Monday, January 12, 2009
“Being a scientist is like playing football: when you work you play, and this keeps you motivated”
This is an interview to Jordi Mestres, a scientist working at the GRIB, a mixed unit of the IMIM and the UPF focused in bioinformatics and located at the PRBB. This interview appeared in the first edition of the El·lipse newspaper, which I am in charge of publishing every month.
Dr. Jordi Mestres is from Girona, has lived in the United States, the Netherlands and Scotland, and three years ago he came to work at the PRBB as the head of the chemogenomics group at the GRIB. A year ago, he created the spin-off company Chemotargets, which develops new tools to identify active molecules for therapeutic targets. Jordi Mestres tells us how he arrived where he is.
When did you start being interested in science?
At high school. I also liked History, but I saw I could not change it…
You then decided to study Chemistry: why?
In chemistry not everything was established; and I could study it in my home town…
And you got in touch with the pharmaceutical industry….
During my PhD I did a 3-month stage at a company in Michigan. I thought it was interesting, because I had to develop new methodologies and what I was doing had practical applications.
You have worked in pharmaceutical companies for 7 years, then came back to academia. What are the main differences between both worlds?
In general, the best from the academic world is the environment that favours the generation of new ideas and the establishment of all type of collaborations. The best in industry is that projects are therapeutically very interesting and that you have access to great amounts of data and very generous budgets.
What made you come back and start a research group?
In Edinburgh we had our first daughter, Fiona, and soon pressure from the grandparents to have her close by was stronger than our desire to stay there…And work is not everything in life, neither is money! Here, despite a huge salary reduction, quality of life is very good: there’s sun everyday, the sea next by, and the grandparents who can take care of the children, and money cannot pay that! But we would consider leaving again, if circumstances changed.
What has been the most satisfactory moment of your career?
Perhaps the recognition, in 2000, of being the inventor of a series of molecules therapeutically useful, the first of the four patents I have. Lately, the concession of the Corwin Hansch Award in 2006 by the QSAR and Molecular Modelling international society.
Science: collaboration or competition?
Science in its pure state is honest collaboration, and this is when it is most enjoyable. But it is true that there is a lot of pressure to publish and to compete. In our case, however, it is very important to collaborate: what would we do with a perfect drug design without someone who can synthesize it and test it? Also, at the PRBB we have the luxury of being amongst 1000 people, many of them with a potential therapeutic target…
What is important to do research?
Curiosity, scepticism and good humour!
What would you be if you were not a scientist?
A musician, most likely. When I was a child I used to sing at the Escolania de Montserrat, where I studied piano and violin. But in harmony lessons at the Conservatory of Girona I used to do chemical reactions, and even though I have never left music, one day I had to choose. But I have never doubted my choice: I love my job.