Why, What, How: Four MTLS students sharing their thesis stories

How important is master project? We all know that

  • It worths one-fourth of academic credits

  • Students are free to choose where to carry out their thesis work

  • 30% students (in Sweden) found their employment directly through master thesis

  • Students acquire essential skills and connections with industry/academia, which eventually build up employability

So, how are our students doing? This weekend, I have the pleasure to chat with four of MTLS students from my class, who are doing their master thesis at different places and working on a diverse scheme of topics! They are:  Leonie (Karolinska Institute in Solna), Mounika (Gabather AB in Huddinge), Dimitri (KTH main campus) and Carolina (Harvard Medical School).


1. Leonie von Berlin, Germany

Group: Sten Linarsson (Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, Karolinska Institute)

Project: Pipeline development for definition and mapping of cells in human brain with single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNAseq)

The most important lesson I learned is the following: Science takes time. A  LOT OF TIME. If we all accept that four months are barely enough to produce important results and stay relaxed and stay relax, the master project can be a great time of learning and scientific communication. And for having fun!

Leonie’s project is such a role model for MTLS students. In clustering the cells, she applies the programming techniques for Machine Learning (that we were taught during Introduction to Bioinformatics and Project in Molecular Life Science at Stockholm University). The single-cell RNA sequencing is a concept that permeates throughout our study: from the tutorial in Frontiers in Translational Medicine at Karolinska and Applied Gene Technology at KTH.

Leonie concludes that a lesson she learns is to take your time when one is doing science, which I can’t agree more based on my personal experience. On the other hand, a lesson that I learn from her is to BE PREPARED ASAP. She mentioned that she started looking for a dream project and made contact already in summer 2017!


2. Mounika Challoori, India

Group: Michael Robin Witt (Gabather AB)

Project: Studies of GT-000 and GT-100 compound series using the Human Neuroblastoma Cell-line SH-SY5Y.

In the coming future, I would like to continue my career in neuroscience research and reach pinnacle of success. And, to all the future MTLS students:  enjoy your time during studies, have fun with your buddies, as they support and heal you at odd times.

In our class, Mounika is the only one that works in a company instead of in research institutes. It is well understood that academia is research-oriented while industry is product-driven. What is the major difference between doing the thesis work in a company and university? She has the first impression:

Haven’t decided on academic or industry? Hope that Mounika’s thesis story can give you some inspiration 😉


 3. Dimitri Wirjowerdojo, Indonesia

 LinkedIn | Github 

Group: Anna Herland (in-vitro Neurosystems, Department of Micro- and Nano-systems at KTH )

Project:Towards astrocytes from neural stem cells in low oxygen environment

It has been quite an interesting journey so far, with experiments, more often than not, did not work. But perseverance is key in research!

*Connectomics is the production and study of connectome, which refers to the comprehensive maps of connections within an organism’s nervous system, typically brain or eyes. (wikipedia)

It is my second time to interview Dimitri (the first interview click here). There are reasons that the whole class were first so surprised that Dimitri is going to do a 100% well-lab project related to neural stem cells: 1) Dimitri holds a bachelor degree in engineering which has little to do with stem cells; 2) he exhibits such a talent in programming that it seems a waste to not do bioinformatics.

When I was a bachelor student I knew that stem cells are “notoriously” hard to handle, and neurology is one of the most perplexing subjects in life science. It doesn’t even need 1000 neutrons  to imagine how many obstacles and failures that Dimitri has to tackle everyday. Dimitri, as you says, perseverance in research that you are really fond of, is the key. Here, I also have a few sentences for you:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-

I took the one less traveled

and that has made all difference.”


4. Carolina Savatier-Dupré Bañares, Spain

Group: Francisco Quintana (Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School)

Project: Autoimmune Modulation in experimental Myasthenia gravis with nanoparticles

“What I like most to do my thesis abroad is discovering new ways of doing science, different ways of  approaching problems. I feel very lucky to be able to grow my knowledge in the scientific environment that Harvard offers.  Also, I always enjoy meeting new people and new places and, of course, being constantly challenged! And this American experience totally challenged me at so many levels.

I remember that Carolina often talking about a thesis project overseas: so Harvard is a dream-come-true to her. She presents the reason why she decided to move to Harvard and a general impression of her thesis work (except for “work-life balance”, because it never exists there), so we conclude that there are both positive and negative sides of every decision that you make in choosing your master thesis project! Besides,  Carolina is willing to share with me her future plan:

While I may learn a lesson of how to be prepared from Leonie, independent work from Mounika  and perseverance from Dimitri, such a care-free disposition in Carolina is what I may never be able to fully learn and what I always envy. Educated in an East Asian society, I was told that one will be surpassed once he stops moving upward. Since I was a child, I am anxious months before exams; worried that I am not going to get any sort of employment when I graduate; scare that all my effort will be in vain even if I have had pushed myself hard.  Of course the worries are all authentic and the risks do exist. But there are more than one way of living, aren’t there?

Lastly, may I attach a little verse, that I hope Carolina (and you, my readers) will like: