Sebastian, can you give us a brief introduction about yourself and your education before coming to Paris?
Of course, I am happy to do this: I was born and raised in Berlin, Germany and performed my studies in Potsdam, a small city close to Berlin. At the University of Potsdam, I studied Life Sciences during my Undergrad and “Molecular Biology and Biochemistry” for my master studies. During my studies, I got especially excited about Cellular Biology. Moreover, towards the end of my master studies, I wanted to go abroad for my master thesis, preferentially as far away as possible. Fortunately, I managed to find a position at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in San Diego, California in the lab of Prof. Arshad Desai. This internship in San Diego built the foundation for my next career step to Paris…
Why did you decide to join the IC3i Program and the Research Centre of Institut Curie?
I enjoyed living abroad and considered this to be a very enriching experience. On this basis, it was appealing to also perform a PhD abroad. Paris being Paris, was obviously a fascinating location for this. Importantly, I also found myself captivated by the PhD topic proposed by my PI, Daniele Fachinetti, PhD, which was a great follow up of my master thesis topic in San Diego. The cherry on top of the cake was the Institut Curie itself and the IC3i program which offered several exciting advantages.
The institute has a large international community that is obviously very vivid in the context of the international PhD program. Such a program makes it even easier to connect to people and enjoy this great diversity. In fact, I really met many wonderful people from all around the world at Institut Curie. The international PhD program also put a strong emphasize on cross-functional collaboration and indeed my PhD project greatly benefited from multidisciplinary thinking and collaborations.
Institut Curie itself is a renowned place with an impressive history which further triggered my interests to go there. After visiting the institute, the facilities and the people I met finally convinced me to join Curie. My PhD topic was called: “A genetic memory initiates the epigenetic loop necessary to preserve centromere position” under the supervision of Daniele Fachinetti, PhD, in the Molecular Mechanisms of Chromosome Dynamics team. Also, thanks to very strong support by my PI, collaborators and the people around me, I was able to publish and present my work on multiple occasions rendering my Institut Curie PhD experience a success story.
In your opinion, which are the advantages of doing a PhD?
I did my PhD in the fields of Cancer Research / Cell Biology / Epigenetics / Centromere Biology. In my new job, the focus of my research has shifted to Cancer Immunology. I am currently experiencing a very steep learning curve which I greatly enjoy. Nevertheless, it is also very interesting to see how much of what I learned during my PhD, I can still transfer into my new field of research. There are many general scientific approaches you learn during a PhD, which you can apply in very different fields, possibly even outside of research. I think you have to try hard NOT to learn a lot during a PhD which is a strong argument for doing a PhD. Indeed, very often during the PhD you hear about “transferable skills” but I believe it really requires applying these transferable skills to appreciate what is meant by the term. Off the top of my head among others, transferable skills are for example time management, project development and coping with frustration and challenging situations.
Moreover, if you consider a career in science in which you can take over an increasing amount of responsibility in future jobs, a PhD will be most likely a prerequisite.
A PhD may be considered as an important experience on your way to become a “completed scientist”. I think at the end, everyone has to find its own definition of what a “completed scientist” is and how far you want to go for this. Obviously, not everyone needs to do a PhD and there are great alternative paths, possibly leading faster to better job security, and perhaps more leisure time, etc.… I believe everyone should at least think about this as well as their own future visions very carefully and honestly before starting a PhD.
What are you doing now? What advice would you give to people who will soon finish their PhD?
I am now a Post-doc in the Cancer Immunology and Immune Modulation department at Boehringer-Ingelheim (BI) in Biberach, Germany.
If I had to give an advice to someone finishing her or his PhD, it would be to consider trying something different from what you were used to work on during the PhD. Of course, as always, there is no “one fits all” approach and everyone has to make his own decision. For myself however, I greatly benefited from switching work environment and research fields. This brought me a lot of new excitement for science and new motivation.
I had a rather long phase of meandering after finishing my thesis. Another advice is not to get discourage and continue your efforts to understand what you want to do next after your PhD.
I finally succeeded to understand what I want to learn next and where I want to go next… In fact, a very fruitful collaboration with the Innate Immunity Team at Institut Curie (coming back to multidisciplinary collaborations that I mentioned earlier) became an important aspect for my job search. I started actively to put a stronger focus on jobs in immunology and used the stimulating experience of my PhD for my applications. I finally found a great match with my current employment at BI.
Was it hard to find a job afterwards?
The truth is that it was not a walk in the park for me. But I also have to admit that I was fussy. I wanted to enter the “corporate world” and applied almost exclusively for jobs in industry. Applying for jobs was almost a full-time job itself.
Do you have anything to add? Any advice?
During the PhD, you can have moments where you may feel stuck or that you’re “wasting” your time but in fact there can be always something good behind it even if you do not realize it yet. So, don’t get discouraged by failure, don’t let it get close to you and be patient. And specially make sure you have a life outside the laboratory because you won’t be happy by just doing research. There are things out there more important than work. I know it is easier said than done …