''I’m working with several different (and often new-to-me) techniques, and am acquiring a great deal of lab experience''
Why I chose this Master’s
After finishing my Bachelor’s in Biotechnology in Spain, I had a very broad interest and didn’t feel ready to specialize yet. I came across the Drug Innovation Master’s which offered a great variety of topics, which I found very interesting. This together with the prestige of Utrecht University was what made me decide I wanted to do this Master’s.
About my study path
I started the programme with 2 compulsory courses, each involving group assignments. I liked how all groups include people from different backgrounds and nationalities. This led to enriching discussions, in which everyone could add their own expertise and ideas. In addition, it also made it very easy for me to connect with other internationals, but also with my fellow Dutch students.
After these courses, I started my major internship in the Pharmacology group. My project studies the link between cystinosis and renal acidosis by establishing and comparing two different kidney proximal tubule knock-out cell lines. I’m working with several different techniques (some of which are new to me), and I’m acquiring a great deal of lab experience.
Finding an internship
There are a huge number of research groups you can apply to. The process of obtaining an internship position can get frustrating, since it takes time to go through all the information, send emails and wait for replies (which are not always satisfactory). Nevertheless, in the end everybody is able to find a suitable position that matches their interests.
Something for you?
This Master’s really allows you to tailor the programme to your own flavor. Not only can you choose from a great variety of elective courses and research groups to work with, you can also organize your own time. This can be a bit overwhelming since it requires a lot of decision making, but it also means you are free to choose how you want your own programme to be. This is, in my opinion, a very valuable asset that makes this Master’s.
Julia Egido (Spain), DI Master’s student - Contact Julia for questions!
The Master's takes a lot of time and energy, but it’s also very exciting.
“Before my Master's, I did a bachelor in Humanities and Science at the Amsterdam University College. At first I was unsure if I wanted to continue in research. I heard about Drug Innovation and how it is a bit on the edge of doing research and applying knowledge. The Master's is very interdisciplinary and the University of Utrecht has good collaborations between departments and between different research groups like Immunology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience. Altogether the programme really appealed to me and that was the reason I chose this Master's.
In the Master's there are only two obligatory courses everyone has to follow. Additionally you will do a Minor and a Major internship and in-between it is possible to follow elective courses and write your thesis, when it fits your schedule. This allows you to really tailor your program to suit your interests and expertises. Because of the few ‘knowledge courses’ that are given, it is good to have quite some knowledge when you start. I was glad I followed a pre-master to broaden my knowledge, which allowed me to make a confident start at my internship.
During the internships you will learn a lot of practical skills. In the beginning you will do a lot of reading for your research, in order to get into it. Now, I am often working in the lab where I learn many different techniques and gain a lot of lab experience. Right now I am doing my major internship in Neuroimmunopharmacology, at the department of Pharmacology. Here I am focussing on the effect of nutrition on behaviour, more specifically the effects of a certain diet on a model of autism. We are hoping to pin down more specifics and learn to understand how nutrition influences behaviour.
Next year will be a next step. I will be doing my second internship and broaden my experience. I try to get the most out of these two years and want to figure out whether I actually like to continue in research. Throughout the year, you will regularly have guest lectures from all kinds of people from the industry, academics, and regulators. In this way you get an overview of all the possibilities you have after this programme.
The programme is pretty busy, especially during your internship when you work 40 hours a week. It takes a lot of time and energy, but it’s also very exciting, and I am still able to have a job and play tennis.
After the Master you are able to continue in an academic career if you like, but you could also go into the pharmaceutical industry or into an advisory board of hospitals for instance. You have a lot of options and that is something I really like about this Master.”
I am particularly interested in translating knowledge of the mechanisms of a disease into a potential drug discovery.
“Coming from a small town in Bulgaria, my search for studying abroad brought me to the field of biomedical and life sciences in Utrecht. The Master’s programme in Drug Innovation fits me best because I am particularly interested in translating knowledge of the mechanisms of a disease into a potential drug discovery.
My choice was to great extent governed by the reputation of Utrecht University for its English-taught programmes and excellent research facilities. Other very important reasons for choosing the Drug Innovation programme were its focus on practical training and the diversity of research groups affiliated to the University.
I am currently busy with my major project, for which I am working in the research group of Professor Garssen in the field of immunopharmacology. I am working on the interaction between intestinal epithelial cells and monocyte-derived dendritic cells. Is it possible to modulate the phenotype and function of the latter by applying a specific mixture of oligosaccharides? My motivation and curiosity to discover something new, no matter how difficult it is, exceeds my own expectations.
I am planning to do the internship for my minor project in the research profile in a pharmaceutical company or one involved in identifying food or food ingredients with health benefits and researching their potential applications. This work is being done by companies such as Danone, Unilever, and Nutricia.
All this experience is very important for my future career in conducting research. It will help me to build proper expectations, for example to pursue a PhD study after the Drug Innovation programme.”
The “try-fail-learn-don’t forget” type of experience is most valuable.
“Drug Innovation in Utrecht gave me a confident start in my scientific career and there is still so much to learn. Probably that’s why I’m a PhD candidate in bio-pharmaceutics now. I’m pretty sure I will pursue a career with a diverse array of projects with the possibility to combine knowledge from several areas in a creative manner.
The diversity of my Bachelor’s in Biology, from organic chemistry to molecular pharmacology and genetics, gave me the motivation to further explore these fields. Then I came across the Drug Innovation Master’s programme. Living here for four years, I am still very glad that I moved to Utrecht.
My major project was more than I had expected, not only because of working with enthusiastic people. This successful project was about synthesising biodegradable linkers to chemically coupled drugs into the core of polymeric micelles. What I really like is that we started from scratch and finished doing in vivo experiments.
For a minor I chose the Drug Regulatory Science profile. I wanted to do something completely different in order to get a better perspective of the field.
The practical part of the Drug Innovation programme is unique. Instead of taking endless courses, I got to learn faster by actually doing things. I call this the “try-fail-learn-don’t forget” type of experience. Aside from that, the broad introduction of different research areas is definitely most valuable. I would never have thought about regulation of drugs as a science without this basis.”
I really like the translational steps from research towards a new medicine
"During my Molecular Biology Bachelor at Hogeschool Utrecht, I did several internships and discovered that I liked doing research. I really wanted to do my own project and do a PhD, but I had to do a Master first. I started looking for a research Master's during the time I worked at a hospital in Berlin and found the Drug Innovation Master's programme. I really like the translational steps from research towards a new medicine and this is something you learn during Drug Innovation. Despite this, I think it really well connected via a pre-master. When you come from either a Bachelor Biology, Chemistry or Pharmacy, you probably have to catch up in certain fields. The College of Pharmaceutical Sciences Bachelor at the UU prepares you best for Drug Innovation.
During your Master, you will normally do a major and a minor internship. Next to your internships, you can follow some elective courses. Since I really like doing research, I chose to extend my second internship, instead of taking elective courses, to gain more research experience. You also have two mandatory courses. One in Drug Development (408) where you learn how a drug is developed and how literature can be used if (a part) of a medicine already exists. In the other course you learn about the process from clinical trials to the worldwide production of a medicine. Currently, I am working at the research group of Immunopharmacology, where we work in collaboration with Danone on food allergies. What we try to develop is medical nutrition that prevent future allergic reactions.
Courses will usually be during only one part of the day, leaving you the rest of the day to fill in as you see fit. At such moments you can work on your projects, write papers or do your homework. Nevertheless, I still have time to do sports and have a job. During the internships you are expected to work from 9 to 5, but this can sometimes also be longer or shorter.
I wanted to do Drug Innovation, to be able to continue in research, but I am not so sure I still want to do a PhD after my Master's. Lately, I am also interested in working in a company like Danone. After that maybe become a professor, just like my father."
The Master’s programme Drug Innovation in Utrecht prepared me very well for my further career as a PhD.
I am currently working as a PhD at the Biomolecular Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics Group at Utrecht University. In my research I am focusing on cancer proteomics. During my Master's I decided to do my minor research project at the same research group and at that time there was an open PhD position. Since I really enjoyed my stay at the group, the environment and the research performed there, I decided to apply. Fortunately, I got the job and right after my Master’s degree I started my PhD.
As a PhD student, I spend most of my time in the lab performing research. I am working in the lab or on my computer. I have several meetings (e.g. with my supervisor, my collaborators or group meetings) that take place on a weekly (if not daily) basis. What I enjoy the most in my job is the daily contact with my colleagues. I am very lucky to be surrounded by talented people who are all eager to discuss the research with you and help you learn.
I feel that the Master’s programme Drug Innovation in Utrecht prepared me very well for my further career as a PhD. I actually had the chance to perform my internships in two different research groups, which gave me a lot of insight into how different research areas contribute to the multidisciplinary field of drug innovation. Following this Master's gave me a great opportunity to experience what it is like to have a research career. More importantly, graduating from the Drug Innovation gave me the possibility to continue as a PhD at the Utrecht Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (UIPS).
Future Master's students should realise that they have the opportunity to become part of research groups conducting world-leading research. Once they are members of a group, they should take control of their own projects and not be afraid of discussing any doubts or problems with their supervisors. They should try to learn as much as they can from this experience. Also, I would strongly advise them to take advantage of the diversity of research performed within the groups of UIPS and not hesitate choosing internships in different research areas. This is a great way to discover what suits them best for their future career.
Since I am at the beginning of my PhD, I still have a time to decide on my future plans. For now, I know that after completing my PhD I would like to continue my career in research either as a postdoc or in a pharmaceutical company.
The programme was a life-changing experience, scientifically and personally.
"Currently, I am working as a visiting PhD student at Utrecht University. My research focus is the delivery anti-inflammatory drugs to atherosclerotic plaques using nanoparticles. Atherosclerotic plaques are inflamed, degenerative tissues which result from the accumulation of lipids in the wall of an artery. Out target is to prevent life threatening heart attacks. I am working in a consortium which is funded by the EU. As a PhD student in this project, I work in a multi-disciplinary team which includes physicist, chemists, biologists and clinicians. Thus, I need to collaborate with multiple partners. I also need to work independently and generate new ideas that can serve the project, and ultimately the society.
As a PhD student, my practical work in the lab is comprised of several activities. We need to prepare the nanoparticles, load the selected drugs into the nanoparticles, and characterize such Nano-medicines. Then, we need to study the effects of the drug-loaded nanoparticles in relevant cell culture models in vitro and in relevant animal models in vivo. During these biological studies we have to take proper controls like free drug and empty nanoparticle controls. My work also includes documenting my work in a lab journal and in scientific publications. Furthermore, I have to attend scientific conferences and to supervise Bachelor/Master's interns.
I did my Bachelor's of Pharmacy in Cairo- Egypt. In 2011, I joined the Master's programme Drug Innovation at Utrecht University after being granted the prestigious Utrecht Excellence scholarship. The programme was a life-changing experience, scientifically and personally. The progamme offered me more practical experiences in the lab, which were limited back in Egypt. I have done two internships during my Master’s programme. The first one was for nine months, and I did it in the Biopharmacy group- Utrecht University. I was supervised by a senior PhD student who was so keen to teach me all the needed laboratory techniques, how to think in a more scientific and practical way, and how to formulate scientific questions. After few months of such an internship, you become capable to work independently. I did the second internship at Oxford University UK, where I was supervised by a post-doc, who helped me to sharpen my research skills. After two internships, I concluded that I really like research and decided to pursue a carrier in research by applying for PhD positions.
The advice I would like to give to future students is: “Find out what you really want to do in your life. If research gives you satisfaction and you are motivated to go on with it, then fight for it. Work hard and work smart. Go abroad and change labs so you diversify your experiences , scientifically and personally. Drug Innovation really prepares you to become a good researcher. If you want to do research you also need to be able to cope with frustration. Not all research you do will work out the way you want it. I always say: “When it is really dark, it will shine again.” And also, be open and honest. If you don’t have good results or cannot reproduce your results, say it. There are always people who are willing to help you.”"
Amr Alaarg, graduate Drug Innovation