Scientist Without Borders: Marga Gual Soler joins us at Real Scientists

LIVE FROM NEW YORK… sort of… sorry, I just always wanted to say that in an intro. This week, LIVE FROM GENEVA, we welcome Marga Gual Soler, a Spanish-born, Australian-trained, New York-based molecular cell biologist who is currently working as an intern for the United Nations, using her scientific expertise to help define priorities for the UN on science, technology and innovation for sustainable development. Her week of RealScientists curation finds her in Geneva. We’ll explain why shortly. But before that, let me introduce you to Marga!


Marga grew up on the Meditteranean island of Mallorca, Spain, in a sleepy little fishing village with a tiny library. In a way, she has this to thank for her current career:

I think I became a scientist because, at the age of 12, I had read all the children’s books of the library. Because it was a small village, they did not bring new books very often, so after insisting to the librarian that I wanted something new to read, she pointed at the science shelves, as they could not be too harmful for a 12 year old kid anyway. So I spent the following summers reading about astronomy, botany and zoology.. and I really haven’t stopped since!
QBP2_hiMarga completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Barcelona, and moved to Australia in 2008, first working at LaTrobe Uni in Victoria before ending up in the very shiny and rather pointy Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland in St Lucia, Brisbane. She carried out her PhD research in molecular cell biology in the laboratory of Prof Jenny Stow, studying protein trafficking mechanisms controlling epithelial polarity and morphogenesis, and their involvement in cancer. She was also very active in public engagement and understanding of science through the Science Ambassadors Program and in organizing conferences and retreats for the IMB and the wider scientific community in Queensland.
It’s a long way from Mallorca to St Lucia, and it’s even further to the Big Apple. Particularly if you’re flying economy and the kid behind you is kicking your seat. So we were interested to ask Marga how what inspired her to take such a different path to so many of her fellow PhD graduates, one which led her to the United Nations…
I have a very creative and entrepreneurial mindset, and I am always exploring new avenues and connecting seemingly unrelated topics. Towards the end of my PhD, I volunteered as Global Community Coordinator with an international NGO delivering science education programs to over 25 countries. I saw the great potential of scientific cooperation and diplomacy for global development, so I decided to apply for a placement at the United Nations to further explore how countries can come together to strengthen their scientific capacity. I am glad science is becoming increasingly recognized as a crucial tool to achieve sustainable development in both health and environmental issues, but we as scientists need to work harder to bring science closer to the general public and also to governments and policymakers.
So what brings Marga to Geneva this week? The United Nations Economic and Social Council chose to dedicate their 2013 Annual Ministerial Review to the topic of ‘Science, technology and innovation (STI), and the potential of culture, for promoting sustainable development and achieving the Millennium Development Goals’, which is precisely Marga’s area of interest. In her view, science, technology and innovation can play a critical role in progess towards each of these goals, including access to education, better healthcare, improved communications, agriculture and food security, clean energies and fighting climate change:
“This meeting represents a unique opportunity for the United Nations to engage with the scientific community to strengthen development strategies. I will be live-tweeting from the ECOSOC High-Level Segment in Geneva and I hope that as a scientist I can provide a unique perspective on the issues that will be debated. Unfortunately, I haven’t met many scientists during my time at the United Nations, so I hope my tweets will spark a communication between both worlds!”
That communication will be at least partly bilingual, as Marga will be our first curator to tweet in a language other than English – something we’re very excited about. Marga is “particularly interested in helping bridge the scientific breach in Latin America.” Technically, she’s between jobs at the minute, so is currently looking for a full-time job or consulting opportunities, particularly at the interface between science and policy. “I encourage anyone interested to get in touch with their ideas or projects, I would love to partner with people and organizations with similar interests to strengthen the voice of the scientific community in multilateral organizations.”
Outside science, her passions are travelling (having visited 27 countries and worked in science on four continents) and scuba diving – perhaps not surprisingly, for someone having been brought up in the middle of the Meditteranean! If you want to learn more about Marga, check out her amazing Vizify portfolio, or just keep following @RealScientists this week as she takes over the reins!

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