When Iris Barbier-Piguet started talking to W.IN board member, Kelli Parker, about analyzing biological data to cure cancer, she forgot Iris was talking about a highly sophisticated science and a complex disease. Iris’ energetic and positive outlook toward all the possibilities the world of genetics holds, and her personal goal inspired Kelli to ask her to be part of the W.IN Spotlight Series.
When did you discover your love for science?
It began four years ago at age fourteen, when I took a class in genetics. I don’t remember specifically what it was that grabbed my attention, but I remember loving the content. We learned about how the alleles are the key to diversity and that there are a great number of combinations that can be combined in a lot of different ways.
Also, I’ve always been drawn to sci-fi and monsters. I was a huge fan of Tim Burton and all of his creatures, which triggered a desire to seek out an explanation about how there could be so much diversity in the world. Genetics and Biology gave me some of those answers.
Why do you want to focus on curing cancer?
I come from a family of doctors, so I believe the idea of saving people’s lives and improving their health as a career is one that has always been around me.
Also, my dad was diagnosed with cancer and as we learned more about his journey my vision about how genetics can be a way to heal cancer totally expanded. I learned that scientists believe we will one day develop tools to control DNA so it can cure itself. I knew I wanted to be part of that.
Why are you drawn to the lab?
I enjoy the idea of working with biologists, chemists, and mathematicians; all engineers. And when I am in a lab, I love working on manipulations because I really have to be precise and focused on what I’m doing. I have a lot of fun discovering new techniques and protocols and I don’t mind doing the same measurements 10 times in a row, as long as I get to use the material.
I am going to seek a degree in Bioengineering and I have a dream to be an intern at Novartis which is a company that re-engineers cells to fight cancer an improve people’s lives.
Who are your female heroes?
Malala Yousafzai, Michelle Obama, and Rosalind Franklin. I admire their strength and their bravery. Malala and Michelle chose to stand up and fight for what they believe in. Rosalind Franklin was one of the first female biologist to work on the level of genetics I’m interested in. It was during the 50’s and she had to put up with a very masculine environment and a lot of competition. She helped Watson and Crick to find the molecular structure of DNA.
Do you agree with Franklin that “science and everyday life cannot & should not be separated?
I totally agree with Franklin. Science and new technologies, if they have an application, should not stay in a lab but should be shared and used. I also think there is another way to interpret that quote. To me, it also means that if you are a scientist, then science should be your everyday life.