Kristin Gehling: CGA Master programme fellow

Kristin Gehling joined the CGA Master Fellowship programme in October 2019 following a Biological Science Master programme at the University of Cologne. While pursuing her Master courses at the University, she is also associated to the lab of her mentor Dr. Peter Tessarz at the MPI for Biology of Ageing. The research focus of the Tessarz’ lab is “Chromatin and Ageing”.

Can you tell us about your everyday life as a CGA Master programme fellow and how you think it differs from a regular Biology Master student’s life at the University of Cologne?

Since this is the first year of the programme and every master fellow entered a different lab and at a different stage of their  studies, the programme feels quite dynamic. I was fortunate to join the programme after my second master’s semester. I think a great difference lies within the close contact I have with my group and mentor. From the beginning, I participated in weekly group meetings and social activities. We met, for instance, on the Christmas markets or were invited to Peter’s home for raclette. So by the time I started coming to the lab on a daily basis, I felt familiar with everyone and knew about their research projects. 

In addition to the offer of a regular master’s programme, the fellowship provides the possibility to come to the lab and get involved in ongoing projects, whenever I have time in-between my master courses. Therefore, I have gained a lot of new insights into state-of-the-art techniques even before the start of my master thesis. 

Beside the experimental part, I have the chance to attend a comprehensive lecture series on ageing research as well as the Friday seminars, held by PhD candidates and Postdocs from the institute. Overall, there are many opportunities to attend scientific talks and local conferences to broaden my knowledge around ageing research. 

Why did you apply to the CGA Master Fellowship programme and how did you so far benefit from being a fellow of this programme?

I got familiar with the institute and witnessed the sophisticated research practised here over the course of an ageing associated subject module during my first semester. The experience motivated me to look for opportunities to join the institution. Additionally, I developed an interest for epigenetic research during my bachelor studies, which is why I was really glad to see a CGA Fellowship mentor focusing on “Chromatin and Ageing”. 
Another major aspect has been the financial funding. I can focus more on what I love without having to rely on side jobs. Now, I’m looking forward to working more independently on my master’s thesis project, which will be in line with my interests.  

How do you think being a fellow of this programme influences your career path or decisions in terms of your future career?

The MPI and the neighbouring institutes create an outstanding international research environment and provide a great network to connect with fellow motivated scientists. I certainly gather many new impressions and can observe inspiring career paths. Besides the exceptional opportunity to enrich my practical skill set, I’m able to broaden my horizon in a structural and social manner. Having access to events organized by the CGA graduate programme and talking to current graduate students, I gain detailed insights about the benefits of the PhD programme, too. Hence, being a CGA Master fellow, certainly also helps me to make a well-informed decision regarding my next career step and my application for doctoral studies.

You are one of the first fellows of the CGA Master programme after the programme was launched in 2019. What do you think are the challenges of participating in this programme and do you have any recommendations for future fellows or current applicants?

I am very honored to be part of the fellowship programme, this is also an exciting chapter for myself. At the same time, I consider it my responsibility to measure up to my own expectations of being a representative and scholar, which can be a bit stressful. However, I always feel very welcome and guided by the whole Tessarz lab and the CGA coordination.

But mostly I want to encourage everyone who is hesitating with their application to apply. For instance, I often thought my grades are not sufficient for a scholarship but it is rather the whole picture which counts.