Risks and opportunities
“No one in my family had been to university, so it wasn’t easy to know what decisions to make.” Despite this, and determined to pursue her interest in science, Vittoria applied to Edinburgh to study microbiology, then moved to the John Innes Centre to research quorum sensing in nitrogen-fixing rhizobia for her PhD followed by a post-doc at the Institute of Food Research in Norwich from 2002-09.
Vittoria took part in Biotechnology YES in 2003 after a period of uncertainty during an industry-funded post-doc. “The company paid per experiment and I did a lot of experiments, so it brought in income for the lab; but I also experienced the hard end of industry-funded research.”
Two months before it was due to be completed, the company pulled all R&D funding. “Post-docs are uncertain and there’s a lot of luck involved in science. YES helped researchers like me understand and de-risk the business world, and appreciate some risk is necessary.”
“Science is entrepreneurial in its nature. We’re always trying to understand and improve; looking for something new (even the next piece of funding). We need to meet challenges and our investigator skills help us understand why something doesn't work. That's important in new product development as well, as is good use of data and continuous innovation. What's sometimes missing is a healthy attitude to risk.”
Promoting Biotechnology YES
“One of my colleagues was on the same Biotechnology YES team as me. We were first people at the Institute of Food Research to do Biotechnology YES. These days it’s much more a ‘standard’ thing to do and we support UEA’s teams. We now promote it here within the professional development programme for research students and I present to them.
“This year, one team set out to win and got to the final, the other team didn’t. We’re there to help them whether they want to win or just take part to learn and gain experience. Both are important.”
Ensuring UEA research impact
“I make sure projects progress; I identify and work with companies, government and NGOs; network to connect common interests, and manage impact funding streams.”
Vittoria has volunteered with SAW (the Science, Art and Writing project), completed a part-time postgrad diploma in science communication at Birkbeck, and worked at science summer schools.
“I was at the John Innes Centre just after the GM debate in the 1990s. It had a massive influence on our industry caused by people misunderstanding science. It made me realise that if people are scared of a new biotechnology, they’re not going to want to use it.”
To add to her experience as a researcher, science communicator and relationship manager, Vittoria has just completed an MBA – with distinction – after studying part-time at Norwich Business School.
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