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Scientist Spotlight: Cristiano Chiamulera, PhD
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Scientist Spotlight, 8th Edition, December 2016

From Our Field…

 Scientist Spotlight: Cristiano Chiamulera, PhD


Interview conducted by: Christie D. Fowler, PhD

Dr. Cristiano Chiamulera is currently an Associate Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Verona, Italy. In 1986, he received his PhD in Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Technology from the University of Padua, Italy and thereafter, completed postgraduate training in Experimental Pharmacology at the University of Milan, Italy. From 1986-2002, he advanced through the ranks in industry at GlaxoSmithKline, and then transitioned back into academia in 2003 at the University of Verona. Dr. Chiamulera's research interests have ranged from basic to clinic and healthcare/preventative. His work has been published in international, peer-reviewed journals (including Science, Nature Neuroscience, and Journal of Neuroscience), and has been presented at more than 120 invited talks/lectures. In particular, his expertise is centered on the modeling of neuropsychiatric disorders in laboratory animals, with focus on the refinement of complex preclinical bio-behavioural protocols aimed to predict efficacy and tolerability in the clinic.  Notably, Dr. Chiamulera was a prior SRNT Basic Science Network co-chair, and he was honored with the SRNT Service Award in both 2013 and 2014. He provides insight based on his unique career trajectory as follows:


1.    Why did you choose to become a scientist

 I was a curious kid collecting plant specimens. Then, I owned the ‘piccolo chimico’ (‘Little Chemist’ game). At 14, I was one of the finalists of the “Phillips Young Researchers & Inventors” contest with a study on crystals. I had to describe my data in a public speech at the Milan Science Museum (my first talk). That was my epiphany.


2.    What are your current research interests?

We have recently established a virtual reality human lab to study the reconsolidation of smoking memory. We are also investigating the reactivation of nicotine-associated instrumental memory in rats by coupling behavioral protocols with ex-vivo molecular assessment, in particular on mechanisms of metaplasticity using ketamine as a pharmacological tool.


3.    How have your research interests evolved over the course of your career?

They have changed a lot if I look back in terms of projects and topics. However, my main thematic interest is still the same: addiction as a form of memory, based on mechanisms of adaptation.


4.    What do you view as the main challenges for your field? From your perspective, what do you view will be the next biggest breakthrough(s)?

Pharmacology as a discipline is under a big transition and it’s hard to predict where it will go in the long-term. Animal models in neuroscience and behavioral pharmacology are under criticism for poor translatability. I’m however very optimistic about the future: any technological innovation or drug with a novel mechanism could rapidly and unexpectedly trigger new progress in the field, i.e. new paradigm shift.


5.    Do you currently or have you served as a scientific consultant for a company, as an editor for a journal, and/or a position in a scientific organization (e.g., SRNT, SfN, etc.)?  Based on your experiences, what are the pros and cons participating in this respect?

 I served for some years in the board of the EU SRNT, and I served as EU President when it was established as a Chapter.  I’m currently General Secretary of the European Behavioural Pharmacology Society and Editor at Neurosci Biobehav Rev. .  These are great experiences, and the pros are so rewarding that… I forgot the cons!


6.    About how much time per week do you commit to professional organizations, administrative duties, teaching, clinical requirements or similar?

More than I’d like, but it’s my duty and the outcome is still rewarding. I have almost 200 hours/year of teaching – but I still have one-two lab meeting/week with my collaborators.


7.    How much time per week do you spend writing papers for publication and/or grant applications?

Aha, good question. A lot of time for funding –related writing (including emails to colleagues, networking, etc). For paper writing: at least 1 hour/day or more. It is like being compliant to a drug prescription and it is a trick I learned from a short book I recommend: “How to write a lot” by Paul J. Silvia. 


8.    What strategies have you found to be most beneficial for managing all of your commitments?

Eisenhower’s rule: rank priorities based on importance and urgency. First in the rank: Important & Urgent.  Secondly, Important and Not Urgent. Urgent but Not-Important could be delegated to others. Lastly, of course, Not Important and Not urgent. 


9.     What is the best advice that you ever received from one of your mentors?

Take your daydream idea, translate it to a hypothesis, and test it. All the rest will come later.


10.    What advice would you have for students starting their academic career? What qualities do you look for when recruiting graduate students or postdocs?

Have questions, and never stop. Don’t be depressed if the answer is not easy to come by. I look for enthusiastic people committed to hard studying and open-minded students able to channel their creativity into a rigorous methodological practice.


11.    What advice would you have for postdoctoral trainees transitioning into faculty positions?

Networking is fundamental. However, you have to keep up with accurate scheduling of increasing duties – ranging from research to teaching, etc. – in a well-balanced manner.


12.    Why did you choose to pursue a career in industry as opposed to academia?  Based on your experiences, what are the pros and cons of this career decision?

I pursued a career in industry 30 years ago because it was a very attractive opportunity for me at that time. I had a very good time. Now the Pharma world is completely changed – and it is difficult for me to list pros and cons since I left the industry 14 years ago (but see my advice below).


13.    Why did you choose to pursue a career in industry as opposed to academia?  Based on your experiences, what are the pros and cons of this career decision?

Although the pharma is rapidly changing, I strongly believe that change is anyway an opportunity. Post-docs should consider this transition as a valuable option because they could have the chance to soon be actors in this changing environment. I recommend having job interviews, talking with pharma employees, and stay informed about the industry.


14.    Are there any additional comments you would like to make?

Always keep in mind that the implications and impact of our work on the society, even in the very long-term.



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