Meet José de Oliveira Carvalho Neto

Written by Dr. Lei Lei (SSR Diversity Committee) in honor of Pride Month

Pride is a month dedicated to celebrating LGBTQ+ lives, history, and culture. Pride is a global event that is celebrated every June. Countries and cities celebrate Pride Month differently: parades, concerts, workshops, and exhibitions. To commemorate Pride month this year, Dr. Lei Lei (SSR Diversity Committee) sat down with Dr. José de Oliveira Carvalho Neto from Federal University of Espírito Santo (Brazil).

Enjoy the reading!

1. Please write a short paragraph describing your research program. 

I began my research focusing on morpho-functional evaluations of bovine spermatozoa involved in sperm fertility in fixed-time artificial insemination programs and in vitro embryo production, particularly the evaluation of sex-sorted spermatozoa by flow cytometry. In this regard, I conducted studies assessing different structures of the spermatozoa using fluorescent probes, Computer-Assisted Semen Analysis (CASA), nanometric measurements through atomic force microscopy, and molecular and epigenetic analysis of sex-sorted spermatozoa. At the end of my postgraduate studies, I began studying the interaction of spermatozoa with the oviduct by analyzing molecular and proteomic changes in the oviduct in the presence of sex-sorted or conventional spermatozoa. Currently, the research in my lab mainly focuses on investigating the interactions of gametes and embryos with the oviduct and developing an in vitro test for spermatozoa interaction with oviductal epithelial cells to predict fertility in bulls.

2. What is your current position, and what does it entail? 

Since 2016, I have taken on the position of professor in the veterinary medicine course at the Federal University of Espírito Santo (UFES), and in 2017, I was accepted as a permanent advisor for the postgraduate program in veterinary sciences. The UFES is one of the 63 federal universities in Brazil and is located in the state of Espírito Santo, in the southeast region of Brazil. At UFES, my role as a professor and advisor is multifaceted and comprehensive. My primary role in teaching includes designing lesson plans, preparing teaching materials, and assessing student progress. Additionally, I am heavily involved in mentoring interns, master’s, and undergraduate students, including many young researchers, assisting students in navigating the curriculum, choosing elective courses, and guiding their research and thesis work.

In the field of research, I conduct experiments, analyze data, and coordinate the writing of scientific articles for publication of the results of our research group, as well as collaborate on projects with researchers from other Brazilian universities. Another fundamental aspect for the development of research and student work is related to the constant search for funding for projects, as well as attending conferences to share our results. Another important aspect is the involvement of the academic community with the local community in the region where the university is located, which includes participation in committees and extension activities, providing services to the community for regional development.

To maintain all these activities, constant dedication to professional development is important, I actively participate in courses, workshops, and conferences to improve skills as an educator and researcher.

3. Can you talk a little bit about yourself? Where are you from? What first attracted you to the world of science? How did you get to be in your current position? 

I was born in the state of Minas Gerais, in a region known as a major dairy producer in the state. My family has always worked in farms, and since the time when my great-grandfather was alive. The farm is now taken care of by my father and focused on milk production. I have had direct contact with farm work since a very young age. As a child, I went to school in the morning on the truck that collected the milk, and I always wanted to be a veterinarian. Even before starting veterinary school, I wanted to work with bovine reproduction, and that is the focus of my studies today.

My first contact with research was during the third year of college when I did an internship at Embrapa Gado de Leite, a governmental research agency with various units spread across the country. There, I assisted researcher Dr. Maria de Fátima, who studied bovine behavior and pre- and post-milking management practices to improve productivity and welfare. After completing my undergraduate studies, I met researchers Dr. Roberto Sartori and Dr. Margot Dode, from the Genetic Resources and Biotechnology unit at Embrapa. With them, I began studying morphofunctional analysis of bovine sperm, with an emphasis on sex-sorted semen. Under their joint supervision, I completed my master’s degree at the University of Brasília and my Ph.D. at the University of São Paulo. Also, at the University of São Paulo, I did a postdoctoral internship for two years and I finally approved a public examination to become a permanent professor in the Veterinary Medicine course at UFES, where I currently conduct my work.

4. What is your favorite moment of making scientific discovery? Who is your favorite scientist? What do you do outside of the lab? 

The favorite moment of making scientific discoveries can occur during various stages of the research process, such as formulating an initial hypothesis, conducting experiments, analyzing data, or finally obtaining significant results that confirm or refute a theory. But the most rewarding moment is when I finally observe an expected or, especially, unexpected result in our experiments, and we realize the implications of our discoveries and how they can contribute to solving problems or advancing in a particular scientific field.

In relation to the researchers who inspire me, or who is my favorite scientist, it’s a very difficult question because there are so many researchers whom I admire. During my academic formation, I met many people who inspired me greatly, and I read many papers that led me to questions that were and are responsible for the research I currently undertake. I have always found the processes involving the mechanisms of fertilization and the transport of gametes and embryos through the oviduct to be very beautiful, as if it were an orchestra in which various actors need to work together in a unique sequence of events for fertilization and early embryonic development to occur correctly. Since I began studying the physiology of the oviduct, the works of the great researcher Susan Suarez, from Cornell University, caught my attention, and I learned a lot from them. I can’t say I’ve read all of them because there are countless, but I believe I’ve read most of them, and with each new paper that came out, I had the reading guaranteed for that day. I cannot fail to mention the great mentors I was fortunate to have during my academic formation, Professors Roberto Sartori and Margot Dode, who always encouraged me, believed in me, and supported my proposals for new work, guiding me on the path to follow. Besides being two great researchers, they are examples of serious, ethical, and respectful work with everyone. Currently, besides being two friends, they continue to support me and help me with the work I have been developing in UFES, with their partnership and encouragement, and I am openly a great admirer and very grateful to them.

In my free time, I enjoy having good moments with friends, such as going to the beach or the cinema. I also enjoy cooking a lot and I have a small workshop where I produce wooden furniture using wood that I collect from demolished houses or fallen trees due to natural causes.

5. What obstacles do LGBTQ+ members commonly encounter in their career trajectory?

Members of the LGBTQ+ community may face a series of challenges in their professional trajectories as researchers, reflecting social and structural barriers that still persist in many sectors or countries. Discrimination, unfortunately, is a reality that many encounter, ranging from derogatory comments to denial of advancement opportunities. Discrimination can undermine self-confidence and well-being, especially for those early in their careers. Additionally, lack of representation is a significant issue that hampers progress against prejudice. The absence of policies and LGBTQ+ references in science can leave young researchers feeling isolated and unsupported. Many may feel helpless due to the scarcity of LGBTQ+ mentors or support groups within their institutions,

Furthermore, legal and bureaucratic issues can impose additional hurdles. In some countries, discriminatory laws and policies can hinder full professional advancement, leaving LGBTQ+ scientists vulnerable to legalized discrimination, even prompting them to question their belongingness to the scientific Community.

In this context, mentors play a crucial role in mitigating these challenges. They can provide a safe space for LGBTQ+ early-career researchers, discussing their concerns, offering practical advice on dealing with discrimination, and advocating for inclusive policies within their labs and institutions.

6. How can professional scientific societies create a more inclusive environment to better support LGBTQ+ scientists? 

Scientific societies play an essential role in creating a more inclusive environment to support LGBTQ+ scientists. One important way to achieve this is through the implementation of explicit inclusion and non-discrimination policies. These policies should protect LGBTQ+ scientists from any form of prejudice or discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Additionally, societies can establish formal or informal support networks. These networks provide a safe space for LGBTQ+ scientists to share experiences, challenges, and resources, as well as connect with other community members who can serve as role models.

Education and awareness also play a fundamental role. Promoting education and awareness about LGBTQ+ issues among society members can help create a more welcoming and sensitive environment to the needs and experiences of LGBTQ+ scientists. Furthermore, ensuring that society events, conferences, and programs are inclusive and welcoming to LGBTQ+ scientists to promote their full participation in the scientific community. In this regard, SSR does a commendable job with its encouraging, awareness-raising, and inclusive policies for all.

By adopting these measures and demonstrating a genuine commitment to diversity and inclusion, scientific societies can create a more welcoming, equitable, and productive environment for all their members, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

7. What words of inspiration and caution would you like to share with the future generation of LGBTQ+ scientists? 

 First and foremost, it is crucial that each of us feels authentic in our identity as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. In a scientific environment often dominated by traditional norms, especially in the field of veterinary medicine focused on livestock and fieldwork, dealing with a milieu that can be often male chauvinist or conservative, discovering our authenticity is a powerful force that can bring about significant changes and advancements. However, it is also important to be aware of the challenges that may arise along the way. Discrimination and prejudice still exist in some areas of science, and it is essential to know our rights and available resources to protect our safety and well-being without affecting our work, while also promoting self-care.

It is fundamental that each of us persists in our journey as LGBTQ+ scientists, in any field of endeavor, even in the face of obstacles. Finding a supportive community, whether through LGBTQ+ professional groups in science or friends, can be a source of strength and encouragement. LGBTQ+ activism and scientific research can be challenging and emotionally demanding, so do not hesitate to seek professional support if needed, and always remember that no one is alone. Lastly, be prepared to face challenges. Unfortunately, there are still prejudices and discrimination within the scientific community, and it is important to be prepared to confront these obstacles. Giving voice to and sharing our experiences are important for promoting positive changes and creating a more inclusive and diverse environment, not only in science but throughout the community. In summary, be proud of who you are and never underestimate the value of your contributions as LGBTQ+ scientists.

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