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.

 

Prof. Nina Papavasiliou – Immune Diversity

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What is your research focusing on?

We are trying to understand mechanisms that drive diversity at the population level. This is relevant to the proper function of the immune system: immune cells are very diverse in sequence and function, even those which "look" the same by standard developmental phenotyping. This diversity allows them to respond to an extremely broad - possibly unlimited- array of pathogens. This is also relevant to the survival of tumors under selection pressure: clonal diversity in cancer is crucial to the development of drug resistance and eventually relapse.

What makes DKFZ a unique place for your future research?

The DKFZ is populated by an extremely diverse scientific community which is top-notch in terms of talent and international recognition. As well, the infrastructure is unparalleled as is the core support for each laboratory. At the moment, internationally, it is hard to find a more supportive place for science.

Why did you choose to come back to Europe?

The pursuit of science requires a pact between the scientists and the public: we utilize public funds to learn about the natural world, which in turn, inevitably (if not always rapidly) translates into benefits for the public (from the discovery of new and "disruptive" technologies that revolutionize everyday life down to specific disease treatments that are more effective and less toxic).
The tacit requirement behind that pact is public respect for intellectual pursuits, and this is something that has flourished in Europe for centuries. The very hospitable climate in Europe has driven me to places with a rich history of such pursuits – Heidelberg, Cambridge, Oxford, to name a few.

What does DKFZ offer to young researchers pursuing postdoctoral research at the institute?

For the past 50 years, a postdoctoral stint in the US was very nearly a necessity for an academic career in Europe. This was not always the case. In fact, the historically minded will recall that back in the 50s, bright young American minds had to go learn science in Europe (Maths in Germany - often in Heidelberg, and Biology and Chemistry mostly in the UK and France). My sense is that we are returning back to a model where scientific primacy moves back to Europe but now infused with an additional ingredient that was very much "made in America": a drive for innovation powered by a high tolerance for failure.
Will this reversal mean less opportunity for scientists in Europe? Hardly. Rather, I strongly suspect that it will power non-academic careers for which a scientific way of thinking is crucial. From my experience, the notion of science as a gateway to diverse career paths, and training toward those, occupies a far more central position at DKFZ than any place I know, in the US. And that's one of the many great reasons to complete a Postdoc here.

Erec Stebbins, PhD – Structural Biology of Infection and Immunity

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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.

Prof. Hedda Wardemann – B Cell Immunology

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How is your research field impacting the elucidation of disease mechanisms and new therapeutic approaches?
My lab has a long-standing interest in Human Immunology. We are trying to gain mechanistic insights in how adaptive immune responses in humans evolve. A specific focus lies on the question why some individuals mount protective immune responses but others not, for example against cancer or invading pathogens and how we can change this. Despite the limited access to human material, we can find answers that are very relevant for the development of novel intervention strategies to prevent or treat disease.

Why did you choose to come to DKFZ?
DKFZ provides an amazing scientific environment as well as great infrastructure and resources – all on one campus. All of this was important to me and reminded me of my postdoc at the Rockefeller University in New York. Our research is very cost-intensive and relies heavily on NGS sequencing. At DKFZ, we could establish our own high-throughput platform for the functional analysis of antigen receptor repertoires and immediately established a very productive collaboration with theoretical scientists at the center that gave our research a complete new twist.

What is so special about working in Heidelberg?
All what I mentioned above is special about Heidelberg. The scientists in Heidelberg are very open to interactions and you can find an expert in nearly any field; if not at DKFZ, then at the University, the Max-Planck-Institute, or the EMBL. Heidelberg is also quite international and relatively easy to reach, which I find very important.

From your perspective and experience as a Division Head at the DKFZ, what are the most important factors that contribute to a successful postdoctoral experience?
I guess it depends on how you define a successful postdoc. To me a postdoctoral experience was successful if you are competitive for a Junior Group Leader position, independently of whether you chose to follow an academic career or not. This means that you have a clear vision of your interests and know how to run a project. Ideally you have a good publication, not just based on impact factor, but based on solidity of the data and creativity as well as the general relevance for the field.

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