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Careers in Science

Roberto Iglesias-Prieto

How did you choose your present profession?
I wanted to become a scientist ever since I was a kid. I remember watching a movie about the life of Ramón Cajal, the Spanish Nobel laureate, when I was 6 or 7 years old. I thought then that the life of a scientist was very romantic. The idea of going to meetings in exotic places, having discussions with your colleagues about your exciting and controversial findings, while been paid, sounded like a cool proposition. 

What were your biggest motivators?
I think my biggest motivation as a university professor is having the opportunity of been exposed to brilliant young scientists and to contribute in their development.

Who are your greatest mentors or heroes?
My greatest hero is my graduate mentor at the University of California, Professor Bob K. Trench.

Was there a pivotal event in your life that helped you decide on your career path?
The first time I snorkeled in a coral reef I knew I wanted to work on it.

What has been the biggest surprise in your life as a scientist?
The life of a scientist is full of surprises. We expend most of our life confronting our ideas about nature with nature itself. Frequently, the answers that we get from our experiments deviate from our expectation that in itself is very exciting. So far my biggest surprise was to realize the role of light scattered from coral skeletons on the biology of the algae living in their cells.

What would you recommend for students wanting to pursue a similar career?
I think that my best advice is to work hard and to do it with passion, always remembering that practicing science is a privilege. 

What do you like best about your profession?
As I mention, I feel that learning from nature itself while doing experiments is a privilege.  I have a very strong feeling of excitement every time I discuss new findings with my students and colleagues.

What would you say has been your greatest achievement?
I have been working for close to 20 years on different aspects of the photo-biology of symbiotic corals.  In general my work has contributed to establish the importance of solar radiation for the evolution of this organism.

Are you optimistic for the future of the planet and if so why?
I am conservatively optimistic about the future of the planet, although the challenges that climate change is imposing on us are quite dramatic, we as species can learn from our collective experience. I have witnessed the rise in the concern about the perils of climate change from a purely academic exercise to the front page of most newspapers. This experience gives me hope that we can fix the problem.  

What are your greatest fears for the future of the planet?
If we continue to use the resources of the planet, as we have been doing for the last 200 years, we may cross one or many environmental tipping points in the near future. I am afraid that crossing these points will create very difficult conditions for human societies. We must realize that we are facing are extraordinary challenges that require extraordinary measurements. Only if we as a society realize this we can change the current trajectory.

What’s the one message you would like the next generation of scientists to hear?
I think that the new generation of scientist will need to develop new skills as a response of the changes that they will face. Be prepared to translate the societal implications of your work to society.

Visit Iglesias-Prieto's bio page »


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