Interview with Mafalda A. Farelo

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Mafalda A. Farelo

PhD Candidate (Cellular and Molecular Biology), Science communicator on Instagram and Press & Social Media officer for PARSUK (Portuguese Association of Researchers and Students in the UK)

Instagram: @thelabnotebook, Twitter: @MafaldaFarelo, Website: mafaldafarelo.com

Tell us about yourself

My name is Mafalda, I am a PhD student in Cellular and Molecular Biology. Although I currently live in England, I am originally from Portugal. I did my undergrad and MSc there and left in 2016 to pursue a PhD. I will soon finish the doctorate and most likely look for a job outside academia, in something like science communication or science policy.

I am passionate about learning and therefore traveling is one of my favourite things to do. I love being able to experience other cultures and see the world through a different perspective.

What is your PhD about?

I am a PhD student at the University of Surrey, UK. My project focuses on how a family of viruses (of which Dengue and Zika viruses are part of) is able to escape our cell’s anti-viral response. Once viruses enter the cells, our cells have mechanisms that identify the viruses and trigger a response against them. But, some viruses evolved to be able to escape this anti-viral response, making it difficult for the cells to defend themselves.

My studies are focused in only one of the 10 proteins of these viruses. This viral protein hijacks a cellular protein, which is responsible for the transportation of other proteins. I study the effects that this viral protein has in the normal transportation of cellular proteins to organelles, and how it affects the anti-viral response. If I can understand how these viruses do this, I may be able to find a way to target the viral protein and give the strength back to our cells, so they can fight the viruses.

What is your side hustle?

I communicate science using Instagram at @thelabnotebook. I use this platform to explain complex concepts and scientific methods, debunk science myths and pseudoscience, share my experience in academia and advocate for science-based policies. Following this project, I was given the chance to be part of the executive committee of PARSUK (Portuguese Association of Researchers and Students in the UK). I am now in charge of their social media, website and communication strategy, in order to bring together the community of Portuguese researchers living in the UK.

Why did you start your side hustle?

Early in my PhD I realized that I needed something else as an output of my research, creativity and of my science-related curiosity. Academia was making me feel isolated and at the same time I was getting angry at the constant news of a general disbelief in science and anti-science movements. Thus, I figured that I could be a bridge between the public and research. That would give me a platform to explain my research and talk about the things that interest me, while hopefully motivate people to get curious about science and see the backstage of how research is done. Therefore, in June 2017, I created @thelabnotebook, an Instagram page where I write about science, academia and PhD-related topics. After a year, I realised that there was a lot of information for English-speakers, but not as much for people that have only the basic knowledge or that do not speak English. This thought gave me another goal: making science more accessible for Portuguese speakers. Hence I then started to write my content in Portuguese (my native language, which counts with 260 million speakers).

How does your PhD help you in your side hustle?

The PhD taught me to do extensive research before taking any conclusions and to always be skeptic. This helped me being as unbiased as possible when communicating science and to explain all arguments and views on the subject. Also, doing a PhD taught me to be more resilient and embracing failure, which I think is needed for any side hustle and life in general.

Mafalda A. Farelo

What advice would you give others looking at starting a side hustle?

My advice would be: do it! We often spend too much time debating with ourselves whether we should do something and then time goes on and we ended up not doing it. I would say that the first barrier to start a side hustle is actually starting. Go for something that brings you joy and that helps you to feel more fulfilled. Starting something new can feel daunting, but remember that no one will be watching in the beginning and you’ll have time to experiment and see what suits you best. Having a side hustle gave me a lot of skills that I would never be able to develop if I was only doing my PhD, opened many opportunities, and introduced me to many people. As my mother would say: “dare to do it!”.

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