Getting to Know- Beatriz Baragaña

Headshot of Dr Beatriz Baragaña

Dr Beatriz Baragaña leads Apicomplexan portfolio at the Drug Discovery Unit (DDU) , School of Life Sciences, University of Dundee. (Apicomplexa is the scientific name given to the family of parasites to which Plasmodia the species of parasite which causes malaria belongs.)

Beatriz Baragaña graduated in Organic Chemistry and then completed her studies with a PhD under the supervision of Professor Barluenga at Universidad de Oviedo (Spain). After her PhD, she worked as a Research Fellow at Trinity College Dublin in Professor A. P. Davis’ lab followed by a postdoc at the Medicinal Chemistry department at Bayer AG in Wuppertal (Germany). She moved to Scotland in 2001 where she gained further industrial experience working for five years in NPIL Pharmaceuticals/Avecia as R&D Chemist and then as Team Leader focused on antibody drug conjugates for oncology. Beatriz joined the University of Dundee in 2007. In the last twelve years, she has been involved in drug discovery projects for cryptosporidiosis and malaria, including the discovery of DDD498 (M5717) a multistage antimalarial currently in Phase I clinical trials.

Question: What is your earliest science memory ?
Answer: Dissecting a mussel in the school’s science lab!

Q: Did a particular person(s) or event start your career as a scientist?
A: I had an excellent chemistry teacher in secondary school, and I really enjoyed biology too. Then the last year of my chemistry degree we had an inspiring Professor in our biochemistry course. I realised that I wanted to apply my chemistry knowledge to life sciences and learn more biology.

Q: What characteristics make a good scientist?
A: I think a scientist needs patience, perseverance, self motivation and be capable to making connections that are not obvious at first sight. We need to be open and capable of collaborate and exchange ideas, science is very collaborative. We don’t work in isolation. For me a good scientist needs to be a good team player.

Q: Do you think being a scientist impacts the way you approach everything in life?
A: I am sure it does, but most of the times it is unconsciously. When I have a problem, I tend to look for a solution by break it down into small steps. And I plan and organise too much!

Q: What motivates you to come into work every day?
A: The excellent team of people I work with in the DDU and our collaborators and partners across the world. An obviously, knowing that our work can improve and save lives with new medicines to treat diseases that affect millions of people and kill thousands.

Q: Is there any part of human lives where science can’t help or inform?
A: Science can help in many parts of our lives but there is lots of work to do for scientist to further improve lives.

Q: Do you ever wish you had chosen a different career?
A: No, working in science has allowed me to live and work in four different countries: Spain, Ireland, Germany and UK. I have met lots of very interesting people and been exposed to different cultures. And I really enjoy what I do.

Q: As an early career scientist what are the most important thing the more senior scientists can do to help you?
A: I am very lucky to have a very supportive line manager and mentor. It is important to have opportunities to present your work, publish papers and write grants. I always appreciate words of encouragement and recognition of work well done.

Q: Do you think the current research environment needs to change to a) improve life for the scientists and b) to adapt to the way research is now such a team and international effort? ?
A: As a woman I think unconscious bias is a problem in science. We need more women role models presenting in conferences, leading teams and reaching the top position in science both in industry and academia. It is still a male dominated environment, particularly at higher levels.

At WCAIR we believe public engagement is a key priority for researchers.

Q: How do we help the science community and general public understand each other better? 
A: It is important to have a good level of science teaching at schools. For me it should be viewed as Maths or English, part of the general knowledge everybody needs to understand the world we live in.

Q: How do we encourage people from communities where there a few science role models to train as scientists? 
A: More presence at schools and in social media.

Q: What do you think scientists need to learn from the public? 
A: As scientist we need to be more engage with more with the public and learn to communicate our work in simple terms. The public feedback is important for us.


head and shoulder shot of Beatriz Baragaña by John Post
Dr Beatriz Baragaña (photo by John Post)

Grew Up: Pola de Siero in Asturias. This is in the north-west cost of Spain

Favourite Book: Difficult to choose only one!. One hundred years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Favourite Film: From 2019, a Spanish film: The Endless Trench (La trinchera infinita)

Favourite Box Set binge: Game of Thrones and, an older one, The West Wing

Favourite thing to do at the weekend: Read a good book, a nice meal with family or friends, walking.

Desert Island Luxury: My friends and family around a table enjoying a good meal and a glass of wine…is this allow? 😉[editor: As long as it is one day only!]

Which record would you save from the incoming Tay tide: The Bends, Radiohead