This week, we hear from Esther Volz as she shares her experiences leading to her PhD and bit about her interests outside of science. She is doing her PhD in the R&D division of DSM, a Dutch-based multinational life and material science company.
What does your lab do? What is a brief description of the project you work on?
I started my PhD at the DSM Biotechnology Center in Delft (Netherlands) which is the R&D core facility for a broad range of life science products. My main objective within the MetaRNA network is to bridge the gap between ongoing research and industrial applications by developing molecular biosensors that can be directly applied to enhance industrial process performances. Since the development of such biosensors is pretty new to me I decided to start a first collaboration with the lab of Günter Mayer in Bonn where I am currently working on my first biosensor target, improving my table soccer skills and learning how to select an aptamer.
What is your background in science (and otherwise)? What led you to decide to do a PhD?
I studied bioengineering. That basically means that you learn how to convince all kind of microorganisms to do what you want them to do, e.g. to produce antibiotics, biopolymers, vaccines, yoghurt or (probably the most joyful example) alcohol. If you keep studying a bit longer you can learn even more fancy things, such as how to build nano-scale devices out of DNA, how to purify antibodies that potentially cure cancer and how to mimic human tissue so accurate so that even stem cells do not realize that they are outside the body.
It was due to those multiple opportunities that bioengineering offers that I decided to stay in research a bit longer and not to start working directly at a company. In my opinion a PhD should enable you to work independently on diverse challenging projects and should open many doors for future personal and scientific development.
An ITN is about international collaboration – what has your experience been so far in living in a country that is, perhaps, quite different from your own? What are some tips you would give to new PhD students (or students in general) who are moving to a different country?
My first – probably most obvious – tip: learn the language. It does not only help you to manage everyday life and to understand the way people think but understanding everyone around you will also help you to feel more confident and therefore more comfortable. My first experience in Holland? There’s always time for a coffee and a ‘lekker kroketje’ (fried roll containing a goulash type meat sludge – really tasty!).
It hasn’t been that long since we were interviewing for PhDs; what are some pointers you would give to students looking for a PhD to do during their undergraduate or Master’s?
Pick out research topics that appear incredibly interesting to you. Make up your mind if you really want to leave your country and friends behind to go abroad. Meet the group you are going to work with and see if you like them and their working style. In my opinion getting along with your working fellows is half the battle.
What are your short-term and long-term career goals (aka, what do you want to be “when you grow up” 😉 )?
Short-term: Master my PhD.
Long-term: To work on/manage exciting R&D projects which strive to change the world for the better! Or open my own organic brewery (plan B).
What do you like to do for fun (outside of science, of course)?
I love to go backpacking around the globe and all kinds of sports that include a mountain or (since I recently moved to the Netherlands) are at least outdoors. If the weather is bad I also enjoy indoor climbing, good wine, impressionistic art, reading crime novels and sauna.
What is your favorite food?
Käsespätzle. Or more general: everything containing cheese. The more the better!