The Scientist Stories series highlights the scientists behind our world-leading research. In this series, we discover more about what they do and how they got to where they are now. In this latest edition, we chat to Maria Rostovskaya, a senior scientist in our Epigenetics research programme, and 2022 Berridge Prize recipient, about her science, career and interests outside of the lab. Watch the video on our YouTube channel or read the profile below.
Could you tell us a little bit about your area of research?
I'm interested in human embryonic development and for me the most fascinating question is how the whole diversity of cell types in our body emerges from a single cell. And it is very difficult to study this in the real embryo because it is practically inaccessible for research. But we use stem cells. So stem cells are grown in a dish and we can model embryonic development using those cells.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got to be in the role that you're in now? What did you study at school and at university?
Originally I'm from Russia, so I studied at school there and also I did my undergrad there in Moscow at Moscow State University. And after the university I wasn't convinced to continue in academia and I stopped for a while. So I had a job and I was interested in various things and I was exploring and I was very seriously into dancing. I was a dance teacher.
And then after three years I realised that I want to achieve more and I decided to pursue PhD. And I decided to give it a go and give it a try. So I applied for a PhD at the Max Planck Institute in Germany and I got a place there. So then I left and it was a very fascinating time. And this is when I realised that actually I do want to be a scientist and this is how my path began.
I first worked in a slightly different area, It was also with stem cells but about bone marrow stem cells. But then I had a side project about the stem cells which model this earlier development, the embryo. And then I decided to combine those models and questions and this is how my project evolved. So after PhD I moved to Cambridge to do my postdoc and this is where I am now.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your undergraduate degree?
I studied molecular biology. So my current research is slightly related but not exactly the same. So it can deviate, it can evolve. It does not have to be what exactly you started before.
Can you describe what a typical day might look like for you?
So it depends on the stage of the project. Because I'm an experimental scientist, I do a lot of experiments in the lab, but also I do a lot of computational work. So if I do experiments, then straight I go to the lab and then I go to tissue culture. So this is the room where we grow cells, we have incubators and we have microscopes. So I take my Petri dishes out of the incubator and then I look at them and then the microscope and decide what I do with them.
And then that's followed by just experimental procedures, passaging in the cells, feeding the cells, taking care of them.
And when my project reaches the stage of the data analysis, then I usually stay in front of my computer programming, writing scripts. And if this is the stage when I'm writing up a manuscript, because each project usually results in a paper, this is how we share our scientific findings with the community, so we write up a story. Then I would sit in front of my computer and just write: prepare the results, prepare figures, communicate with other co-authors and with the journal.
What are your other interests, following up on your love of dancing?
I started dancing as a child, so since I was really very little and I did various styles so starting from ballroom and then also solo dancing like jazz, contemporary, modern. So I still do a lot of dancing. I go often to congresses or workshops or boot camps. So it is still a big part of my life.
If you could offer a piece of advice to someone who might be interested in a career in science, what advice would you offer?
I would say follow your curiosity, follow your heart. You need to be dedicated to what you do, and it is only possible when you do what you really like, what your passion is about. That would be my advice.
13 July 2023