31 May 2018

My name is Eva-Leonne Göttgens, Dutch, PhD candidate at the Radiotherapy & OncoImmunology lab, Department of Radiation Oncology, theme Rare cancers. Currently in Oxford at the MRC-CRUK Oxford Institute for Radiation Oncology for 6 months as a visiting PhD candidate.

When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up? Can you tell us something about your child years. 

To be fair, I think that what I wanted to be when I grew up changed every week. I can remember wanting to become a volcanologist or an archaeologist. However for the most part of my childhood I wanted to become a surgeon, which was an obvious indication of my interest in human biology. I grew up in Vaals, in the south of Limburg, with my parents, and I completely blame them for becoming a scientist. My parents were the types that would buy me a mini microscope for my birthday, or drag me to NEMO in Amsterdam, just feeding my curiosity and interest in science. At one point I had to make a decision whether I wanted to pursue becoming a medical doctor, or whether to go into biomedical sciences, of which the latter eventually won. 

What was your previous academic training, where did you study and why that study? 

After I graduated from high school, I decided to do Biomedical Sciences in Nijmegen. I remember the very moment I made up my mind to go for this study, which was after the Open Day in 2009, in the Auditorium. My curiosity of knowing how things work, how cells of the body work, and what happens when they fail to, had tipped the scale in favour of Biomedical Sciences. I found out Biomedical Sciences is actually so much more than just studying cellular mechanisms, and I am still very happy I chose this study, because now I have a very broad knowledge on not only cell biology, but also statistics, health care management, genomics, and anatomy for instance. However, cell biology turned out to be my greatest passion, and I applied for one of the best Master programmes in this field in the Netherlands, the research Master Molecular Mechanisms of Disease. During my second year I did an internship at the University of Oxford and we’re now collaborating with the same group for my PhD.

The RIMLS motto is: ‘Today’s molecules for tomorrow’s medicine’. What does this mean for you? 

To me, there is a double meaning to this slogan. First of all I think it denotes that the work we do in (sometimes very fundamental) biology can and should ultimately be translated into knowledge that directly benefits the patient. On the other hand, it also means to me that we should remain invested in fundamental biology, even if the direct trade-off is not yet very clear. What may be today’s molecules, may become tomorrow’s medicine at one point. 

Who is your great example as scientists? And please give a motivation why.

 I didn’t have a lot of ‘great scientific role models’ when I grew up, but since a couple of years, I have started to admire Ionica Smeets and Robbert Dijkgraaf. I think their passion and enthusiasm for their subject is so infectious. But what I admire the most is that they are both so great in communicating their enthusiasm and their knowledge to audiences outside of their scientific fields. I think that us ‘regular scientists’ don’t focus enough on communicating our findings effectively to the general public. Also, I would have to say that our own head of the department of Cell Biology, Alessandra Cambi, is an example to me. As my mentor of >4 years, she knows me well and has helped me become a better scientist probably more than she realises. 

Which research discovery that you have made has made you most proud? 

This is a difficult question because all of it still needs validation, but I will try to answer it anyway. I am working on two types of head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC): HPV positive and HPV negative. Both types have a different aetiology, and patients respond very differently to therapy, but there is currently no difference in treatment for these groups yet. In my studies, I have demonstrated that one type of therapy works better for HPV+ types, and another works better for HPV- types.

Given unlimited finance what experiment would you perform?

 I will save this question for when an examiner asks me that during my PhD defence. 

What does your working area (desk, office) look like and what does it say about you (or your research)?

Oh it’s a mess. It’s always a mess, and the only time it isn’t is when I clean up before the holidays. It mostly says that I’m always doing a lot of stuff in parallel. Empty desks just make me feel unproductive.

Nominate a colleague to be in the spotlight and what would you like to ask him or her?

I would like to nominate Renske van den Bijgaart. Renske, if there were no technical or economical restrictions, with how many colours would you want to FACS at the same time?

What type of person are you, quick insights:

a) Mac or PC?                                : PC
b) Theater or cinema?                 : Cinema
c) Dine out or dine in?                 : Dine out
d) Ferrari or Fiat?                         : Audi :-)
e) Shopaholic or chocoholic?     : Neither
f) Culture or Nature                     : Nature​ 

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