If you could change one thing about your group/department structure what would it be?
There are many things I would like to change in my institute, the one which sounds silly but in reality is a serious one due to space constrains, I wish each student had own desk and chair during studies.

What major question in your subject area is yet to be addressed – why is it important and why isn’t anyone addressing it? 
One of my favourite questions is the source and forces that created amazing phenotypic variety eg. across birds, we are slowly starting to understand evolutionary mechanisms underlying diversification but we are still far away proper understanding.