Education in research

Dr. Debby Gawlitta, Dr. Koen Braat and Dr. Joost Fledderus
RMU education: Dr. Debby Gawlitta, Dr. Koen Braat and Dr. Joost Fledderus

Education is an intrinsic part of research. We all start as students, and once we graduate and join academia, we are forever students. As graduates, we start interacting with younger colleagues, and with limited time available with students, we are faced with the dilemma of what knowledge we’d like to pass on, and how. At RMU, education is a significant part of the everyday life of many. For some, it has become a full time job; we interviewed three key players of the RMU, involved in the bachelor, master and PhD courses to find out more about them and their views on education.

Can you introduce yourself?

Koen: I studied biology in Utrecht and did a PhD at Utrecht University (Hubrecht Institute). I did a postdoc in the US and another at the NKI (Netherlands Cancer Institute). Currently, I am an assistant professor, coordinator of the RM-PhD program, and working in the Coffer lab in the Cell Biology (CMM) section . Never thought I would do a lot of teaching but found myself really enjoying it.

Debby: I am an associate professor working on maxillofacial tissue regeneration. I am a biomedical engineer by training who has developed and currently coordinates the RMT Master’s program together with the TU Eindhoven.

Joost: I am a medical biologist by training, now working as location manager of the Regenerative Medicine Center Utrecht and assistant professor at the department of Nephrology and Hypertension, focusing on vascular tissue engineering and cell therapy for patients suffering from cardiovascular and kidney disease. I am also course coordinator for various courses on Regenerative Medicine at the bachelor and master level. In addition, I work in the support team for the board of the strategic program Regenerative Medicine & Stem Cells of the University Medical Center Utrecht. Husband/father to daughters/rugby player/space geek when not working.

How did you all come to be here?

We met in 2008, when we were all starting as post-docs here in Utrecht. We were working in three different departments (basic stem cell biology pillar for Koen, musculoskeletal regeneration pillar for Debby, cardiovascular regeneration pillar for Joost), and we were hired as part of the strategic impulse on Regenerative Medicine of the UMC Utrecht with the vision to build bridges between our departments/divisions, together with three technicians, and to form collaborations and enrich the education curricula. We started by organizing monthly seminars that usually drew about 70-80 people in the UMC, offering lunch and a chance to discuss science, encouraging interaction between departments.

In 2010, the PIs of the time (Wouter Dhert, Paul Coffer, Marianne Verhaar, Pieter Doevendans, Eric Kalkhoven) had joined forces to initiate a PhD program which was followed by a Master’s program. This program became then the RMT program, a collaboration between UMC Utrecht, Utrecht University and TU/e. The issues we had to address were on shaping the content of the 2-year program, how to practically implement the courses, and to think about admission requirements. We had to figure out most of it as we went along.

What about your personal career. How did being so involved in education change or affect you?

Joost: I dedicate about 40% of my time to education. I still am involved partly in research, I co-supervise 3 PhD students and I am course coordinator for the introductory course on Regenerative Medicine & Technology in the RMT Master’s program, and co-coordinator in the Vascular(ized) Tissue Engineering master elective course and a course on Regenerative Medicine & Stem Cells in the Biomedical Sciences bachelor curriculum.

Koen: I started by being involved in the PhD program, then gradually took on more teaching, and now my time is completely dedicated to education related topics. I am coordinator of the PhD program, organizer of courses in both master’s and bachelor’s, such as “Introduction to stem cells” and “Introduction to Regenerative Medicine”, I teach classes in both the masters and bachelor program, and I am involved in the RESCUE program, which will involve 29 new PhD students.

Debby: I dedicate about 20% of my time to education. I am coordinator of the Master’s program RMT, which involves amongst others deciding on program content, setting up elective courses for students, taking care of selection of new students, guidance of students throughout the program and providing information to prospective students.

All: Of course education is a joint effort, and we have many more people in the RMU involved in the courses, such as Jacqueline Alblas, Bart Spee and Jos Malda. And all the internship supervision that is taken on by postdocs, PhD students and PI’s working in the departments.

Why did you get involved in education? What do you like about it?

Debby: The interaction with the students is the most rewarding: because we offer courses at all levels, we often see students from their bachelor, advance to the master program, and sometimes all the way to completing a PhD. Seeing them start from “nothing”, and growing, and knowing you contributed to that growth is very motivating. We hold career days in which we invite former students to talk, and it’s great seeing how much they have accomplished.

Joost: And when the students leave to join other institutions, we get very often positive feedback about our hands-on approach, and this is coming from top universities such as MIT, Harvard. Furthermore, it’s great to have a beautiful place like the Regenerative Medicine Center to train the next generation of scientists.

Koen: I think it’s also great that we can shape and influence the field more than we know. Back when we started for example, before I was teaching “tissues”, many people had not yet heard of the term stem cell biology. Now, it has become a pillar of our regenerative medicine research.


This blog is written by Irina D. Mancini (RMU communications officer (2018-2019) and PhD candidate in Regenerative Medicine (2014-2019)).