Maciej, what does your academic journey look like so far?
I obtained both my BSc and MSc in Molecular Biotechnology at the University of Warsaw in Poland. There, I worked in the field of plant epigenetics. During that time, I also did an Erasmus exchange, which allowed me to come to Paris and gain my first international experience. After studies, I spent a year as a research intern in Oklahoma City in the USA, where I worked on DNA replication in zebrafish. After that, I came back to Paris to join Institut Curie for my PhD. I worked in the team ‘Genome functions in space and time’ (led by Dr. Antoine Coulon) in UMR3664 and UMR168. My project was focusing on the link between 3D genome organization and gene regulation in human breast cancer cells. Currently, I’m a postdoc at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland.
How did you get to know the IC3i program? How did you find the application and interview days?
I was looking for possibilities to do my PhD in Paris and that’s how I stumbled upon the IC3i program. The application process was quite easy and straightforward; actually, I applied to the program within the extended period, so in the end I was quite lucky to get the position! I was very impressed with the interview days – they were very well organized and allowed me to get to know the institute and the team.
Why did you decide to do a PhD?
I think that during my masters I developed the scientific curiosity and while many of my friends were switching to industry after studies, I wanted to follow this curiosity further. Doing a PhD seemed like a natural choice and I’m not disappointed I chose this path.
What would you say was the defining moment of your PhD path?
It’s difficult to choose one precise moment. During my project I encountered many obstacles and had to get used to failure, and the few breakthrough moments, where experiments were working after months of trials, were the ones that made me believe that the PhD journey is worth continuing and can be rewarding. So, I would say that these few moments were the highlights of my PhD and really helped me to stay motivated.
How was your PhD experience in Institut Curie?
Overall, I find my experience at Institut Curie very positive. Starting from the administrative side, the HR department of the institute as well as the admin team of my unit were very helpful in navigating the complexities of the French bureaucracy. Also, scientifically it was very stimulating. I was in a unit that was a good fit for my scientific interests and the interactions with the people within helped me to grow not only as a scientist, but also personally. My PhD was nevertheless full of obstacles. The last year was especially harsh for me – writing the thesis and finalizing the last experiments at the same time was very difficult and exhausting. Besides, the pandemics did not help with that. It is thanks to the support of friends from my unit that I managed to go through these hardships. Now, looking back, I’m proud of what I accomplished and happy about the connections I made during my stay at Curie.
According to you, what are the 3 key skills one should master to successfully ride the turbulent waves of a PhD?
Perseverance, decision-making and the ability to keep a proper work-life balance.
And why would you say so…?
As I said – the PhD path is full of obstacles, so you really need to constantly motivate yourself to keep going and believe that at some point you will troubleshoot all the problems and things will work out just fine. Being de facto a leader of a scientific project also requires making decisions, often difficult ones, like abandoning an interesting experiment for the sake of time. All of this can be mentally challenging, so keeping a proper work-life balance is the key to a healthy and rewarding PhD experience. In contrast to what people often think, staying late at work or coming every weekend will not advance your project, but will make you more frustrated and lead to a burn-out.
What does your future plan look like?
I don’t have yet a precise plan for my future – I will be doing my postdoc for another 4 years at least, so I guess I will have enough time to think about what’s next. I know for sure that I would like to stay in academia as a permanent researcher, but time will tell whether this happens or not. I will try to keep my options as open as possible.
Looking back, do you think you would’ve done something differently which would’ve changed where you’re standing today?
I don’t think I would change anything I’ve done so far. I think my decisions were well-thought and I’m happy where I am now.
Finally, any piece of advice for the freshers who are just starting/will start their PhD?
Keep your heads up and don’t let the problems discourage you – you are good enough and you will make it!