The Faces Of NGC

An Interview with Jie (Debbie) Shi

Written by

Debbie is a PhD candidate in Gene Regulation, Epigenetics & Genome Stability in the team of Prof. Dr. Helle Ulrich at the Institute of Molecular Biology of Mainz. She is one of our wonderful members at NGC; she joined NGC as a blog editor in 2021. In this interview, she shares her scientific interests, her PhD journey and her experience at NGC.

Q: Where are you from originally and where did you grow up?
I was born in China but then also moved to England for a few years during my childhood. After a few years, we moved back to China again, so it was quite a bit of moving around…

Q: Can you share with us a bit of how your experience of moving to Germany was? What was or still is surprising for you?
I actually felt quite at home when I moved to Germany, there was not really a culture shock for me. However, what was really quite surprising in the beginning for me was that there are no ticket gates in the train stations, underground and buses. Over the time I did get used to it but now when I look back, I can still remember my initial surprise very well.

Q: What professional background do you have and how did you first get interested in science?
I did my bachelor’s degree in general biology in China and my master’s in biochemistry in the UK. When I was in high school, I realized that biology was my favourite subject out of all the ones that I was taking. I particularly enjoyed the introduction to genetics and still remember the classes on Mendel’s peas very clearly even now. Therefore, when I was choosing a major for university, I naturally chose biology.

Q: Why did you decide to pursue a PhD and which experiences on this road have had a big impact in your life?
During my master’s, I realised that I immensely enjoyed the classes that I had, as well as the research that we were performing in the lab. To me, the time of my master’s degree felt far too short and I had a great desire to carry out more research. Therefore, I decided to pursue a PhD. I would say that over the years of doing my PhD, I now feel that being a scientist is really part of the core of who I am. My knowledge on biology has been expanded and I am constantly in awe of the breakthroughs that happen in the field. The excitement that I get from small achievements in my own project is difficult to describe, it’s something that I will without a doubt always remember. Of course, the PhD journey does not only bring fascinating science to discover, but for me also brought important friends into my life. Going through a PhD together, through the thick and thin, I got the opportunity to connect and bond with colleagues, whose friendships I will always treasure.

Q: How does your life look like as a PhD student? What do you love about your job?
As a PhD student, I am mainly working in the lab, performing experiments, which I prefer over computer work. Sometimes I can join courses offered by our institute, from which I can learn a lot. I love many things about my job. I love that I can get so much excitement from my project and the rush that I have when I get good results is quite indescribable. In addition, I really enjoy discussing science with my colleagues and planning the next interesting experiments for the project. The work environment is also something that I love. Not only do I work in an amazing institute, I also feel very lucky to work in such a great lab, with so many lovely lab members.

Q: Have you published a paper, a review or a comment for a journal during your PhD? If yes, how was the journey?
We actually have our paper in revision at the moment. Up till now, the journey has certainly been quite a ride. There were moments of terrible frustration, such as when we were just on the brink of finishing up but somehow different things went wrong with the last few experiments again and again. On the other hand, there were moments of immense excitement, such as when we finalized the figures in the paper and when we clicked the “submit” button on the journal’s website. It was really quite a journey. All in all, it is very rewarding to see something that I’ve worked for wrapped up and soon to be shared with the scientific community.

Q: For you, what are the top most-challenging aspects of pursuing an academic career?
I would say that one of the most challenging aspects of pursuing an academic career is getting funding for the project and the time pressure that comes with it. Sometimes there is 3 years of funding for a project, sometimes perhaps 5 years and while this sounds like quite a lot at first, in fact it really is not. Scientists are expected to show their work and what they achieved within these years in order to get the next round of funding, which is in my opinion very stressful, as projects do not always run as smoothly as predicted. Another challenge in academia is to find or come up with novel ideas and put it out there first. I know of quite a few instances, when someone came up with a brilliant idea but after some literature search, realised that this was already done and published by someone else.

Q: How do you see your career after your PhD graduation? Would you like to stay in academia or would you prefer to explore other options? And why?
While I have enjoyed my PhD immensely and the research that I performed in the lab, I am currently more leaning towards a career in industry after my PhD. I am curious and interested about the work that is for example, done in pharmaceutical companies. That being said, I have not closed the door to anything and am open to all kinds of opportunities that might show up in the future.

Q: How did you end up joining the NGC? What do you enjoy the most about being part of it?
I heard that the NGC was looking for another blog editor and I thought that this was a great opportunity to join and explore something different in parallel to my PhD. I really like the fact that the NGC brings together scientists to discuss science and share personal experience.

Q: Could you tell us more about your role as a blog editor for the NGC?
The NGC publishes fascinating blogs and my role is to go over the articles and do a bit of language editing before the articles are finalized and published. It’s a really nice role because I get to read the interesting articles firsthand and go over them in detail and I always learn something new!

Q: To close up, could you give 2 pieces of advice for the people who are interested in pursuing a scientific career?
One piece of advice that I have is to choose a project that you’re really passionate about. With passion and excitement, you will have better dedication, inspiring ideas and going to the lab becomes a joy instead of perhaps just work. Having a scientific career is hard work and there are definitely many moments where you might feel very down or even feel like giving up. Therefore, my second piece of advice would be to think of the good moments in these darker periods and be patient, because when the good moments come, you’ll realise that it was all worth it.

Written by Karla Azucena Juárez Núñez; Edited by Jie Shi. Featured Image: NGC/Design.

Go back