It has been a long road from the island of Mallorca in Spain to Stockholm via some of the most prestigious law firms and scientific research institutions in the United States - but it’s a road that Isabel has followed with distinction, and that has ultimately led to what she describes as ‘the perfect job’. Obviously much more than curiosity has been involved along the way, including discipline, focus, hard work, talent, and self-knowledge. But from the beginning, underlying and informing everything, there has been an innate curiosity, a desire and drive to learn and to know – about everything. Early on, Isabel developed a particular interest in the functioning of the brain and ended up with a PhD in Neuroscience. But that was by no means the only path she might have taken: she could just as easily have gone on to study music, literature or dance. She had a love of, and talent for, all.
When Isabel was growing up in Mallorca it was an idyllic, still tranquil, Mediterranean island: beautiful but small. She loved the way of life there, but was naturally keen to explore the wider world – and she began by studying at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, where she discovered with fascination the functioning of the brain, particularly all things related to learning and memory. After she graduated from University, she wanted to continue to learn more about the brain – and for that, the United States was definitely the place to be. Studying in the United States was her academic dream; it was also a great opportunity for adventure.
She applied for and was awarded a highly competitive Fellowship from ‘la Caixa’ to study in the United States. She received the Award from the King of and Queen of Spain at a grand presentation ceremony. Her parents were understandably excited and proud and she describes it as one of the happiest days of her life. Her father subsequently had a small copy made of the presentation photograph, which he carried in his wallet for the rest of his life.
Isabel chose to continue her studies at Northwestern University, a leading research university situated near Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan. From the minute she arrived in Chicago, she loved both the city and Northwestern’s beautiful Evanston Campus. She spent several years there obtaining, first, a Master of Science in Neurobiology and Physiology and then a Ph.D. in Neuroscience. Then, New York beckoned. She had always yearned to go to New York – perhaps, as she says, life in the Midwest was always going to be too quiet for a Spaniard. She obtained a post-doctoral position at the prestigious Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, where Nobel Prize winner James Watson was then President, and set off. She found the experience both exciting and rewarding, and felt very privileged to be there. After five years of post-doctoral research, the next obvious step in her academic career would have been to seek an appointment as a University Professor. At this point, however, prompted by both innate curiosity and increasing self-knowledge, she decided to change course.
While at Northwestern, she had made friends with a number of Spanish students who were studying for an MBA at the University’s business school, the Kellogg School of Management, one of the oldest and most prestigious business schools in the world. Through them she was exposed for the first time to the world of business, something to which, up to that point, she had paid virtually no attention. Now, she was excited by what she saw and became increasingly curious about life outside the academic world. She started to wonder if the high-paced beat of the business world might be a better match for her eager personality; thus far, however, she had devoted her life to an academic career and deciding to change course at this stage was one of the hardest decisions she had ever made. It turned out to be also one of the best.
Through a contact, Isabel was put in touch with one of the top litigation teams in biotechnology at leading law firm, Clifford Chance. She plunged in at the deep end, spending her last day in the Laboratory at quiet Cold Spring Harbor on a Friday and her first day at Clifford Chance in busy downtown Manhattan the following Monday. As the team was at the time preparing for a high profile trial, she was pushing herself to the limit – but she loved every minute of it and stayed with the firm for six years. While there, she qualified as a US Patent Agent.
During that time she met her future husband, a Swedish banker who was working in a European bank in Manhattan, just a few blocks away from the MetLife building where she worked. They were married in Mallorca and in 2009 their daughter Olympia was born. As they wanted her to be brought up in Europe, they decided to move to Sweden the following year. For the first few years there, Isabel spent time raising little Olympia and learning Swedish. She was subsequently offered a job in the patent team of Valea, now Rouse, to work primarily on telecom patents, a new field for her. Intrigued by the challenge, she was persuaded to give it a try and soon discovered the fast, ever-evolving world of telecommunications. It was a perfect match. While at Valea, continuing to push herself, she also qualified as a European Patent Attorney.
From her office in Stockholm, Isabel sees the building where the Nobel prizes are presented every December and last year her former mentor, Holly Cline, was in town when a member of her department received his Nobel prize. But while celebrating with pride her academic past, Isabel has no regrets at all about leaving behind her life in the lab. Her current job provides her with a perfect mix: the scientific content and involvement with inventors in the vanguard of technological development fulfils her academic side; the logic, analysis and writing provide the mental stimulation she thrives on, and the creativity involved in protecting and defending clients’ interests allows her to fulfil her creative side - all at the fast pace she enjoys.
It’s everything, you might think, that this brainy woman from Mallorca would need – and professionally it may be. But Isabel says that by far her most important role and greatest accomplishment is being a mother to Olympia.