I am currently working as a Schrödinger Fellow at the Laboratory for Energy Metabolism at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich. Here we investigate how the mitochondria, our cellular power plants, change as ageing occurs and how we can positively influence the ageing process by manipulating mitochondrial activity.
Having grown up in the beautiful mountainous winter sports region of Salzburg and being a passionate endurance athlete, I developed an early interest in this cell organelle, which produces adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the cellular carrier of energy. After graduating in pharmacology, I acquired my doctorate at the Medical University of Graz, where I finally got the opportunity to explore the function of mitochondria in different cell models in order to understand how these organelles change as a consequence of various diseases.
Despite being really enthusiastic when it comes to my research topic, I was admittedly sceptical about a research stay abroad after receiving my PhD, since such a move would mean having to leave a well-coordinated research group and being separated from my friends.
New opportunities, new contacts and a top environment
Fortunately, in the end I was won over by the lure of continuing my research on mitochondria in an animal model at one of the world’s best universities. Consequently, my partner and I – and the cat ‑ moved to Zurich. Equipped with a customs list of many pages, a huge pile of documents and – an important aspect – an EU-compliant passport for our pet, we made our acquaintance with the Swiss and quickly noticed one thing: provided you follow all the rules meticulously, everything runs as smoothly as the proverbial Swiss clockwork.
Arriving at the time-honoured halls of the ETH, whose winding staircases exude an air of Hogwarts, I was quickly able to appreciate the advantages offered by an internationally recognised institution: top research without financial restrictions, highly motivated researchers, a broad range of further learning opportunities and a large number of events that foster interdisciplinary networking. One example of the latter is the annual SOLA relay race, in which a team consisting of several university members has to complete a 100 km run in and around Zurich. Despite the acute risk of addiction, one is well advised to cure the ensuing caloric deficit with creamy Swiss chocolate.
Good research is international
I am extremely grateful that the Erwin Schrödinger fellowship enables me to conduct my own research project at one of the world’s best academic institutions and to establish contacts at international conferences. I have realised that good research can work only on the basis of networking and teamwork. Hence, I am careful to remain in constant contact with my former research group at the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at the Medical University of Graz, which means I can benefit from valuable input from two distinct research groups.
I think that the multifaceted experience gained from a stay abroad, not only in terms of scientific insights but also on a personal level, are indispensable for becoming an internationally active, well connected and competitive researcher. With that in mind, Merci vilmal (thanks a lot) to the FWF for this unique opportunity!