Noelia Dominguez Falcon

Noelia Dominguez Falcon

Tissue Engineering Approaches for Tendon Regeneration and Repair
University of East Anglia
Tell us a bit about yourself – what stage of your PhD are you in and what’s your project about?

Hello there! My name is Noelia (although I prefer Noe) and I am from Spain. I have a BSc in Marine Sciences and an MRes in Biomedicine. I moved to the UK in 2015 with a desire to gain some professional experience before applying for PhDs. I started my PhD in 2017, in Dr Aram Saeed’s lab, in the school of Pharmacy. Currently, I am less than two months away from submitting my PhD thesis! My project focuses on the application and the study of novel tissue engineering strategies for tendon repair, aiming to overcome some limitations from current therapies. I use stem cells, artificial implants, and biomolecules to generate an artificial tendon construct in the lab, which can be used as an active platform to study tendon regeneration.

What does a typical day or week look like for you?

My week always start by experiment planning. I look at my week from the big picture, such as projects I am working on, or general tasks I need to accomplish. Then, I divide those big portions of work into small ones and distribute it along the days. These are my actual experiments or instrument booking, etc. Hence, a typical day for me starts by looking at my to-do list, and just go from one to another, ticking them off along the way! It helps me so much to feel satisfied with the aims I proposed to myself at the beginning of the week. My project always involves work on the chemistry lab, alongside cell culture experiments. So, on a typical day, I would start early by looking at my cells (and a rigorous “Good morning, babies!”). I then go to the chemistry lab to continue working, and finally, I do my cell work after the lunch break. Currently, I also fit my writing and revisions at the very end of the day, or I save one day of the week to entirely focus on my thesis.

What’s one thing that you’ve enjoyed the most during your PhD?

Tough one! I think all the oral communications and conferences. I love to showcase my research. Besides, as PhD candidates, it is such an excellent exercise to explain our project multiple times to a variety of audiences. Since the beginning of my PhD, I have presented my project to various schools within my university, and even to a non-scientific audience. I also got to go to Munich and to Greece! But above all, I adore interacting with people. Hearing opinions about your research, alongside other researcher’s aims, enriches so much our constant evolution as scientists. You might discover the solution to that tricky experiment during an international conference! Also, look at the work from others. It opens your eyes so much and inspires you to new levels! I have also enjoyed so much teaching to undergraduate and master students. I love teaching, and I am always looking forward to having new people in the lab.

What’s been the most challenging part of it?

I am a biologist; therefore, the polymer chemistry side of my project was undeniably the most challenging part for me. I was trying to do something novel, so I did not have many references for it. Performing the actual experiments was easy, but understanding the failures, looking for and interpreting the literature, and going to the next steps while troubleshooting was very challenging for me. It automatically pushed me out of my comfort cell-zone. However, let me tell you that side of my project made me grow to astronomic levels! Not only I gained resilience and learned thorough troubleshooting, but also, I evolved so much as a scientist, and I learned so much. I still love my cells more than anything, but those polymers have actually gained some space on my biologist’s heart!

Where do you see yourself 5 years after completing your PhD?
Definitely, if time allows it, I would like to be a lecturer. Or applying for lecturer positions. Sometimes academia can be seen as a harsh world, but I know that is my “destiny”. And I think I will be happy. I have had many undergraduate and master students around the lab, and I have never been as satisfied as I am when I teach students. Inspiring new generations, not only in science but also in equality and respect, is something that I thrive on. Also, I would love to continue my research and my ideas throughout a fantastic team of researchers.

What’s one piece of advice that you’d offer students that are thinking of doing a PhD?
I must say that resilience and consistency is critical. Don’t take the PhD as “ah, I have three years left”. Or as “Oops, my meeting is next week”. You need to be constant throughout all this marathon. At the end of the day, we are learning, and it takes some time. Record everything, keep reading literature. Invest in problem solution and project driving, ask yourself why things are failing or not. Push yourself to be a good researcher. This is your research! Also, invest in clear and direct communication with your supervisor. They are there to help you, and if you work on the same page, magical things will happen! Also, be kind to yourself. This is something I never practice myself, and I’m still learning. I love working in the lab, and I am so happy while doing experiments (you might see me humming around while culturing my cells). However, sometimes I have a very annoying inner voice that says things such as “You are not doing enough”. I tend to take those failed experiments as something personal. This can be dangerous, as we are our harsher critics. Therefore, doing a PhD requires an extra layer of self-caring. Ask for help anytime you need it.

What makes your university a good place to study?

My university has a lot of outdoor spaces that allow you to escape from a not-so-happy day, and just evade. But I think what I like the most is the kindness of people. From my very first week of work, I have always felt safe around people. The corridors of my department, the campus facilities, they are all embedded in an atmosphere of smiley faces, and people willing to help you.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

Fashion! I love fashion runaways, and I keep up to date with designer collections and new trends. I must confess I go for shopping sprees from time to time. I have recently bought a bike during the restrictions on public transport due to COVID-19, and I am very much enjoying cycling outdoors! I also love cooking. Not only for my weekly lunches, but also, I tend to bake often for my lab group. Which they benefit from, obviously!

Want to learn more about Noelia?

Read her journal paper and follow her on LinkedIn and on her personal and lab Twitter accounts using the links below:

LinkedIn | Personal Twitter | Lab Twitter | Journal Paper