Alumni

Curious about where our alumni end up?

Meet a few of our alumni who went on to become group leaders.

 

 

 

Are you an alumnus?
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Silvia De Rubeis

Tell us a bit more about your group and your current research.

SILVIA: The Seaver Center is a fully integrated translational research center dedicated to discovering the biological causes of autism and developing breakthrough treatments. My group
is part of an interdisciplinary team of geneticists, molecular biologists, stem cell researchers, and neuroscientists and has direct interactions with a clinical team of psychiatrists, psychologists, neurologists and clinical geneticists. We study the developmental defects resulting from disruptive mutations in novel high-risk genes identified from our ongoing large-scale genomic studies in autism and intellectual disability. We take a genetics-first approach for functional analyses in cellular and mouse models and we strive to take into account clinically relevant aspects that emerge from patient-based research.

How do you look back on your time in Leuven?

SILVIA: The time I spent at VIB and KU Leuven was critical to shape my scientific career and it was a lot of fun! What I valued most is that the science was top quality and yet the environment was extremely collegial. Many of my friends and current collaborators are VIB researchers or alumni. Plus, I had access to top-notch facilities and equipment, which are not a given in other institutes.

Any advice for postdocs looking to take the next step in their academic career?

SILVIA: The most important piece of advice I can give is to move out of your comfort zone! In my case, that meant changing both country and discipline. I visited four institutions across three countries. Switching from neuroscience to genomics in between postdocs was necessary to put the big picture in focus and refine my research goals. Also, make sure to find a mentor who supports you and fosters your independence, for example by showing you how to craft successful grant proposals. Lastly, don’t underestimate the value of peer-mentoring: peers will encourage you while lending some constructive criticism!

The time I spent at VIB and KU Leuven was critical

to shape my scientific career and it was a lot of fun!


 

Sebastian Maurer-Stroh

Tell us a bit more about your group and your current research.

SEBASTIAN: I am a senior principal investigator and program director at the Bioinformatics Institute in Singapore which is part of an application-oriented government research agency called A*STAR, a structure somewhat similar to VIB.

I am leading a group of experts in computational protein sequence and structure analysis to predict various aspects of molecular and cellular functions (enzymatic activities, posttranslational modifications, cleavage, translocation signals, 3D structures, effects of mutations, phylogenetic relationships, cellular pathways etc.) for discovering the molecular mechanisms of biological and clinical phenotypes and experimental validation together with collaborators.

Our repertoire of computational analysis methods is applicable in multiple research areas but our main focus is on infectious diseases, allergy and human mutations. For influenza, we develop tools like the FluSurver that help assessing surveillance sequences for drug resistance mutations, pandemic risk and antigenic drift which helps researchers and the global WHO surveillance network. Often our research is useful for companies. For example, we are developing tools to predict allergenicity potential of proteins together with Procter & Gamble.

How do you look back on your time in Leuven?

SEBASTIAN: After finishing my PhD at the University of Vienna, I joined the Switch lab as a post-doc supported by FEBS and Marie Curie fellowships. It was a great time in Belgium and
scientifically we achieved great progress on prediction of amyloid fibre formation from peptides and effects of mutations in human diseases. It was a very dynamic environment at high international level allowing development of tools that are a leap forward rather than typical incremental improvements. This was greatly facilitated by friendly group leaders
and colleagues that made it a joy to come to work and also meet outside work for a chat and drink.

Any advice for postdocs looking to take the next step in their academic career?

SEBASTIAN: I feel very lucky about how my own career progressed and wouldn’t change a thing. The people I met along the way were all essential and supportive throughout to make
this possible. Of course, you need to be ambitious to go far and work hard but this is easier in a friendly dynamic environment so selecting the group you are joining is critical. Don’t just look at names of institutions but the specific scientific output of the group and get in touch with other students and postdocs if the atmosphere in the lab is good. If this works out well you will be able to produce good papers, several if possible, that will lead you further. In addition to that, make yourself visible and heard to the big names in your field, for example talk to them at conferences, scientific advisory board meetings etc. The combination of these was critical for me to move up to my first group leader position.


 

The people I met along the way were all essential and supportive throughout to make this possible


 

I look back on that time very fondly
and often wish that I had stayed on longer!

Angela Laird

Tell us a bit more about your group and your current research.

ANGELA: My team at the Centre for Motor Neurone Disease Research at Macquarie University in Sydney is still small. I have one PhD student preparing to submit her thesis, two postdocs and two research assistants, however, I am recruiting more team members at the moment as our research projects expand (come join us!). I formed my team using the research background and skills that I had developed at VIB-KU Leuven, including developing and studying zebrafish models of neurodegenerative diseases such as spinocerebellar ataxia-3 and ALS. We have been testing therapeutic agents on these zebrafish models and are now expanding our work to start testing those treatments in rodent and cell culture models.

How do you look back on your time in Leuven?

ANGELA: I look back on that time very fondly and often wish that I had stayed on longer! I loved being involved in the great scientific work in the group of Ludo Van Den Bosch and with Wim Robberecht! I received amazing mentorship and I feel that my time working at VIB & KU Leuven helped me develop skills in developing worthwhile scientific studies, asking important questions and always reflecting back at what studies had the potential to help patients with the disease that we were studying.

Any advice for postdocs looking to take the next step in their academic career?

ANGELA: For postdocs visiting from overseas I would advise that you visit your home country from time to time during your postdoc. I didn’t do that, I spent any holidays travelling in Europe, which was great fun, but in hindsight I think it shortened the duration of my postdoc because it was too long away from family. Also, work on finishing up old studies before you start too many new ones, because loose ends don’t help you in the science world! And finally, ‘you have to be in it to win it’, so work hard (and spend time) on writing grant and fellowship applications because you need those for the next steps!

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