The Faces Of NGC

An Interview with Mirjam Ax

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Mirjam is the manager of NGC since 2018. She is a PhD student in AG Behl examining protein homeostasis and neuronal functions. In this interview, she shares her origins, her motivation to work in neuroscience, and her vision of the future.

Q: Where are you from and what have you studied? Did you always wanted to be a scientist?
I am from Germany and I grew up in a small town in the very West of Germany. In high school, my physics teacher awakened the spirit of research in me. He encouraged me to find the answers to all my open questions and to never blindly follow an opinion. From that time on, it was clear to me that I wanted to become a scientist. For my bachelor studies in biomedical chemistry, I moved to Mainz. In the first years of my studies, I had a classical education as a chemist. Later, my focus shifted to organic chemistry and biochemistry, and pharmacology and immunology. For my master thesis, I did research on nanoparticle-based cancer therapy for a year before I switched to neuroscience for the PhD.

Q: You’re now doing a PhD in neuroscience. Why did you change fields and what got you interested in pursuing your current topic?
My studies were already very interdisciplinary to begin. During that time, I realised how important it is to have an interdisciplinary view of one's own research work. While working in immunological cancer research in a CRC, I became even more aware of this importance. For me, it was clear from then on that I didn't want to become a highly specialized expert, but a life-science generalist who could combine skills and knowledge from different fields. That's why I got into neuroscience. My research is on a protein associated with Parkinson's disease, about which little is known. This topic caught my interest from the first second, because that's what drives me: To find answers. My motivation is to answer scientific questions with, quite often, long and complicated research work. Additionally, I of course, I hope that I will gain knowledge that can help patients in the future.

Q: What is your long-term goal? Do you plan to stay in academia or are you going to explore other options?
It has always been my wish to work in a research environment, but I also knew from the beginning that I would never want to be a professor. During my PhD, I have come to know and appreciate the work of science managers. Hence, in the future, I would like to be a science manager; to still be part of the research community while supporting it from the administrative side.

Q: In addition to your passion for science, you also love sailing. How do you conjugate your two passions?
Oh yes, I loved sailing since I was a child and it has become regenerative and inspirational for my work, whether it's an afternoon on a lake or weeks at sea. Being on the water, away from land, reduces everything to what is really essential. Also, you are alone with yourself and exposed to nature. This leads to an incredible clarity of mind with which you can then look at your own research topics. I always come back to land with ideas for new experiments and full of motivation.

Q: Why did you decide to join NGC and become its manager?
A few weeks after I started my PhD, Fazi [NGC’s Deputy Manager] told me about NGC and took me to the first events. I still remember it well because I really liked the atmosphere of the event: friendly and informal. All questions, even mine as a beginner, were answered in detail. It is so different from what I was used to in other lectures. After a couple of months of regularly attending the events, Chiara and Fazi asked me if I would like to become part of the management team. I had always been active as a volunteer, but I didn't have time for this during my studies. So, I didn't have to think about it and joined. At the end of 2018, we restructured NGC – which was growing bigger and bigger – and separated the scientific section from the career section. Since I already had experience in organising and running events, and wanted to get more involved, I became the manager and took responsibility for our scientific programme.

Thanks Mirjam! We wish you all the best in navigating between your two passions (science and sailing) and good luck for your future career in management.

Written by Isabelle Arnoux; Edited by John JJ Fung. Featured Image: NGC/Design.

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