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Lisa Neidhardt, PhD student
Please shortly describe your current profession. What does your typical day at work look like?
I am currently a PhD student in the lab of Prof. David Ron in Cambridge. My typical daily routine includes mainly experimental work for my project and subsequent data analysis. On a regular basis (usually once every one or two weeks) I discuss the latest results with my PI to plan the next steps for the progress of the project. Also on a regular basis (usually once every two or three months) I present my data within a seminar to the other lab members. I typically perform experiments based on methods that are available in our lab (e.g. cloning, protein purification, biophysical methods like FRET or BLI and cell culture methods). However, I am additionally involved in various side projects, collaborating with colleagues or other labs. This is usually a great opportunity to learn new methods and to get in touch with other researchers. Another important part of my daily lab routine is the documentation of the experimental work that was done but also planning of experiments that are currently on the agenda. Also, as it is important to stay up to date, I read some literature at least once a week.
What was your motivation for studying Biochemistry?
Already during my time at school, I was fascinated by Nature and by understanding the biochemical processes that keep us and our environment going. By studying Biochemistry, you learn about these molecular events, how they interplay and how they are regulated (or dysregulated in case of disease). To my mind, the chemical and biophysical parts of the program provide the tools to really understand the matter on a molecular basis. Besides the fact that you can build up a broad understanding over the course of your study, you additionally learn how to efficiently analyze and solve problems. This is definitely a very useful skill, no matter whether you want to stay in Science after university or whether you change the path of your career.
When and how did you choose your current profession? Did you realize your plans from the time of your studies?
I came via a detour to my current profession. During the last semester of my Master’s I was still not sure whether I wanted to pursue a PhD or not (I even considered looking for positions as a technician). To further postpone the decision and to improve my English skills I applied for an Erasmus internship (ten weeks) in Cambridge. This is how I came to the lab where I am working right now. Already during my first weeks there, I enjoyed the international atmosphere and the productive environment and developed the strong ambition to stay there for my PhD. Although I had missed the regular deadlines for the PhD application at this point, together with my PI we found a way to secure funding to start my PhD.
What in your opinion is the most important thing for your work that you learned during your studies? What do you still profit from?
I am still profiting from my broad spectrum of methods and background knowledge that I have acquired during university studies. Even if sometimes details are not immediately present in my mind, I know where to find them. Additionally, I am still profiting from the amount of practical experience that I have because of the various lab modules during the Master’s program. In my experience it is definitely an advantage to spend some time in different labs to build up a general understanding of how a lab works. Additionally, this will help you in the future to familiarize yourself with a new working environment more easily and faster.
Which additional qualifications should one gain as a student that are crucial or useful for your current profession?
As a scientist you are often expected to think outside of the box (especially when it is about finding new ideas how to address a research question). This is nothing that I have learned directly in university, but this is more about taking actively part in seminars/practical courses etc. Furthermore, to my mind very good English skills are important in Science, as is the skill to present scientific topics/data in an understandable way to others. Ultimately, the ability to self-organize in a structured manner is something that I consider as being essential.
Is there anything from the Master’s program that evokes especially strong memories?
I took part in the first course of “How to write a grant”. I still have this module in mind because it took me through the process of reviewing the status quo of the literature, thinking about a research question I want to address and designing suitable experimental approaches. Hereby, it is especially important to plan control experiments, conduct risk assessments and design alternative approaches in case plan A doesn’t work out. Additionally, writing such a proposal requires you to put all this information into a compact, convincing and understandable text. In my experience writing good proposals is an important skill for a researcher, as you need it for example when you want to apply for scholarships or funding. In any case, it is always a good idea to prioritize and think about future experiments/controls when you want to plan a project.
What advice would you give the Master students who would like to pursue a similar career?
First, I would definitely advise you to talk to people. Especially when it is about planning your future, it is very helpful to not hesitate to ask people about their path of career/their advice. You never know if somebody knows someone that might help you. Additionally, it is good to build up your network early. Second, don’t worry too much when you don’t know yet which career path you want to choose. There are many possible ways, and everyone must find their own. In my experience sometimes things will just happen as long as you keep on doing what you are passionate about.