First-Person Report: Outi Salo-Ahen
Dr. Outi Salo-Ahen has been in Germany almost for two years and works currently at the EML Research which is a non-profit, private research institute in Heidelberg.
What project/theme are you currently working on?I am working on a project that aims to discover and develop better anti-cancer agents which target an essential enzyme called thymidylate synthase. Specifically, we want to address the drug resistance problem that is related to the current thymidylate synthase inhibitors.
What fascinates you most about your work?I can apply my skills and drive for detailed work to find new facts and phenomena as well as solutions to different complex problems. It is great to be able to contribute to the scientific body of knowledge which is useful to humanity as a whole, especially in the field of medicine. Every step forward is exciting and seems like a huge breakthrough.
What are your plans for your academic career?I aim to obtain more experience in different research methodologies and projects as well as in teaching students in order to be able to lead an independent research group in an important drug design project and to train and motivate others in the field of Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Computer-Aided Drug Design.
What are the reasons you chose Germany for research?First of all, even before finishing my PhD at the University of Kuopio in Finland, I was planning to go abroad as a post-doctoral fellow to learn more about research. During my M.Sc. studies in Pharmacy, I had already gained good experience with doing research in Germany as I conducted the experimental part of my Master's thesis at the University of Duesseldorf in the molecular modelling group of Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Hans-Dieter Hoeltje. Since going to the USA did not appeal to me so much, Germany was the first best choice, especially because of its excellent research groups with a modern research infrastructure.
I heard about my current research group from a German colleague of mine when I was finalizing my doctoral studies. After contacting the group leader Dr. Rebecca Wade, we agreed that I could start there as a postdoctoral fellow after finishing my PhD, provided that I had funding for the planned two years of research. So, well ahead of my graduation, I started to apply for different grants and fellowships for the postdoctoral research period. My supervisor in Finland, Prof. Antti Poso, had been in Germany as a Humboldt fellow after his PhD and he encouraged me to apply for the fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. This German foundation provides funds for hundreds of international researchers to come to Germany for a year of productive research and networking. The Humboldt fellowship is a really good offer which anyone planning to come to Germany as a post-doc should consider.
To cut a long story short, I was privileged to receive the Humboldt fellowship and also some smaller grants from Finnish sources (Academy of Finland, the Finnish Cultural Foundation, University of Kuopio) and therefore was able to fund the planned two-year postdoctoral period here in Heidelberg.
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What do you think about Germany as a science and research location?I think Germany's location in the middle of Europe is excellent for science and research. There is a lot of international collaboration going on at German universities and research institutes. Also, there are plenty of big and small companies in Germany that either have their own research groups or that buy research from other institutes. In addition, the busy airport of Frankfurt am Main connects the country directly to the other continents.
How do you like living and working in Germany? What kind of experiences have you had?As a Finn, I think it is not really that different to live and work in Germany compared to Finland. Of course, the weather is milder and I do not have to bike in snow and frost, which makes life easier. I haven't experienced any great cultural shocks when living my everyday life. It has been great to get to know so many people here, both Germans and internationals, and to further develop my German language skills. Although you can manage to live in Germany even without learning too much German, especially if you can speak English at your work place. However, it is always beneficial to learn the language of the country to get closer to the people and understand the details of the culture.
In one sentence: Is there anything you really love in Germany?At least here in Heidelberg, you can meet so many different people from different countries and create a lot of contacts with people from your own field and other fields.
academics.com :: March 2008