by Ideja Bajra
Dr. Stefan Taubert is an Associate Professor, scientist (Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics), and Investigator (BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute). He obtained his PhD from the University of Fribourg ans has been a PI since 2009.
1) Thank you for agreeing to this interview Dr. Taubert. Could you explain a bit about your pathway into Genetics?
During my PhD I studied gene regulation, using mostly molecular biology and biochemistry techniques. It became clear to me that, to best understand the function of genes in the live animal context, a genetics based approach would be ideal, especially in combination with powerful small animal model organisms such as the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans. So that’s the path I took as a postdoc, and, truly, I have never looked back; rather, I’ve added mouse and cancer cell lines to my portfolio. I’ve come to love genetics and genomics, and think that there is no time that genetics has been more powerful and exciting than today!
2) What would you describe as a typical day in the life of your job?
There isn’t really a typical day, but there is perhaps a typical week. My favourite hours are my weekly one-on-one and whole-team meetings, when I spend dedicated time with my postdocs, technicians, graduate students, and undergraduate students to discuss their (our) research and data – so fun! I also routinely spend several hours every week peer-reviewing manuscripts or grants, tough but interesting. Flip side of that: hours spent writing grants and papers – this is really seasonal but can take up the whole week when deadlines loom. Naturally, lots of time is spent in emails and meetings on organization, from scheduling meetings and setting up collaborations to ordering lab supplies and doing the bills – elementary but necessary items. Mentoring (reading student theses and proposals, presentations) also takes a substantial amount of time, as does teaching – although I’ve taught and coordinated my classes 10+ years, I spend time updating them every year. The rest of time is spent in casual conversation in my team and with colleagues, reading papers (never enough times – 31 in my “to read” folder right now), or listening to seminars and workshops.
3) What type of research are you doing in your lab?
Our lab is interested in how cells, tissues, and whole animals respond to various types of stress. In particular, we study how transcriptional regulators adapt genome transcription in response to nutritional cues and various types of stress. These metabolic and stress response pathways are of great biomedical relevance. For example, transcriptional activation of stress response programs helps cancers to grow in hostile microenvironments featuring oxidative stress, starvation, and hypoxia; vice versa, these pathways represent promising pharmacological targets to attack the cancer. You can read more on our website: https://taubertlab.weebly.com
4) What are the positives to your career?
I love research, especially basic research, i.e. that which is driven by curiosity on how things work rather than with the goal to cure a disease. Consider, what we know about coronaviruses and bats is mostly from virology and ecology research that was deemed somewhat “obscure” for years. Our basic research won’t lead to a new cancer drug in 3 years, but we think we’re discovering important basic biological principles, and learn more about important genes and pathways. Ultimately I believe that all genes are important – we’re just not always looking in the right context yet.
My team and colleagues are also huge positives – some of the smartest people I have ever met. Researchers in academia by default are not money driven, so most folks are here for similar reasons as I am.
I absolutely love the collaborative spirit in research and especially in the Caenorhabditis elegans community, which features a truly famous collegiality! I have made some of my best friends in my life in labs, or at meetings in this field.
Lastly, the cosmopolitan nature of life sciences research, while challenging for financial and family reasons, is something you can tremendously benefit from. I’ve lived in Basel, Lausanne, San Francisco, and Vancouver – I mean, wow. Awesome cities, beautiful places, and lots of interesting and different people. Who wouldn’t want this?
5) Is there anything you would change if you could?
Three areas we need to work on changing: 1. As a community, scientists still have their work cut out in communicating to the broad public, and in some places to the concerned government agencies, that science and data driven policy and government really IS the way to go. 2. We have to continue to improve our efforts to incorporate underprivileged and underrepresented individuals into science. This will take money, time, and dedicated structural efforts. 3. We have to convince government and their funding agencies to increase research spending, especially basic research spending. Reactive spending, as as billions splurged on COVID-19, are useful, but never as effective as a sarong diverse, broad, and ground-up built research community.