Many alumni are now pursuing their careers far away from Berlin. In August, the MDC visited some of them abroad. The event, titled “25 years of the MDC: Research highlights and career pathways,” took place in San Francisco.
“Wow, I didn’t know you were also in New York! And just 15 minutes away from where I live!” Comments like these could be heard at the welcome dinner and at the symposium the following day. About 20 current and former MDC researchers gathered in San Francisco on August 23rd and 24th of this year, to catch up with old friends, make new acquaintances, and discuss their scientific work.
In 2017 the MDC is celebrating its 25th anniversary. At the symposium, Thomas Sommer, Claus Scheidereit and Niccolo Zampieri spoke about MDCs current research programs as well as the Center’s plans for the future. Ulrike Albrecht of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation gave an overview of research funding opportunities in Germany. This was followed by presentations from several MDC alumni about their latest research on a diverse range of topics, such as “CRISPR live-cell imaging to understand gene positioning” (Philipp Maass, PhD student and postdoc with Fred Luft, until 2015; now postdoc at Harvard University) and “Large scale simultaneous measurement of epitopes and transcriptomes in single cells” (Marlon Stoeckius, PhD student within the MDC-NYU PhD Exchange Program until 2011; now senior research scientist at the New York Genome Center). The event was sponsored by the “Research Alumni Meetings Abroad” program, which is administered by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.
What made a difference for the alumni
When asked about their time at the MDC, many alumni shared what made a difference for them. For instance, Jung-Bum Shin (PhD student with Gary Lewin at the MDC until 2003; now associate professor at the University of Virginia) said that his decision to complete his doctorate at the MDC for his doctoral thesis was based on the Center’s scientific excellence, of both his mentor’s lab and the institution as a whole. Philipp Maass emphasized successful interactions with physicians and the close proximity to clinics: “I chose the MDC and Fred Luft’s group because they interacted with patients and really lived translational research.” Chris Fröhlich (PhD student with Oliver Daumke at the MDC until 2013; now postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University and an entrepreneur) and Lilia Leisle (PhD student with Thomas Jentsch at the MDC until 2012; now postdoctoral scientist at Weill Cornell Medical College, New York) also stressed the MDC’s quality of research and the high concentration of well-regarded labs as well as state-of-the-art core facilities. They fondly remember the openness to collaboration at the Center and the great networking environment thanks to numerous seminars, talks by internationally renowned scientists and the legendary Friday’s Beer Hour.
Now working at some of the best U.S. universities and research institutes, the MDC alumni also reflected on the best practices they experienced, especially in terms of the professional development of early-career researchers. Their advice was to provide more support, especially for postdoc symposia and team retreats: “Sometimes it might seem to be wasted money (like for the beer hours), but many collaborations and interactions about lab protocols or research interests happen there.” Another recommendation was that principle investigators should regularly offer talks on how they reached this stage of their career, how to start and manage a lab, and how to negotiate the best conditions for the first position as an independent research group leader. MDC researchers would, according to alumni, also benefit from more workshops, especially on grant writing, job applications, stress management, among many other topics.
A feeling of belonging
“We are very proud of our alumni. After their years at the MDC many of them are now doing research at the most prestigious institutions all over the world, both in academia and industry,” writes Martin Lohse, MDC scientific director, in the foreword to the MDC Alumni brochure. Some 35 professional profiles and feature stories have been compiled to serve as a networking resource. How important the contributions of alumni are at the MDC can be seen in a few selected highlights. They are partners in collaborative projects, they serve as mentors in the MDC Mentoring Program, and they are speakers at the annual CareerDay and Career Pathways series.
Twenty-five years is not old for a research institute. It is therefore no small feat that the MDC ranks already among the top institutes in the field of molecular biology and genetics worldwide. MDC’s accomplishments can, at least in part, be attributed to a friendly and cooperative atmosphere that emerged over years at the Berlin-Buch campus. It is this feeling of belonging that brought the MDC alumni and researchers together, at this reunion halfway around the globe. Here, they rekindled their connection to the MDC and wished the Center continued success in the upcoming years.
A happy MDC-reunion in San Francisco (left to right): Dr Mike Brody (Beckman Coulter), guest, Dr Niccolo Zampieri (MDC), Dr Pinar Onal (NYU), Dr Ulrike Albrecht (Head of Department Strategy & External Relations, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation), Dr Marlon Stoeckius (New York Genome Center), Dr Chris Fröhlich (Columbia University), Prof. Jung-Bum Shin (University of Virginia), Dr Lilia Leisle (Weill Cornell Medical College, NY), Dr Nieves Martinez Marschall (UC Berkeley), Dr Philipp Maas (Harvard University), Dr Thirupugal Govindarajan (National Heart, Lung, & Blood Institute, Bethesda), Dr Vishal Agrawal (BioMarin Pharmaceutical), Prof. Hua Yu (Beckman Research Institute, City of Hope, Duarte, Humboldt Research Award 2014), Prof. Thomas Sommer (MDC), Prof. Jan Bieschke (Washington University in St. Louis), Dr Sonya Dumanis (Epilepsy Innovation Institute, Washington DC), Prof. Claus Scheidereit (MDC). Photo: Courtesy of Chris Fröhlich. Photo: courtesy of Chris Fröhlich