What have your Ph.D. studies focused on?
"During my time as a Ph.D. student, my research has focused on GABAergic interneurons. Interneurons are a specific type of neuron. Interneurons are the central nodes of neural circuits, enabling communication between sensory or motor neurons and the central nervous system. They also contribute to higher brain functions like learning, memory, cognition, and planning. Several neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disorders including autism, schizophrenia, and epilepsy, may be caused by damage to interneurons.
I've worked specifically with generating interneurons in the lab, using reprogramming and differentiation strategies. The focus has been on GABAergic interneurons and making them from different starting cells.
One way we did this was by converting adult fibroblasts, or skin cells, into interneurons. In this case, the purpose was disease modeling of late-onset neurodegenerative diseases. Using this type of direct conversion approach rather than making them from induced pluripotent stem cells, where they revert into a naïve state, helps to retain the epigenetic age of the patient in the generated interneurons. So, if you have a late-onset neurodegenerative disease that you are studying, you can model this more easily using direct conversion.
I've also worked with differentiation from embryonic stem cells into interneurons. Here, we created a robust protocol that can be used later on for disease modeling of developmental or more early-onset brain disorders."
Can you tell us about the cover of your thesis?
"The cover of my thesis represents my four years and the cells I grew during this time. It symbolizes how the cells grew, as I grew as a PhD student.
I had this plan of making an orchard of neurons, where they grow as trees in the end, and I wanted something that also symbolize the flow of time as well. So, I spoke to a friend who is an artist and he helped put it together, I just conceptualized it. He didn't know what a neuron was, for example, so there was some explaining about them and showing pictures, etc. In the end, he put everything together perfectly."
What has been the most challenging aspect?
“I think the most challenging is to avoid getting tunnel vision. Sometimes you need to know when to let go of something, and I think my supervisor has been great there. She has really helped me realize when we should move to the next step, because I can easily snowball into something and then dig into the finest details and keep going. So, knowing or realizing when it’s time to step back, has been one of the harder aspects.
Then also seeing people leave, that can sometimes be hard, it's a bittersweet thing because you see people leave and you’re happy for them, and new people come. It’s just part of the environment.”
What has been most rewarding during the PhD?
"It's been very rewarding to see other PhD students finish their degree, but also all the people I've met. That has been the most rewarding thing of my PhD, all the friendships I've made, the connections I've formed, the memories I have with people. The work has been super rewarding as well. I love when the experiment goes right or when I see the cell fire perfectly or when you turn on the microscope and all the fluorescence looks like a starry night."
What are you most proud of?
"I’m very proud of how the story came together in the end because. My PhD, while it wasn’t completely straightforward, it was never in stormy weather. It has always worked out and I think that in the it came together in a really nice way."
What are your plans following your Ph.D. defense?
“Following the PhD defense, I am contracted until December in the Ottosson Lab. So, I will stay until December and then I’ll look for a postdoctoral position. I would prefer to stay here at the BMC and in Lund if possible, so hopefully I can manage to find a position here that is also in the neuro world. That would be amazing."
Any tips or advice for future Ph.D. students?
“First of all, make sure you want to do this. Make sure you want to do a PhD; it will cost you time. Make sure you have a good support system in place, you will need it, the PhD life goes up and down. Also, don't just judge an experiment because it goes bad. Take time. Think about why it went bad and try to improve.
Lastly, I want to end with one piece of advice I received when starting that I found very valuable - think about every experiment as a figure in your paper. It will help you visualize why you do the experiment and think to yourself, what is the question I want to answer with this?”