Greta Faccio, PhD


Where you can find her:

Education: I studied in Italy at the University of Insubria in Varese until the equivalent of my Master’s in Biological Science, concentration in Biotechnology. Varese is a really precious city with an even more special university! My master thesis focused on flavin-dependent enzymes and it was in a biochemistry lab. It lasted one year and this, I realised later, was a long time compared to universities abroad. When I graduated, at 25, I was a bit old compared to my other European colleagues.

I was a PhD student at the University of Helsinki in Finland doing my experimental work at VTT, the Technical Research Centre of Finland, where I could work with new proteins and enzymes for food engineering. I defended my thesis in 2011 … quite some time ago.

Current job title: I am currently a Research and Innovation Scientist at a private cosmetic company, a part-time blogger, and independent scientist. I like applying my scientific knowledge to the ideation of novel product concepts.

What experience first got you interested in science and is that field the same one you went on to pursue? 

To be honest, I was at first fascinated by ecology and environmental science. Our family holidays were in the countryside and I was longing to better understand that part of the world. However, I got fascinated by proteins and how they make things work in our cells at my first biochemistry course. I thus decided for the major in Biotechnology and did my Master thesis in Biochemistry. The biochemistry lecturer was really fascinated by his research subject, could clearly present the topic and was transmitting his passion to us students.

Tell me about some people who helped or inspired you along the way, in your early training and later in your career.

My supervisor when I was still at the university told me that I asked many questions and that this was good. I always kept this idea with me and recommend this attitude to students. On the other hand, her organization and communication skills really influenced me. My supervisor during my PhD left me very free and I loved that independence, this is a trait I still value.

Can you tell me about any moments of doubt you had as a student or early in your career and how you dealt with it? 

During my studies, I often felt like I was going nowhere and only when starting working in the lab I saw the results of so many years of learning. That surprise of seeing research results firsthand, and enzymatic reactions happening in front of my eyes, kept me motivated to look for a PhD position abroad, although nobody in my family or circle of acquaintances had ever done that. It was scary, but felt so good too. 

My perspective is that time has to pass anyways, and it is always good to try something new for yourself. I like the idea of doing something different everyday, to plant a small seed that one day can surprise me. This is especially true when you are doing a PhD, your professional life and personal skills are just starting to bloom!

Can you share two or three surprising twists or turns in your early scientific training and your later career path.

The hypothesis at the basis of my PhD work was quite ambitious and I had to tune my work a few times in order to finish the PhD. I liked that though, experiments tell you the truth and serendipity is always around the corner. I would have never thought of working with bread or with molds, still it happened and was fun! Similarly during my postdoc, the target was very ambitious and we were not equipped to address all the questions. Questions had to be resized and tuned but the results were published in very well-known journals at the end.  I think the results were beneficial to the scientific community, or at least that’s what I hope.

Can you give some examples of how you have incorporated your non scientific interests into your work. 

Scientific work is highly creative, regardless of what people might think. I had always been into little handcrafts, knitting, sewing. When in Finland, I organised with a dear friend scientist a knitting club and we were meeting weekly over a pizza. This helped me socialize, network, and kept me busy knitting through the long winters.

Is there some advice you could you share from your own experience to help someone with a science degree who is just starting off on their own career path. 

Chase what fascinates you, don’t stop asking questions, and keep your questions open. Although many people tell you you should have clear plans for the future, my advice is to keep looking at what happens around you and let it surprise you.

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