“Immunology has always fascinated me. Its complexity presents a challenging yet stimulating area of study. Additionally, the direct impact on healthcare and the potential to improve motivates me greatly,” says Dr. Nathália Batista, a scientist at Treadwell Therapeutics.

Her passion for science has led her on a journey all around the world, with the goal of gaining new perspectives in science and improving healthcare. I sat down with Nathália to discuss her academic experience, both before and after her time at the University of Toronto, and how her experiences helped her get to her established position today.

Who is Dr. Batista and where has she been?

Nathália has had a truly enriching academic experience as it has allowed her to travel around the world. After completing her undergraduate studies in biology at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG) in Brazil, she spent a summer at the University of Calgary in Dr. Donna-Marie McCafferty’s laboratory. She then pursued a master’s degree in Cellular Biology at UFMG and spent three months as a visiting fellow at the Université de Rennes in France. Nathália returned to UFMG to study Immunology for her doctoral degree, during which she spent 18 months as a visiting fellow at Humanitas University in Milan, Italy. Nathália expressed that none of her international experiences were planned. Her few months in France were the serendipitous product of attending a seminar by two professors from Rennes who were interested in collaborating. Nathália says that her 3-month French excursion and year-and-a-half stay in Italy “exposed me to different cultures, traditions, and ways of life… broadened my worldview, enhanced my adaptability, and fostered cross-cultural understanding”.

Travel provided Nathália access to specialized equipment and resources that weren’t readily available for her at UFMG. It was important to foster collaboration, exchange ideas and access diverse perspectives, allowing her to present research findings at international conferences and seminars.

The alma mater experience

Due to the financial constraints faced by scientists in Brazil, Nathália was certain that she would pursue her postdoctoral studies abroad. A position at UofT in Dr. Tania Watts’s lab was her top choice primarily because of its exceptional research program and its location in a highly multicultural city, which she believed would facilitate her life as an immigrant. In 2017, Nathália moved to Toronto to start her postdoctoral research in Dr. Watts’s lab where she later transitioned to the role of research associate. While working there, she focused on T cell activity and antigen-presenting cell (APC)-T cell interaction in viral infections and cancer. She primarily worked on manipulating signals from members of the tumour necrosis factor receptor (TNFR) superfamily and the TNF family ligands to induce long-lived T cell memory to protect against viral infections.

Nathália’s postdoctoral experience was incredibly valuable, allowing for the acquisition of new skills, deepening her expertise in T-cell biology, enhancing her project management and leadership skills, and expanding her professional network. She emphasizes, “Dr. Tania Watts was an exceptional supervisor and mentor. The experience I gained while working with her significantly impacted my future career opportunities. My experience at the Department of Immunology was wonderful as it exposed me to groundbreaking research by esteemed researchers”.

International Women in Science (IWS) Network

The IWS Network is a grassroots organization dedicated to supporting international and immigrant women in science across Canada. They engage with IWS fellows through monthly meetings, actively participate in equity, diversity and inclusion events, connect across various social media platforms, and advocate for women’s empowerment. This organization plays a crucial role because securing STEM employment can be immensely challenging for new immigrants, where highly skilled immigrants often face barriers due to a lack of Canadian work experience or recognition of their credentials; a challenge particularly daunting for women.

Nathália volunteered with IWS Network from February 2021 to October 2022 where she served as one of the co-leaders for the Toronto chapter. Additionally, she held the position of National Board Member and co-chair of the Communications & Marketing Committee for a year. As a co-leader in Toronto, Nathália organized various events and mentorship programs. While she was the Communications & Marketing Committee co-chair, she managed national events and fundraising campaigns, and developed advertisement and marketing materials. She notes that the volunteering experience was incredibly rewarding, providing her with opportunities to connect with like-minded individuals, industry professionals, and STEM experts, thus expanding her professional network. She made sure to highlight that the most important part of being in an organization like this is that it promotes gender equality in STEM and supports immigrant women in Canada. This was personally rewarding to her as she knew she was contributing to a cause that could have a lasting impact. 

Current life and future plans

Nathália currently works at Treadwell Therapeutics as a scientist within their cell therapy program, where their focus involves developing TCR-based therapy for cancer patients. “Working in this field is captivating as it entails groundbreaking research,” Nathália says to me. Most of Nathália’s responsibilities revolve around hands-on laboratory experimentation, protocol development, and conducting assays to evaluate cell function. Despite the challenges this work inherently has, TCR-based therapies prove to have substantial potential in treating diseases like cancer. This kind of research could revolutionize healthcare and proves to be a driving force for Nathália.

For the moment, Nathália envisions herself staying in Canada and working in research-related positions within the field of immunotherapy.

Advice for fellow scientists

I asked Nathália if she had any tidbits for those looking to pursue a similar career path as her. She told me that in addition to being very knowledgeable in your field of expertise, networking holds significant importance. Establishing connections with professors, researchers, and professionals in your field can offer mentorship opportunities, collaborations, and valuable insights into career paths.

While Nathália mentions she had a defined plan for her career trajectory, she remained open to possibilities. She states that:

“Opportunities aren’t just stumbled upon; they are created. Most importantly, readiness and the willingness to seek and pursue opportunities are crucial. Embrace new ideas, step beyond your comfort zone, take risks, and embrace new challenges. The journey toward a career in science demands persistence and adaptability”.

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