An interview recently published in Ellipse, the monthly magazine of the PRBB.
Born in Argentina 59 years ago to a Galician father and a mother from Madrid, Fernando Giráldez grew up between Buenos Aires, Santander, Madrid and Valladolid, where he studied medicine. Ten years ago he joined the CEXS-UPF, where he became director from 2003 until 2006. His hobbies are cooking, history and marathon-running.
Did you always want to be a scientist?
I chose medicine because it straddles the sciences and humanities. In the seventies, research was still a dream, only done by a few professors in universities. One of them, Carlos Belmonte, from the University of Valladolid, got me hooked.
Was it hard to choose between the lab and the clinic?
During my military service I was in a neurosurgery unit and I practised clinical medicine. I admire doctors a lot, but I like basic research and the academic life more. Looking back, maybe I would have liked to do research that was closer to medicine.
What was your first research about?
I did my thesis on the electrophysiological properties of corneal pain receptors. At Cambridge, I continued to study cell membranes and I got even more into the tradition of biophysics.
From Cambridge you came back to Valladolid.
In 1983 I joined the world of development. Firstly, doing electrophysiology on the otic vesicle (the precursor of the ear). From there I moved into studying growth and cell proliferation and, later on, the molecular biology of development. Quite a change!
You saw the great transformation of biology…
In the nineties great changes in molecular biology reached vertebrate embryology: the capacity to see and manipulate genes. We changed from only being able to see things, to beginning to understand the mechanisms. It was really interesting to live through this not only technical but also intellectual transformation.
What has your greatest contribution to the field been?
We incorporated in vitro techniques and this led to the identification of growth factors essential for the development of hearing. After this, we contributed to the knowledge of the first stages of sensory cell and auditory neurone development.
As well as doing research, you also teach.
I love teaching. In the second year of my degree I started giving classes to other students and I haven’t stopped since. Explaining something that took me a lot of effort to understand and seeing that in a couple of days the students are able to talk about it confidently is very gratifying.
What does being located in the PRBB offer?
There is magnificent infrastructure here and lots of informal help between the scientists, exchanges of ideas and techniques. In a less tangible way, the PRBB collectively imposes high standards. The better the people around you are, the better you are yourself.
What do you need to do research?
A modicum of ability, a certain level of ambition and the will to excel, a good dose of work and perseverance. But you learn research by doing it and there’s nothing better than doing it alongside good people, who set the standard.