Full name: Micaela “Mica” Bernardez Vidal
Studied: Biology with a minor in bio tech and molecular genetics
Job: Quality Assurance Manager for the International TB Programme at APOPO.
What is your role here at APOPO?
I’m the Quality Assurance Manager for the International TB Programme. It’s a really interesting and challenging role trying to strike a balance between getting totally standardised procedures, which help me monitor and track progress, and ensuring that the procedures fit the local environment. With operations in cities and rural locations and spanning different environmental conditions and cultures, it’s important to ensure I have an understanding of what it’s like on the ground to ensure I understand how to manage the quality of the operation effectively.
What are the main skills you need to do your job?
I have to pay close attention to detail while also being approachable and positively solving problems. I have to be pretty good with IT and data. I’ve got to create clear guidelines, plans and forms for capturing data.
What did you study?
I have a degree in Biology with a minor in bio tech and molecular genetics. I worked for 12 years in clinical research providing oversight and audit to lab tests for new drugs and working to increase the quality and reliability of the data.
What was your favourite subject at school?
Biology – I was lucky enough to have a great teacher in secondary school. She was absolutely inspiring and her passion was contagious.
What languages do you speak?
I speak Spanish and English and I understand Portuguese and Italian too. I learned French for 5 years but I can’t say that I speak it, though I can understand much more spoken and written French. And now I’m slowly but surely learning Swahili. I lived and studied in London for 1 month straight out of high school. It was daunting but I loved it.
How did you end up working at APOPO?
I’ve always been in love with animals, rats and science. My father loved science and my mother and grandmother had both always been supportive in saying that I could do whatever I dreamed. I applied and was not successful but I kept in touch for two years, making sure APOPO researchers were aware of any interesting research that I discovered. At this point, I wanted to do something different and the Quality Manager role sounded really interesting.
It was a bit scary, moving to Africa, I was concerned about making friends and having a community. The people here are lovely, it’s been great, everyone is so supportive. Lots of people from home have come to visit – we had ten different visitors last year. It was a challenge to go back to being the new girl and having to learn new things but I’ve particularly loved learning from my time working with the research team and being exposed to such a variety of things. One of my favourite natural things here are the crickets and frogs at night – they are like nothing else.
“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”A quote from Neil DeGras Tyson that inspires Mica
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I’m still not sure I’ve ruled anything out – I am interested in science reporting – there’s a one-year course I’d like to do. I’m also interested in becoming a Medical Science Liaison, I’d have to learn lots of interesting medical science and then communicate it with a wide range of people.
Do you have a dream job?
I’d love to be a naturalist guide on safaris, relating science information to a wide range of people and inspiring them to want to learn more.
What is your favourite food?
Red meat for sure.
What is your favourite animal?
Alive or dead?! Stegosaurus! Or any one of the big cats, I love cheetahs.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I love watching documentaries about biodiversity hotspots. It still blows my mind that in an age where we can put people into space and sequence genes, there are still discoveries to be made.
What is an interesting fact about yourself?
I like to think that I beat the odds – I was born very prematurely at a time when surviving was so unlikely that my father was handed death papers to speed up the process. I have dyspraxia as a result of my premature birth (I’m super clumsy and I’m always collecting bruises), but I’m still here!
Who has been an inspirational character in your life?
My grandmother was always really supportive. My father’s love of animals, nature and science was contagious. Many of the pioneers of modern science inspired me – they dared to do dangerous things to make new discoveries. The same goes for the explorer pioneers – Humboldt was pretty cool, searching for years, getting sick, getting lost but he persisted and documented a huge amount about the Americas on his epic journeys.
Name something cool that you have done
Landing a job across the world was pretty cool, particularly one that I had dreamed of. And then taking a giant leap and asking my husband to join me on an adventure.
What are your favourite books?
The Medical Detectives by Berton Roubeché. It’s a book by an epidemiologist for the Centre for Disease Control back in the 1950s. They trace a case all the way back to the source to find out how a man got sick.
The Ghost Map – Dr Snow traced a cholera epidemic in London back to an infected pump.
What is your favourite genre of music?
I like alternative rock music and all blues and jazz. I should have been born back in the 40s.
Tell me an inspiring quote
“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” Neil DeGras Tyson
“Impossible is nothing.” Muhammed Ali