Talk with Greta Gecse (PhD Researcher)

This week we introduce you to Greta Gecse, an industrial PhD Researcher at DSM-Glycom A/S. Greta is an alumna of Aalborg University and the Technical University of Denmark with a BSc and MSc in Biotechnology respectively. She is currently working as an Industrial PhD Student at DSM-Glycom.

Greta has had also worked in a student job at DSM-Glycom during her degrees. She worked there during both her BSc and MSc and is also currently doing her PhD with them. Greta is a biotechnologist with a focus on Fermentation Technology, which is a mix between chemical engineering and biotechnology. Undoubtedly, Greta has a vast knowledge in both fields and has achieved multiple success in her current role as a PhD researcher.


We were lucky to have had an opportunity to interview and learn about her experience. We are truly grateful to her for her time and the wonderful insights. Read her answers below to learn more about her experience.

Education

What year did you get your degree(s) or are planning to graduate?

I completed my MSc degree in 2018 and I will finish my PhD in April 2022.

How was the workload of your degree? What did you spend most time on?

During my MSc studies, I spent most of my time on reading, preparing for courses and project work. The workload will gradually increase, reaching the highpoint at the end of the degree, when you are working on your final project. During my PhD studies, the workload is more dynamic. I have busy periods in the lab or meeting deadlines, but there are also more relaxed times spent on conferences and courses.

What topics did you find the most difficult during your degree?

During my BSc and MSc, I found cell biology and biochemistry challenging due to the complexity. In my PhD studies, I am working with next generation sequencing which was difficult at first because I did not have experience with the topic during my prior education.

What line did you choose to focus during your degree? Why?

I chose to focus on fermentation technology and cell physiology. Fermentation is a lot of fun because it is a blend between chemical engineering, biotechnology, and cell physiology. I was really fascinated by how we can take advantage of a microbial cell factory and turn it into a production work horse. By this, we can produce biotechnological, pharmaceutical, chemical compounds in a more sustainable way. I also like the diversity of the microorganism; they are all different and therefore you must learn about it when you start to work with it. It is like they have their own personality, that you get to know to make the best out of them. It is fun.

Did you get your degree from your home country or did you go abroad? if yes, from where to where? How did you do it?

I went abroad after finishing high school in Hungary. I got my BSc and MSc in Denmark, and now I am also doing my PhD here. It was very clear for me after high school that I would like to study abroad, thus I was actively seeking for opportunities to reach my goal. I was participating in workshops about study abroad possibilities and was searching online within this topic. As I had a passion for biology, I was looking for universities that offer relevant programs. At the end, I applied to 5-6 different programs in 3 countries (France, Austria and Denmark). At the end, I got accepted to several programs but the one in Denmark was the most interesting for me. So, I moved to Denmark, and fell in love with the country. Denmark is a biotech "superpower", I cannot imagine a better place to study biotechnology.

Did you have student jobs during or between your education? How did you get them? Where did you work? How did it help your education or future career?

I always had student jobs during my education. However, during my BSc, I mainly had jobs outside of the biotech industry. It can be difficult to find a study related job during BSc, but it is not impossible. I started a student assistant position at DSM-Glycom just before completing my BSc degree. I continued working there during my MSc as well, and now I am a 3rd year industrial PhD student at the same company. Having a fermentation related student job during my MSc at a company gave me the opportunity to pursue unique hands-on experience in the lab with various fermenter setups. At that time, it would have been difficult to gain the same experience at the university as we didn’t have a program focused on fermentation. Furthermore, I had an insight to the daily operations in the industry, which steps and challenges are behind the microbial production of complex molecules. These experiences made it clear for me that if I pursue a PhD, I would like to do it as close to the industry as possible. Luckily, DSM-Glycom was partner in that, and I had the opportunity to start an industrial PhD program with them and the Technical University of Denmark.

I encourage everyone to take a student job on the site, because it will open more possibilities and expand your network. Having an industrial experience is also very useful during your studies. It gives you the possibility to simultaneously experience industry and academia.

Work Experience

Which industry and role do you work in?

My current role is Industrial PhD student, and I am in my last year. This 3 year long Industrial PhD project in collaboration with DSM-Glycom and the Technical University of Denmark. The project is expected to end by mid-April 2022 and is funded by DSM-Glycom and Innovation Fund Denmark.

At DSM-Glycom, we are producing human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) that are abundant compounds in mothers’ milk. We are using microbial cell factories to produce these complex sugar molecules by fermentation at industrial scale. My PhD project is focusing on microbial physiology and fermentation technology to improve large-scale fermentation of these products. The project is aiming at combining scale-down fermenter set-ups with other tools such as transcriptomics and proteomics analysis, to identify targets for cell factory engineering and to develop strains that are more robust and have increased yields and productivity in industrial settings.

What is your daily work routine like? What do you do at your job?

It is the same as for a normal PhD student. I am working in the lab, writing articles, preparing for presentations or courses. And of course, I am also spending a lot of time with data analysis and experimental design. In addition, I have regular meetings with the group and the company to align goals.

What are the typical tasks which you must deal with?

I am designing and performing my experiments in the lab, and also analyzing the data. From time to time, I prepare presentations about my progress or an interesting finding. As a PhD student, I am also writing a lot to complete my thesis and publish articles.

What hard and soft skills are the most important for your job?

Soft skills: teamwork/collaboration, networking, time management and communication. These are very important soft skills as a PhD student. Hard skills: laboratory skills (handing equipment, planning and executing experiments, sterile work), programming (I use a lot of R), large-data management

What is the best thing about your job?

The best thing about my job is my colleagues. I am in a great team and feeling good about going to work every day. I enjoy and appreciate the opportunity to work with talented people and receive their guidance during my PhD studies.

The second-best thing is that I have the freedom to design my experiments and approaches to perform research within a very exciting field.

Which topics from your degree do you use the most on the workplace?

Cell biology, fermentation technology, programming

What are you future plans for your career? What does your current job allow you to do in future?

Right now, I am only focusing on completing my PhD degree and we will see what comes next. I would like to continue working with fermentation technology, tackling the differences between large- and lab-scale. It would be fun to try working in a pilot plant, or in a CMO company. I will be happy as long as I have a fermenter nearby.

Suggestions

Any suggestions for future graduates? Something they should be doing while they are still in university getting their degree.

I think the most important is to try out as many things as possible and expose to diversity. Work on different projects, get a student job to really explore what you like to do. Network and build collaborations.

Exchange programs also provide lifelong experiences, and I advise everyone to take this opportunity. Most of the universities have exciting collaborations and it is possible to find grants and funding. You will gain valuable experiences and learn a lot about yourself as well. Not least, you can expand your network and build collaborations. I went to a semester abroad during my BSc and had a 2-month exchange in my MSc. Both experiences are great memories from my university years.

What skills should they focus on during university years? Communication, teamwork, programming (it is becoming more and more relevant), laboratory experience
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