Next Stop: San Diego - Kelly Kersten

Kelly Kersten at work
Kelly in her lab at Sanford Burnham Prebys
  • Name: Kelly Kersten
  • Study: Biology (BSc), Biomedical Sciences (MSc)
  • Age: 36
  • Year of graduation: 2008 (B.S.), 2011 (M.S.), 2017 Ph.D. Netherlands Cancer Institute
  • Lives: Since 3 January 2024 in La Jolla (California, USA)
  • Before: She has lived in San Francisco (California, USA) since 2016
  • Current job: Assistant Professor at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute,

What do you miss most when you think of Utrecht?

What I really miss here is the beauty of an old city, the terraces and the whole feel of it, the coziness of the historic buildings such as the Academiegebouw. And when it comes to the university, I miss feeling connected. Utrecht remains my home base, you know. I still have very warm feelings for my beloved city.

How did your college days shape you?

Kelly Kersten graduation 2008
Kelly at her graduation at the University Hall (2008)

I think mainly in a professional sense. My interest in cancer and immunology stems from Utrecht. The course 'Cancer gene therapy and AIDS' taught by Adri Thomas really grabbed me. I also have very fond memories of my time as a student assistant in Developmental Biology. While I was doing an internship at the UMC Utrecht for my master's degree, I helped teach. That's actually also when the opportunity arose to go to the US for my second research internship during my electives. I arranged everything myself, but the uni was really helpful in finding scholarships, converting points I had obtained there and things like that. That went very smoothly.

What does your average day look like?

Haha, so far I haven't had average days. It's still a bit of chaos. My first month here felt completely overwhelming. The institute provides the research infrastructure, think equipment and technology, and you get a startup fund. The rest you do yourself. So I'm still super busy getting my lab up and running. I have to apply for grants to raise money, I'm ordering equipment, I'm having lots of meetings with people to see how my research fits into this institute, and I'm writing job postings for people I'm looking for. So if anyone reads this and thinks "this looks like something I'd like," feel free to email me (!

What do you think about your current residence?

Kelly Kersten in San Diego
Kelly in San Diego

Right now, I am sitting here in the lab near the ocean, the great wide open is beautiful. My drive to and from work takes me along the beach – I see the waves and the sunrise and sunset every morning and evening. It really is like what you see on TV: sun, road trips along the beach, hiking and camping in the mountains, it's all within reach. And the California lifestyle also appeals to me. People here are very laid-back. In the Netherlands, I always found that people got grumpy because of the clouds and rain, I think people here are happier on average. There is a kind of beach vibe to life here.

Do you have any tips for alumni thinking about living and working abroad?

Do it! It's a fantastic experience. You learn a huge amount from getting outside your comfort zone - without family, without friends, in a culture you don't quite understand yet. Then when you do manage to build a network of friends, for example, you feel ten times stronger. You learn about yourself, but also how things are different in other places in the world. It makes you stronger and more independent as a person and as a professional. Talking of which, I still have vacancies for researchers! Feel free to take a look on