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EMBL International PhD ProgrammeTestimonials

Cleopatra Kozlowski: Modelling spindle positioning in the C. elegans embryo

Cleopatra Kozlowski: Modelling spindle positioning in the C. elegans embryo

Nationality: British/Japanese/Polish
Graduated from EMBL in 2007.
Cleo is now a Scientist at Genentech Inc., a large biotech company in San Francisco, California

“Being among people in the pure pursuit of knowledge is very important in learning to ask the right questions."

As a child, Cleo was always curious about how things worked - “especially the weird things," she says. “What first motivated me to study biology may have been the images of a two-headed fly in a first year molecular biology course about the role of Hox genes in development."

While studying at Cambridge University in the UK, Cleo decided that EMBL was the place to continue building her scientific career, so she applied to the Cell Biology and Biophysics Unit. There she pursued her PhD in the modelling of spindle positioning in the C. elegans embryo using computer simulations. “Although I had worked as a summer student and undergraduate in several institutions, EMBL was the first place where I found everybody – from masters students to the heads of labs – to be truly dedicated to basic science," she says. “It was very motivating to be among an international group of people who are united by their interest in understanding life. For a PhD student, being among people in the pure pursuit of knowledge is very important in learning to ask the right questions. That’s why I’m very glad that I was at EMBL at the PhD stage of my scientific career."

Cleo also enjoyed her EMBL experience outside the lab. “As a ‘hybrid’ myself (I’m half Japanese, half Polish), I felt really comfortable in the international environment," she says. “I also truly enjoyed my time in Heidelberg, and visiting the surrounding beautiful German villages." 

Giuseppe Testa: Taking science from the bench to society

Giuseppe Testa: Taking science from the bench to society

Nationality: Italian
Graduated from EMBL in 2001.
Giuseppe is now at the Laboratory of Stem Cell Epigenetics, European Institute of Oncology, Milan. He is a recipient of the Branco Weiss Fellowship ‘Society in Science’.

“EMBL unleashes your scientific curiosity and encourages you to take science beyond the bench.”

During his studies at medical school in Perugia, Italy, Giuseppe became increasingly fascinated with molecular biology – seeing it as the real future of medicine. He knew that EMBL was the place he wanted to be. “When EMBL called me for an interview, I didn’t hesitate,” he says.

At EMBL, Giuseppe enjoyed the vibrant mix of languages, cultures and people. “You feel really immersed in Europe at EMBL, and the friendships that you build during your PhD stay with you long after you leave the lab,” he says.

As a PhD student at EMBL, Giuseppe felt encouraged to pursue his intellectual curiosity and push boundaries. His research focused on establishing a mouse model of an acute form of leukemia and led to the breakthrough development of a new approach for the engineering of the mouse genome. This project gave him the tools with which to pursue his current work on the differentiation of embryonic stem cells.

Giuseppe also took an active role in the laboratory’s ‘Science and Society’ activities. He helped to open the dialogue between science and the public, and pursued the social implications of biotechnology through reading clubs, study sessions, conferences and workshops, while doing postdoctoral research in Dresden. This involvement led him to start a similar initiative while in Dresden, where he chaired the Dresden Forum on Science and Society at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics. For his interdisciplinary project on the legal and ethical framing of cloning and stem cell research in different political cultures, he was awarded the prestigious Branco Weiss Fellowship ‘Society in Science’ in 2003.

Marina Ramirez-Alvarado: Opening doors to a career in science

Marina Ramirez-Alvarado: Opening doors to a career in science

Nationality: Mexican
Marina was the first student representative at EMBL and graduated in 1998. She is now an Associate Professor at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, USA. 

“Doing my PhD at EMBL opened every door for my career.”

Now an Associate Professor at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, Marina is studying diseases associated with misfolded proteins. Her interest in protein structure began at EMBL. She was drawn to the lab by its world-class facilities, interdisciplinary environment and international staff.

“EMBL trained me to exercise my creativity and to believe in what I do. It gave me the confidence to set my goals high and the knowledge to reach those goals.”

Marina’s PhD work at EMBL involved the design and characterisation of different peptides using a variety of spectroscopy. The work of Marina and her colleagues was an important first step towards understanding the beta-sheet structure of proteins, which plays a key role in Alzheimer’s and other diseases. After finishing her PhD, Marina went to Yale University to do postdoctoral research - to study how infectious proteins form very stable beta-sheet structures called amyloid. At the Mayo Clinic, she is studying the molecular mechanisms underlying a rare amyloid disease called light chain amyloidosis.

In addition to her work at the lab bench, Marina enjoys teaching courses in molecular biology to graduate students at the Mayo Clinic. 

Philipp Keller: A fusion of physics and biology for a developmental blueprint

Philipp Keller: A fusion of physics and biology for a developmental blueprint

Nationality: German
Philipp graduated from EMBL in 2009 and is now a Group Leader at Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Farm Research Campus. 

“It’s much more important to think about what you really enjoy doing, rather than making a decision based on what you might or might not achieve.”

Philipp started out as a physicist, but found himself becoming interested in a fusion of biology and physics after getting involved in practicals at Heidelberg’s Max Planck Institute for Medical Research. “When I was deciding where to do my PhD, someone suggested that I check out what the groups at EMBL were doing. I looked at the website and was really interested in EMBL’s multidisciplinary projects – I found they were exactly the kind of topics I wanted to pursue.”

During his PhD, Philipp achieved a groundbreaking result – the first complete developmental ‘blueprint’ of a vertebrate – with his reconstruction of zebrafish embryonic development using a Digital Scanned Laser Light Sheet Microscope. The resulting video gained huge interest from the media and was named one of the top ten ‘breakthroughs of 2008’ by Science. “The technology we developed at EMBL was the key to producing the data needed to achieve this,” he says. “But from a scientific point of view, all my projects were just as invaluable in helping me develop my skills.”

Philipp was impressed by the possibilities offered at EMBL. “I pursued several projects during my PhD, which allowed me to explore entirely different areas of biology and find out for myself what I might want to continue with in the future,” he says. “The amazing thing about EMBL is that you can just go to a lab next door or down the hall and start a collaboration in whatever area interests you. It’s also great to come to EMBL at the beginning of your career and to be exposed early on to all the different topics, and to be involved in research at the cutting edge of science.”