The American Association of Immunologists (AAI) has awarded a Career Reentry Fellowship to Fernanda Ana-Sosa-Batiz, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at La Jolla Institute for Immunology (LJI). The fellowship will fund Ana-Sosa-Batiz’s salary for a year and support her COVID-19 vaccine research.
The AAI Career Reentry Fellowship goes to postdoctoral researchers who have taken a leave of absence from their positions for more than one year. Awardees may have taken time off for military obligations, medical or family leave.
“This fellowship means a lot to me,” says Ana-Sosa-Batiz. “Coming back to work after three years of taking care of my family was really rewarding, and this fellowship opens up a lot of future opportunities.”
When Ana-Sosa-Batiz and her husband came to San Diego in 2017, they were ready to continue their scientific training. The city is a biomedical research hotspot, and Ana-Sosa-Batiz is a skilled infectious disease researcher.
As a laboratory assistant at Mexico’s Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, Ana-Sosa-Batiz had worked in a lab dedicated to developing a vaccine for the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. Then as a graduate at the University of Melbourne, she co-authored seven scientific manuscripts and served as first author on three more studies. Her work on HIV and influenza has provided insight to understanding how antibodies promote viral clearance.
But in 2017, Ana-Sosa-Batiz was also seven months pregnant and dealing with the legal and logistical demands of moving from Australia to the United States. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is especially difficult to juggle responsibilities during COVID-times,” says Ana-Sosa-Batiz.
Today, Ana-Sosa-Batiz is raising a preschooler and has joined LJI as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of LJI Professor Sujan Shresta, Ph.D. Ana-Sosa-Batiz says the transition hasn’t been easy, especially as childcare and workplace policies continue to change with the pandemic, but she is loving the return to research.
“It’s been a learning experience—and it can only be done with the support of others, like your coworkers, family and mentors,” Ana-Sosa-Batiz says.
The AAI fellowship is about more than salary support. The fellowship is prestigious, with funding only going to five immunologists around the world. The award shows the value of Ana-Sosa-Batiz’s expertise in a world where scientists are usually judged by how many well-cited publications they have produced.
“Getting this kind of support puts you back at a similar level as other researchers,” says Ana-Sosa-Batiz.
Three years out of the laboratory means three years without publications, but Ana-Sosa-Batiz’s skills as an infectious disease researcher are clearly still relevant.
“We are comparing the different COVID-19 vaccines to see how well they protect us and the antibodies they elicit,” she says. “I’m also working to validate and test a new animal model for COVID-19 research. This model will help us study and develop new anti-SARS-CoV-2 therapeutics.”
Ana-Sosa-Batiz says working in the Shresta Lab is a big step toward her goal of leading her own research group.
“If we can understand how different vaccines are protecting—or not protecting—people, we can design better vaccines for many diseases,” says Ana-Sosa-Batiz. “This lab is the perfect environment for understanding immune responses to viruses and vaccines, and LJI is a great place to be since it has top experts in viral immunity and vaccines as well.”