What is your scientific background?
I studied Biology in Leipzig, Germany. This was before the European Bologna process and therefore not divided in Bachelor and Masters degree. In the advanced study period, I specialized on Immunology, Physiology, and Biochemistry and did my final thesis in Immunology on a project about actin polymerization in monocytes in response to endotoxin. Then I did my Ph.D. in Leipzig in a collaboration between the Immunology Department and the Department of Internal Medicine in the „Experimental Rheumatology“ group. I studied the interaction of monocytes and T cells in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. I also did my postdoctoral studies in the „Experimental Rheumatology“ group in Leipzig revolving around monocytes and rheumatoid arthritis. I completed the postdoctoral studies with the habilitation thesis.
Why did you choose to become a scientist? How did you choose your field of study?
As a child, I always had my nose in books, had a strong interest in science and wanted to know everything. To quote Goethe’s Faust „So that I may perceive whatever holds, The world together in its inmost folds“. But aside from science in general, my main interest was space and astronomy and of course, I wanted to pursue this. Unfortunately, I let discourage myself by my guidance counselor in school, who thought Physics studies would be too hard for me and astronomer would be a dead-end job. The guidance counselor studied Physics herself, maybe her experience led to this recommendation, I don’t know. She pointed me to Biology because this was the school subject I rank among the best in the school. Biology was one of my favorite subjects in school in addition to Mathematics, and that is how it came that I studied Biology. And the Goethe/Faust quote is still true but now I study the „inmost folds“ of cells.
Which topic are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on monocytes which are the first line of defense in the innate immune system. In the past years, I studied many monocyte functions, interaction with other cells, their role in the autoimmune disease rheumatoid arthritis and monocyte subpopulations. More recently, I focused on the activation of monocytes by calcium ions via the G-protein-coupled receptors CaSR and GPRC6A and role of calcium ions acting as danger molecules in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. As you see, monocytes are my favorite cells.
What are your biggest achievements, and what your biggest failures?
I consider my Ph.D. my biggest achievement because it was a dream of mine right from start, right from my first step into the University. So the path was clear and I followed this path without any doubt. Needless to say, I encountered many typical research problems during my Ph.D. but I never thought about not getting the Ph.D. in the end. So the day of the defense was a very happy day for me. I was the first from my family to get a Ph.D. which made it extra special.
My biggest failure is probably that I didn’t pursue a Ph.D. or postdoctoral research time in the US, Canada or UK. It would have helped a lot to further my career in academics.
Besides your scientific interests, what are your personal interests?
Nowadays I’m mostly working on the computer and not in the lab and that is why it is important for me to be active in my time outside of work. I go hiking and most of the times I combine it with Geocaching, and I love to visit the northern European countries, especially Norway. And I have two Golden Retrievers who also keep me active. Of course, I’m still interested in Space & Astronomy, I read a lot about it and #spacetwitter it a great source for everything about Space. I’m doing some Astrophotography, nothing fancy, just what you can do with a normal DSLR and a 200mm lens.
If you had the option to give advice to a younger version of yourself, what would that be?
Push yourself out of your comfort zone more often and be proactive.
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