Serena Di Palma
I love waking up in the morning and know I will see my students again. When I see 30, 80 or 100 young faces in front of me I’m reminded of how important my job is. I’m extremely aware of the responsibility that comes with teaching. I can make or destroy their day with my class. I am responsible for them. I want to bring them passion, enthusiasm, and motivation. Not only motivation for what they are learning that day, but motivation in general.
I’m originally from Italy and I’m an Assistant Professor in Pharmaceutical sciences. Before coming to Utrecht University I had a 15-year career as a researcher at companies and universities in the Netherlands, Italy, Canada and Switzerland. But now my focus is mainly on teaching. I really enjoyed research, working towards solving important problems in cancer treatment and personalised medicines. But after a while I started to find it a bit limiting. I also felt like a change from trying to convince others that my research was the best. The job didn’t match with my character: I’m super open and I really need social interactions every day.
I really enjoy giving academic skills classes. I always say to my students, you can be great scientists, but if you don’t have good communication skills your career will not advance that well.
When I decided to switch my focus from research to education, Utrecht was the obvious choice. I’ve never felt foreign in this country. Having a Dutch husband helps a lot and I’ve always loved the working environment in the Netherlands. I was particularly interested in bridging the gap between research and education, and Utrecht University was looking for candidates just like me.
I now teach a wide range of subjects. I teach my expertise: the use of biotechnologies for instance in cancer research or in the context of personalized medicine. But I also teach fundamental pharmacy: anatomy, physiology, chemistry, analytical chemistry... And I really enjoy giving academic skills classes. I always say to my students, you can be great scientists, but if you don’t have good communication skills your career will not advance that well.
When I look ahead to the future I see myself continuing in education, but maybe with an even stronger interdisciplinary and international focus.
I really value the collaboration with my colleagues at Utrecht University. I work with 8 to 10 different professors every week. When we develop a course we choose a team that can cover many different angles. Including sometimes with people from UMC Utrecht, the main hospital here, so we can give a clinical perspective too. And then we teach the course together, it’s really great.
When I look ahead to the future I see myself continuing in education, but maybe with an even stronger interdisciplinary and international focus. I want to merge programmes with other universities abroad, so students can stay in their countries, but join courses internationally. I would like to be the connection at Utrecht University to do that. I’m currently trying it out with one of my courses to see where the challenges lie and what we can improve. What we need in terms of infrastructure etcetera. Ultimately, I’d like to expand this across the entire Pharmacy department.
I also see myself managing one of the programmes. So I can be more influential and bring in my own ideas rather than following the ideas of others. And, of course, I want to be involved in training younger professors, especially women. I can tell that at Utrecht University all of this will be possible.