Our interviewee today is Alexander Röntgen, PhD Student at the Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge, UK. Alexander is a member of Junior-GBM, the Junior Section of the German Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (GBM), a FEBS Constituent Society.
What motivated you to pursue a career in science? Why did you choose this field?
I've always liked to ask questions and tried to understand the basis of phenomena in my surroundings. In science, there is always something else to discover and by which you can contribute to knowledge – you’re never done! What is particularly exciting about biochemistry is that we investigate the microscopic, molecular processes that, on the macroscopic level, constitute life.
Briefly introduce your research topic. What is the purpose of your research?
The research at our institute is largely focused on the contribution of proteins to several neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis. The aim is to understand the molecular pathways underlying the development of these diseases and thus to generate effective drug molecules targeting these causative events.
What excites you most about your work or research?
In general, it really motivates me that, in science, you always have the opportunity to find something new. Even if it is a small aspect, you may be the first person in the world to realise or 'know' something that has not been known before. Also, I find it inspiring that the outcome of our research may, one day, potentially help to treat a large number of people suffering from devastating diseases.
Among all the scientific discoveries of all time, which is your favorite? Why?
I think it's very difficult to pinpoint one specific discovery. It's more the process that there always is and will be more that we don't understand. Certainly, one key discovery is that we are not the center of the universe but, therefore, it's even more fascinating why and how life could develop into its current form on our planet.
What do you do as a scientist to make your work interesting and accessible to the public?
We are doing several outreach activities with my funding network Bio2Brain as part of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) to display our research to the general public. The network aims at interdisciplinary research and we report on our collaborations and interactions on social media and our website.
What do you like to do in your spare time? Do you have hobbies?
How was the idea of the FEBS Junior Section born? Tell us the story of the initiative.
In the beginning of 2021, we were a small group of young members from a few of the FEBS Constituent Societies. We then reached out to more of these societies and formed a precursor junior initiative. We started collaborating with FEBS and organising our monthly talk series. In late 2022, we were then officially incorporated as the "FEBS Junior Section" in the FEBS Working Group on the Career of Young Scientists and hope to help establish and integrate young members of all FEBS Constituent Societies.
How did you learn about FEBS? What motivated you to become a member?
Being a member of GBM, and thus of FEBS, I already knew about it for a while and of the great opportunities it offers for young scientists. I think connecting with young scientists across borders is key to learn and expand your own horizon. I also had the chance to go abroad a number of times during undergraduate and postgraduate studies. Therefore, I want to contribute to making international exchange more accessible for all students.
What is the importance of getting involved in FEBS JS activities for students and young scientists?
By joining FEBS JS activities, you will get to know lots of people from abroad as well as their work, and can understand what the working environment in other countries looks like. You may be able to establish collaborations or decide to go abroad yourself. Moreover, the FEBS JS activities are in synergy with the FEBS Young Scientists’ Forum (YSF) and the FEBS-IUBMB-ENABLE conference, both of which are amazing events that I recommend any young life scientist to explore.
What advice would you give to aspiring students and scientists?
It's good to be intrigued by your own research topic, but by joining scientific societies, you may discuss science beyond your own area of expertise. Moreover, by organising events for other young scientists, you are able to give something back to the scientific community.
Where do you see your career going next?
After my PhD, I would like to perform postdoctoral research and ideally like to stay in research later on.