Alumni Career Story: Dr. Filomena De Lucia – Post-doc to Proud Teacher

In the next of our series of interviews with JIC alumni, we spoke to Dr Filomena De Lucia, about her experience of working at the John Innes Centre and her career journey from there.

After gaining specific expertise in the field of chromatin and epigenetics during her PhD at the University of Naples, Italy, in 2005, Filomena (Menita) decided to apply for a Post-Doc position in the Caroline Dean lab at the John Innes Centre. Her application was successful, and after joining the institute Menita remained at here until 2011.

It was here at the John Innes Centre that Menita acquired a deep knowledge of Arabidopsis, something different to her previous role working in animal biology, drosophila and human cells.

Menita told us,

“At the beginning I was a bit sceptical to switch to the plant field, but actually it was a great opportunity for me. The work experience in Caroline’s lab was wonderful. She was, and remains, an inspiring figure, a great scientist and an excellent group manager.”

During five happy years spent at the JIC, Menita shared with us her greatest career achievement so far, and of course, her fondest memories.

“The greatest achievement in my research career was to purify the Arabidopsis Polycomb complex in Caroline’s lab. At the time, it was considered as the “Holy Grail” in the field.

Having the sole responsibly of organising a conference on Chromatin for fifty people held at the JIC and sponsored by Millipore, was also a memorable moment.

The weekly seminars held on Fridays were a fantastic opportunity to meet other great scientists and listen to their talks, which were all very instructive.

The time spent at the canteen provided occasions to talk with members of other groups and share experiences, which led to meet many nice friends. The cafeteria was also great place to get together and have a break during the day.

I am very proud of having worked at the JIC.”

We asked Menita what came next after JIC,

“Career-wise, the opportunity to work at the John Innes Centre strengthened my CV and allowed me to apply for positions in France afterwards, and so next, I took up a Post-doc position at the Institut Pasteur in Paris working on Chlamidia trachomatis, a pathogene who seemed to have an epigenetic impact on its host cells (“pathoepigenetics”). After a year there, I decided to leave research for family reasons.”

Fast forwarding to today, Menita told us what a typical day might look like now,

“Since 2016, I have worked as a Science teacher at the Lycée St Vincent high school in Senlis, north of Paris. I also teach science in the English language in three different classes.

For me, a typical day might be teaching high school students, preparing science lessons in both French and English, and evaluating students’ examinations based on their oral and written tests.

Today, my pleasure is teaching science in English and trying simultaneously to transfer to my pupils the research experience gained in international labs as well as my passion for biology.”

Finally, we asked Menita if she had any good tips or advice that she could share with us,

“My research activity was driven by an extremely strong passion, for which it became almost an addiction to me; therefore, I strongly recommend this path only to students or staff who hold a real passion behind this choice.

However, at some point in my life I put my personal life above my profession and even more above my passion. I would say that work-related professional choices in life also depend on the “timing” of one’s personal life, and at that time I wanted to be more available for my family. Being a teacher means having a lot of school holidays and ultimately more time that I could spend with my family.

I learned a lot at the JIC, and it is for sure by far my best scientific experience. There were difficult times as well. Being part of a large group, means that you are not always “in tune” with everybody but your Group Leader. Fortunately, Caroline knew exactly how to deal with any delicate issues or situations that arose.

Overall, I remember JIC as a peaceful and joyful place to work and I was lucky to have had that experience.”

In May 2023, we welcomed Menita back to the John Innes Centre as she and six of her Year 12 and 13 students from Lycée St Vincent high school paid us a visit.

During their visit, the group met with Caroline Dean (Menita’s former Group Leader), undertook some cross fertilisation in the lab, and enjoyed a site tour including a stop at the Germplasm Resources Unit (GRU) and the JIC Rare Books Collection.

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