Our interviewee is Patrick Penndorf, PhD student in the International Max Planck Research School for Immunobiology, Epigenetics, and Metabolism (IMPRS-IEM), Germany. Patrick 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?
The mechanisms underlying our physiology, the processes that keep us alive have been fascinating to me since school. Ever since, I was captivated by how complex and adept the molecular systems in our bodies are! Just thinking about the interplay between microbes and our bodies during infectious diseases puts a smile on my face.
Briefly introduce your research topic. What is the purpose of your research?
I conduct research in Neuroimmunology. I investigate how far the immune and nervous system cross-regulate each other. In short, I inquire how your feelings and thoughts will influence your resistance to diseases. On the other hand, it involves how far processes such as inflammation might shape your perception. This relatively new field unlocks a completely new perspective on how we conceptualize the interplay of the various 'systems' of our body. The goal is to show that, in fact, there are no distinct systems but rather an integrated network with certain specialized functions.
What excites you most about your research?
Most exciting to me is how two fields, which are thought of as two separate systems, blur into each other and become almost indistinguishable. Given how much we know about certain cells and organs, it is unbelievable to be part of an endeavor that gives us a very new perspective on things.
Among all the scientific discoveries of all time, which is your favorite? Why?
That you can influence your resistance against diseases by just mental work and awareness because it shows that our 'systems' are connected, you cannot distinguish a certain functional entity - it is all one (doi: 10.1073/pnas.1322174111).
What do you do as a scientist to make your work interesting and accessible to the public?
Working in science communication through associations such as the FEBS Junior Section and IUBMB Trainee Initiative, as well as sharing ideas for an initiative that focuses on sustainability in research (ReAdvance). This involves holding events and conferences but also share some insights through social media. With an initiative called Science Around The Globe we also share some science and discuss findings on social media platforms. To my mind they are a great way to also engage non-scientists.
What do you like to do in your spare time? Do you have hobbies?
Sports – it is the most exciting and freeing activity for me. However, most of my free time I spend with friends while having one another glass of wine or whisky – yes, both for the taste or quality and sometimes more for the quantity ;)
How the idea of the FEBS Junior Section was born? Tell us the story of the initiative
It all started with our big connector and founding father, Alex Röntgen, whom I have met in Canada. From the very moment we met, we had a very good relationship with each other and when he invited me to join a FEBS section for juniors, which at this time was more or less an idea that was about to get started, I was more than excited to work with him. I can still remember my very first meeting being as nervous as excited. It was, and still is, quite an experience given all the interesting things we're able to do. With all the people involved, we, at some point, felt like an interconnected team, and so it became rather natural for us to take the step to found the FEBS Junior Section. I am still grateful that I have had the honor to officially announce our start in Seville at the FEBS-IUBMB-ENABLE 2022 conference. Ever since, we are rocking as an official part of FEBS!
How did you learn about the FEBS? What motivated you to become a member?
As mentioned above, basically I was invited by Alex, whom I have been in touch with through our German National Society for Biochemistry Molecular Biology junior section (junior-GBM). He invited me to join one of the meetings and then it was somehow automatic that I connected with the team and became a member.
What is the importance of getting involved in FEBS Junior Section activities for students and young scientists?
To my mind, it is about getting inspired and developing a sense for opportunities. A main advantage people can benefit from is being able to gather experience in cooperating, communicating and networking with other young researchers across Europe. The FEBS Junior Section is a truly great opportunity to broaden one's own horizon and get in touch with new ideas. On the other hand, the FEBS Junior Section offers its members great opportunities such as attending conferences or getting an insight into the work of scientific journals. I think these opportunities are really special in that it would almost be impossible to get similar experiences without such a framework
What advice would you give to aspiring students and scientists?
Don't be afraid, just imagine what really excites you and then just go for it. Don't consider how likely it is that you will succeed or what other people will think – just go for it. Even if it seems impossible or unlikely, just do the first step. You will develop and 'edit' your idea throughout the way (to be precise, probably you will have to edit it muuuultipleeee times). Search for opportunities that might bring you a little bit closer to where you want to be or that get you in touch with people who are more likely to connect you to others that might be able to help you. Don't get intimidated by asking how you can reach your goal right away and with certainty, but rather start the journey and enjoy it.
Where do you see your career going next?
I will grow an initiative that focuses on improving research and laboratory practice through a sustainable approach. We have now been running this initiative for quite some time, launched conferences and created guides and protocols to help scientists all around the world. I feel we are ready to take it to the next level by keeping our focus on supporting research with opportunities for optimization but also help students and early career researchers to broaden their horizon in this topic. That means that we will grow our collaboration with research societies, institutions and companies worldwide. Feel free to check us out at www.Re-Advance.com.