NGC Graduates

An Interview with Marius Baeken

Written by

Marius Baeken did his PhD on the analysis of neuroprotective mechanisms in Parkinson’s disease in the AG Behl at the Institute of Pathobiochemistry. He successfully defended his PhD in October 2019 and is now pursuing his work as a postdoc in the same group.

What did you like the most when you were a PhD student?
That is a very difficult question since I enjoyed a lot of different things during my time as a PhD student. Many people may feel that their graduation day and the end of their ordeal was the best part of their PhD. However, although my graduation was very invigorating, the moment when I took the helm of my project in my own hands and the time thereafter was probably the best part of my experience. One year after I started the project, it was basically stuck in a dead end. I was looking at stress markers that were already published and not a single soul would have been interested in that. I had to fight tooth and nail to start investigating something that had not been shown before. When I finally could do what I wanted to, and indeed was able to prove my point, a lot changed. Subsequently, I was given free rein over the project and could really make it my own.

If you think about your time as a PhD student, would you have done anything differently?
To be honest, probably not that much. If I could travel back in time, maybe I would try to avoid some pitfalls and dead ends. Especially in the beginning, there were a lot of them, but I guess that is part of the “experience”. But since hindsight is 20/20, I avoid thinking too much about these topics.

What did you want to do after the PhD?
Cure Parkinson's disease, of course! But jokes aside, during a PhD naive conceptions of one's own abilities to turn the scientific world upside down are quickly dismantled. After my PhD, I decided to take a few days to ask myself whether I wanted to find a new path or continue down the one I was travelling on. Even if the attempt to stay in science can be quite traumatic and has notoriously left many dreams shattered. However, I decided to keep on trying because even if my work ends up only contributing very little to advance our scientific knowledge, I think it’s worth it.

What is the difference between being a PhD student and a Postdoc?
Definitely the degree of freedom I have, considering the research I can perform, and the salary, of course. When I became a postdoc, I also became more independent from my supervisors. The project in general is, of course, still not designed by myself, but the means by which the project is realized is left to my own devices.

How do you see your future? What is your long term goal?
I just submitted an application for a DFG stipend within the scope of a program called “Walter-Benjamin-Program”. It is specifically designed for young postdocs to design and perform a project in a laboratory of their choice for two years, but at least part of the project has to be done outside of Germany. Fortunately, my wife is from Japan and I could find a very supportive host in Tokyo with whom I applied for the stipend. After my time in Japan, I would like to stay in academia and try to establish my own group.

Written by Isabelle Arnoux; Edited by Radhika Menon. Featured Image: NGC/Design.

Go back