“Researchers from all over the world were able to join”

“Most of my colleagues already knew which career path to take after completing the degree programme in Pharmacy, which prepares students for the profession of the pharmacist. The study abroad mobility schemes Non-EU Student Exchange Program and ERASMUS allowed me to look beyond the horizon of the “usual” job description during my diploma programme at the University of Vienna. At the University of Ottawa, I gained insight into the field of health sciences. At the ETH Zurich, I worked on my diploma thesis in the field of computer-aided drug design. This is where I discovered my enthusiasm for research.

In 2016, I started my PhD studies at the Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Vienna. I conducted research stays at Yale University and at the University of Copenhagen. As part of my research, I try to understand the interactions between drugs and their target proteins at the molecular level. I specialise in the function of neurotransmitter transporters in the brain. These are important targets for anti-depressants. Using computer models, we are trying to predict how different active agents interact with different transporters. This knowledge will ultimately contribute to the development of more efficient drugs.

In April 2020 (in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis), the public defence of my doctoral thesis took place. Together with my research group, I practised my online presentation in advance to find the perfect camera angle, best background and ideal sound settings. Moreover, it allowed me to get used to and feel comfortable in this unusual situation. Fortunately, there were no technical issues during my public defence. In hindsight, it was a very special experience because researchers from all over the world were able to join my defence. There was only one drawback: I could not hug my colleagues, friends and family afterwards. (To find out more about Stefanie’s online public defence, read the following article on Chemistry World.)

The COVID-19 crisis has certainly contributed to highlighting the achievements and increasing the reputation of academics. However, sufficient funding is needed in the long run, particularly for early stage researchers. I hope that policymakers learn from this crisis and put a stop to the increasing precariousness of academic work. Personally, I see my future in research. Therefore, I will continue to campaign for improving the conditions in academia for women and other marginalised groups.” – Stefanie Kickinger

Stefanie studied Pharmacy at the University of Vienna.


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