Current position: Investigator Scientist, Medical Research Council, Mitochondrial Biology Unit, Cambridge, UK
PhD Thesis and Group: “Mitochondrial Aspartyl-tRNA Synthetase (DARS2) Deficiency and Tissue-Specific Consequences of Defective Mitochondrial Translation” (Prof. Aleksandra Trifunovic)
For my PhD, I wanted to focus on mitochondrial involvement in ageing and ageing-related diseases. CECAD, as well as the MPI for Biology of Ageing, had already hired amazing mitochondrial leaders in their respective fields, which transformed Cologne as one of the greatest hubs of mitochondrial research in the world. I had my eyes set on a position at Prof. Trifunovic’s lab and been lucky enough to work for her with the help of my scholarship from the CGA.
I was amazed by the flexibility of the programme – nothing was set on stone and the CGA was very responsive to our ideas and suggestions. Moreover, the quality of the hard- and soft-skill courses is just out of this world.
After graduation, I wanted to expand my horizons from basic research, and get involved more with translational aspects of mitochondrial diseases. Thus, I pursued a postdoctoral position in one of the highly renowned labs and centers in the world, the Medical Research Council. Coming from a widely respected mitochondrial lab and institute opened the doors for me. I also have been awarded the highly prestigious EMBO Long-Term Postdoctoral Fellowship to pursue my postdoctoral work in Cambridge, UK. The soft skill courses, such as grant writing, presentation & interview skills, were really important to prepare me for the upcoming challenges in my career.
Current position: PostDoc, Broad Institute of Harvard and M.I.T., Cambridge, MA, USA
PhD Thesis and Group: "Rare genetic risk factors in common idiopathic epilepsy syndromes" (Prof. Peter Nürnberg)
I was able to intensely strengthen my communication and presentation skills due to several soft skill courses offered by the programme. Furthermore, I became a more independent researcher compared to other PhD students in my lab as I had my own funding for conferences and could independently decide which conference to attend.
Since I graduated quite early, I stayed one year longer in the lab as a postdoc to finish several projects and write the corresponding papers. During this time, I had the chance to network with several other research groups and also companies. In the end, I followed my striving for new challenges and started as a postdoc at one of the most renown scientific institutes in medical genetics - the Broad Institute of Harvard and M.I.T. In parallel, I supervise a small research group of two postdocs one PhD student at the University of Cologne, Germany. My research focuses on the discovery of novel disease genes as well as variant interpretation in established disease genes using large scale patient and control genetic and other biological data sets. My major research expertise is computational methods and the genetics developmental disorders including epilepsy, autism and intellectual disabilities. Moreover, I received a fellowship of the German Academic Exchange Service. In order to apply for this fellowship, the grant writing workshop which was part of the PhD programme, proved extremely useful.
Looking back, I tried to anticipate the required skills to become successful and therefore, I tried to control my actions in order to fulfil all essential criteria: I started thinking about how research in the life-sciences might change in the future from the very beginning on, I never performed an experiment without considering if the experiment will add additional information and finally, I tried to network whenever possible and took over the correspondence with collaboration partners whenever my PI let me. A career in academic research is extremely competitive and takes more engagement then most other jobs. If a student wants to pursue this track she/he will need to work with passion, for long hours and on several weekends. This is not something for everyone and therefore I recommend to current students to think about who you are and what you want and are able to be in the future as early as possible. For someone who does not want to become a professor but is rather looking for a non-science related job, an additional paper might be less useful in comparison to an online economics course. In order to prepare yourself, you have to expose yourself to these topics.
Current position: PostDoc, Columbia University, Lab of Prof. Dr. Oliver Hobert, New York City, NY, USA
PhD Thesis and Group: "Metabolic Programming of Hypothalamic Neurocircuits by Maternal High-Fat Feeding" (Prof. Jens Brüning)
The soft skill courses offered by the CGA helped me during all different stages of my PhD as they were adapted to our individual needs. For instance, the presentation workshops gave me confidence in talking about my science, the scientific writing course was very useful for improving my paper and the thesis and the career development course at the end of my PhD facilitated the necessary steps to apply for postdoc positions abroad enormously.
After graduating, I moved to New York to work as a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University. The close and frequent interaction with PIs and the programme coordinators of the CGA helped me to think in a broader scientific way, which substantiated my wish to pursue science as a career.
In general, if you like science and more importantly, you enjoy working as a scientist, persevere, give your best, do not get discouraged, but also enjoy it on the way. Looking back, I would probably try to read much more also outside of my own field early on during my PhD.