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Joint programme
Bioinformatics and Systems Biology (joint degree UvA/VU)
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Kate Jo-Ann Feller

Current position: PhD student
Employer: Erasmus MC (MP Chien Lab)
Master’s programmes and tracks : Biomedical Sciences – Biochemistry and Metabolic Diseases + Life Sciences – Bioinformatics  

Internships as a springboard to your career

'For me, the best part of the Master’s was the amount of time we had for internships. I learn a lot more from doing rather than reading about how to do it. My first internship combined the skillsets of both degrees. On one hand, I needed to program and perform data analysis and on the other hand I needed to understand the biological meaning and relevance of my analyses and results. My second internship was mostly wet lab with some dry lab. I think that this internship really identified a ‘problem’ for me, specifically that a lot of labs focus on either Biomedical research or Bioinformatics. There is some crosstalk, but definitely not a  1:1 ratio. I feel these internships helped me identify what I wanted to do after graduating.'

Charting an interdisciplinary path

'After my Master’s, I knew I wanted to do an interdisciplinary PhD. The description for the position I got hired for stated “looking for a student who has both biomedical and bioinformatics knowledge and wants to work in an interdisciplinary lab”. I immediately knew I’d found my place. My research focuses on identifying the molecular mechanisms of cancerous cells that display properties associated with a poor outcome for patients using a combination of single cell techniques and machine learning. My colleagues have various backgrounds, such as chemistry, physics, and computer sciences. It’s a challenging environment to work in, but since I enjoy interdisciplinary research and learning about different fields, it’s perfect.'

Work smarter not harder

'A big part of research is solving problems but I also think that depending on your research aim trying to reinvent the wheel can be a waste of time. A lot of time and effort can be saved if you study the current solution and optimise it. Pick and choose your experimental battles or as my dad would say “work smarter not harder”. Networking is also really important, especially in science. It’s a small world and if you make a good impression, it’s easier to find a job. I networked a lot with my professors and lecturers which definitely benefitted me in getting accepted for my PhD position.'

The importance of work-life balance

'Generally, people say ”do what you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life”, but I disagree. Your job needs to be something where the positives outweigh the negatives even if it is not the main passion in your life  I feel that there’s a high pressure on scientists to be super passionate about their work and where you think about your work 24/7. To me,  science is just like any job, you’re also supposed to have a healthy work-life balance.'