Focus On Faculty

Maria Viveiros

Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?

I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from McMaster University and graduate degrees (M.Sc. and Ph.D.) in biomedical science from the University of Guelph in Canada, where I grew up. I then completed postdoctoral training at Cornell in Ithaca, New York, and The Jackson Laboratory research institute in Maine. I am an assistant professor in the department of physiology and pharmacology in the College of Veterinary Medicine. I am also a member of the UGA Interdisciplinary Toxicology Program as well as the Regenerative Bioscience Center, which foster exceptional opportunities to interact with faculty and students from across disciplines.

When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?

I came to UGA in August 2010 to begin my position as an assistant professor. It was a terrific opportunity. The College of Veterinary Medicine provides a unique environment that interconnects basic and translational research with clinical care that impacts both animal and human health. I am fortunate to be part of this vibrant and collegial community.

What are your favorite courses and why?

I genuinely enjoy all the courses I am involved with. I have the privilege of teaching amazing students in various programs and in different settings—from my lab to classrooms large and small. Each is a rewarding experience. I coordinate and teach a “Principles of Physiology” course for professional students in the first year of the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree program. The remarkable level of enthusiasm and commitment by these students never ceases to inspire me. I also teach in two graduate courses and love the opportunity to interact with Ph.D. and master’s students from different programs in smaller groups. The discussions are always thought-provoking. In my lab, I mentor graduate students as well as undergraduates in the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities (CURO) program. It’s wonderful to see these terrific students develop increasing confidence and critical thinking skills as they take on independent research projects.

What interests you about your field?

My research focuses on the cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate chromosome segregation and genomic stability during cell division and early development. One of our goals is to gain a better understanding of how these key processes are potentially compromised in germ cells that undergo a specialized division (meiosis). Sadly, errors in meiotic division increase significantly with maternal age as well as exposure to environmental toxins, which can disrupt early development and are a leading cause of congenital birth defects such as Down syndrome. We focus on the fundamental cellular processes that have very important implications for maternal and child health. It’s those implications that truly motivate my research in this field.

What are some highlights of your career at UGA?

Being awarded my first grant from the National Institutes of Health to generate a unique transgenic mouse model. This type of genetic project is time consuming, but I am really excited that we successfully developed two very informative novel genetic lines. In other studies we helped to identify a unique marker on maternal chromosomes in the early embryo. With regard to my teaching, a clear highlight was being selected as a CTL Lilly Teaching Fellow (2012-2014). As a scientist, I received little formal training in how to teach effectively. The Lilly program provided an excellent learning experience and allowed me to connect with an amazing group of faculty from different disciplines on campus. I think this program reflects the university’s strong commitment to promote excellence in teaching.

How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?

My research and teaching are very interlaced. In the graduate and CURO research courses, I am constantly drawing on examples of pertinent scientific studies. I also include learning activities to explore, present and discuss published literature. For veterinary medicine students, I strive to link the basic physiological mechanism that we discuss in class to relevant clinical applications. I also stress the importance of evidence-based medicine and the highly integrative nature of how different physiological systems function. In turn, I am constantly inspired by comparative medicine and how much we can learn from the differences between species. 

What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?

The importance of asking questions, engaging in discussions and thinking independently. In science and medicine we are always confronted with the unexpected—and it’s essential to be able to consider the unknown. Of course, I also hope students gain a sound, and possibly deeper, understanding of the material we discuss in class. 

Describe your ideal student.

My ideal student is curious, determined and engaged. I think it’s essential to also be willing to step outside your comfort zone to try something new, and have a sense of humor when a situation doesn’t work out as planned. I consider myself quite lucky, because the vast majority of the students I teach exemplify these qualities. 

Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…

My on campus “home” is my lab. It’s where I spend most of my time, and I love being at the bench working on experiments. To relax, and gain a little perspective at times, I head for a walk in the Botanical Garden.

Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…

Beyond the campus, I am “mom,” and time with my family is what I most enjoy. I love to travel and cross-country ski. My favorite place to be with my young son (Luke) and husband is by the sea—during any season and no matter the weather.

Community/civic involvement includes….

I enjoy participating in programs that promote science education for kids. I have been a reader and judge for the Georgia Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. Another of my favorite activities was hosting a young Girl Scout troop to discuss careers for women in science. Their excitement and interest was compelling. Finding ways to sustain and nurture that enthusiasm is essential.

Favorite book/movie (and why)?

I honestly don’t think I can choose just one favorite book or movie. I am a fan of old movies (yes, black and white oldies) and lean toward the classics when it comes to literature. Works by Steinbeck are some of my favorites, but I also love a good mystery. These days I have the pleasure of rereading and sharing some of my favorite books as a kid, like Madeleine L’Engle’s  “A Wrinkle in Time,” with my young son. It’s fun to get his take on it.

Proudest moment at UGA?

It’s the quiet and personal moments that stand out to me, such as seeing my lab functional for the first time, or being stopped in the hall and thanked by a student for helping them understand material they were struggling with in a class. Without exception, I am always especially proud to see the students in my classes and in my lab succeed.
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