Read what our group leaders think about DKFZ

You are planning to join a lab at DKFZ for your postdoc?

You are looking for a working environment at an institute which is international, fosters interdisciplinary research and builds on scientific exchange and excellence?

Come and work at the German Cancer Research Center!

But first have a look at what our research group leaders say about working at the institute.


Erec Stebbins, PhD – Division of Structural Biology of Infection and Immunity


"What are you trying to achieve through your research and how is this impacting the elucidation of disease mechanisms?"

I have always been interested in the underlying mechanisms explaining natural phenomena. That led me as a university student to study physics, the most fundamental of the natural sciences. Applying biophysical approaches to the very messy, higher order processes of living things presents unique challenges, but I am still most fulfilled in my work when we are able to produce a truly molecular explanation for a phenotypic property of life, an explanation down to the atoms comprising the molecules of life.

That has been my motivation for applying structural biology through macromolecular X-ray crystallography to proteins in infection biology and cancer. My PhD was in studying atomic resolution mechanisms of tumor suppressors and oncogenes, and my career studying microbial pathogens has repeatedly intersected with human carcinogenesis. Microbes coat our surfaces, invade our tissues, and manipulate our bodies for their own ends, only a small fraction of them leading to overt pathology. But any manipulation of cellular biochemistry has the chance to lead to carcinogenic outcomes over time, and indeed, many microbes (e.g. Helicobacter pylori) are considered oncogenic, as are many of their macromolecular machineries. 

My goal as I transferred my laboratory from New York's Rockefeller University to the DKFZ is to explore the critical interplay of microbes and cancer with the immune system using the tools of structural biology to develop detailed, molecular models for immune function. 


"Why did you choose to come to DKFZ?"

My choice to come to the DKFZ was a complicated one. I had offers from several American institutions as well as in the UK. Coming to Germany worried me for the language and cultural differences. The fact that the science is conducted in English amongst a very international base of researchers from countries around the world eased that concern, considerably.

In the end, it was down to science: the DKFZ represented by far the best scientific environment for me to tackle interesting problems, both for the material resources (funding, equipment, infrastructure, core facilities) and the talent base in Europe. Both in the UK and the US, science funding has been in decline in relative dollars for over a decade, and competition for even small grants has turned the job of a PI into nearly constant grant writing. In both places, science has come under increasing assault from cultural factors that have threatened to undermine research even further. Germany, and Heidelberg in particular, has a history of strongly supporting intellectual pursuits. 

Finally, Heidelberg as a city represents something of an ideal for me. Coming from Manhattan, I was happy to find a much smaller, quieter and yet culturally rich living environment for me and my family. The locale is picturesque and the population cosmopolitan. It's a beautiful city full of scholars from around the world pursuing knowledge. What more could one ask for?

I don't think I would be unique in this assessment. All these factors would be attractive to both established scientists like myself and young scientists beginning their careers. Aside from the opportunities to conduct world class biomedical research, postdoctoral scientists also have many opportunities to consider other career options utilizing their scientific expertise and training, from biotech to public policy. In a world that is increasingly dependent on science and yet, in many ways, also increasingly out of touch with it, the scientific community needs informed advocates in all areas of life or we risk marginalization. Resources at the DKFZ like the Career Service, continuing professional development courses, and Postdoc Network, among other things, I think help to provide a broad context from academia and beyond for scientists.

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