The Intercontinental Scientist

What led Sebastian Rodriguez from Buenos Aires to Tokyo and ultimately Fluidigm

As we approached the milestone of our 500th employee, we sat down with one of our newer Fluidigmers, Sebastian Rodriguez, PhD and field applications specialist, to learn more about his journey from vet school in Argentina to our field team in Japan.

Q: You went from getting a BA in journalism to being a doctor of veterinary medicine to getting your PhD in neuroscience and veterinary medical sciences. Can you tell us about that journey?

A: I really wanted to be both—journalist and veterinarian—but realized it was physically impossible to do both at the same time. So I decided the best path was to take a BA first and then jump to vet school.

I had a great time doing my bachelor’s, especially because I met great mentors with whom I spent hours and hours talking about old and contemporary writers, journalists and sportsmen’s stories, which were really inspiring to me.

By the time I moved into vet school, I had a good background of literature, language, history, psychology … and also science. So breaking into biological-medical sciences was pretty smooth, partly thanks to the advisors I met and subjects I took during my first year.

While doing my clinical practices, I realized how much I enjoyed the scientific/research aspect of the profession and decided that, after my last exam for veterinarian certification, I would go to a PhD program. I looked for good doctoral programs and scholarships around the world, contacted many potential mentors and wrote some projects. One of the programs that attracted me most was a PhD in veterinary medical sciences in the Department of Veterinary Pathology at the University of Tokyo. The academic aspects as well as the chance to test myself in such a different place and environment were very attractive reasons to pursue the opportunity. So I contacted the department PI, Dr. Hiroyuki Nakayama, and asked him about becoming his student. He was frank and said, “Write a project related to toxicological neuropathology, apply for a scholarship, and one of my students will pick you up at the airport.” More than two years after our first email conversation, and after I received a scholarship from the Ministry of Education of Japan, Dr. Nakayama’s student picked me up from Narita Airport.

Q: What was it like going from your life in Argentina to the PhD program in Tokyo?

A: I would say it was a great, really mind-opening process. I come from a countryside town in Buenos Aires where people know each other and barely go beyond the borders. I had the chance to cross the ocean to live in a completely different culture, with a different pace and values. The most exciting part of the process was to meet people really eager to learn from my culture (as much as I wanted to learn from theirs). This exchange kept me very busy and completely delighted during all my years as a PhD student. And the effort to learn from them, and to try to teach as much as I could, paid off, because I feel that, apart from all the technical and scientific skills I have acquired, living in Tokyo during all those years made me a better person.

Q: What skills and techniques did you learn that you apply to your work today?

A: So many years working in the detection of proteins, labeling cells with antibodies, producing my own targets and using different approaches, combined with a strong background in clinical pathology, have helped me decipher some scientific enigmas that this exciting job at Fluidigm presents. However, to be honest, more than any skills or techniques, the philosophy of working as part of a team—something that my mentors taught me from my first day as a PhD candidate—is what I apply the most in my current role.

Q: Why did you choose to work at Fluidigm?

A: Fluidigm has a special mystique and philosophy. If you dig into the feelings that Fluidigmers have, you will realize how proud and satisfied they are being part of the company and how well they represent the company’s values. These values—win as a team, work with passion, be strong and aggressive, keep learning—and the pride that comes with being part of a pioneering company made me choose Fluidigm and continue to make me feel that this is where I belong.

Q: What excites you the most about your role as a field applications specialist?

A: What excites me about my current role is the chance to interact with customers from a supportive point of view, offering them assistance, product training, etc. I also really enjoy my responsibility of increasing awareness about the supported products. Our company provides tools that literally can change the way we understand the concept of science. Changing the approach from a “tissue” point of view to a “single-cell” point of view (without losing all the importance that environment and interactions have) is a real scientific revolution. Helping people understand this revolution—while at the same time keeping myself up to date in order to track potential trends, generate strategies and design workflows to help in the improvements of our products—is also a very exciting and challenging responsibility I have as a field applications specialist.