Talk with Kamilla L. Dybdahl (Researcher Scientist)

This week, we introduce you to Kamilla Løhde Dybdahl, a researcher scientist. She is a graduate of Bachelors (Bach.Scient) in Molecular Medicine and then with MSc.Eng (Cand.Polyt) in chemical and biochemical engineering from Aarhus University in 2018. Currently, Kamilla is working as a Research Scientist at NMD Pharma and have been working there for almost 3 years now.

During her studies, Kamilla worked in as a student assistant at NMD Pharma, where she is also currently employed. In her education, Kamilla has first done a degree in Molecular Medicine and then a MSc. in chemical engineering. Hence, she has a broad understanding of topics ranging from science to engineering.

Therefore, we were lucky to have an interview with her to learn more about her education and experience. Read her answers below to learn more about her.

Education

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

During the degree, there was a high workload, which included both lab work, project work and assignments. Additionally, there was a lot of math, physics and chemistry as well. In these courses, we spent a lot of time on theoretical exercises.

Was there a lot of chemistry in your curriculum?

Yes, mainly organic chemistry and biochemistry. But not as hardcore as I feared haha. I found organic chemistry very difficult but biochemistry easier – these topics were surprisingly very different in terms of how you “think chemistry”.

What topics did you find the most difficult during your degree? What was so difficult about them and how could one overcome it?

I think the most difficult topics were Programming and organic chemistry. For programming, I just think the way of thinking and breaking down problems into usable code is incredibly difficult for me. It is such a different way of thinking. If I had more time to learn it I think I would have become more familiar with it, but our courses were short and the learning curve very steep. For organic chemistry, I understood the basics of how atoms interact, but found it really difficult to understand reactions between whole molecules. It was almost like being dyslexic hah. I completed the course by learning some simple rules for reactions that I could remember and ditched understanding more complex reactions. Just made it through haha. For programming, I did learn some basic skills and did OK during the course. I just forgot about them really fast, so I always felt like starting over when doing a new assignment. However, I had a really good study group and we helped each other completing the assignments and making summary sheets for better overview of terms and rules etc. In general, I would say having a good study group is key. I would not have completed my education if I didn’t have the opportunity to regularly discuss and work on the topics with fellow students. It keeps you engaged and focused and you have to show up. Also, the advantage of multiple brains working cannot be denied.

What line did you choose to focus during your degree?

I had focused on a combination of medical and bioengineering but also some environmental tech.

Why did you pursue biotechnology/Chemical Engineering after Molecular Medicine? They are very different lines, so was there any difficulty in terms of subjects?

During molecular medicine, the focus was mainly on medical biology and chemistry, which I liked – but at some point after my bachelor degree, I was a bit fed up with medicine. Also, I wanted to expand my options of getting a job not only at medical companies, but also at some more biotech focused companies in areas like food industry, chemistry and environmental technology. And so I switched to biotechnology/chemical engineering. I had to do a course in process chemistry before I could get in, but that was OK. I chose a range of different courses in chemical/industrial biotech and environmental technologies, simply to be able to use my biology knowledge elsewhere than medicine only. Most courses actually harmonized very well with my knowledge in cell biology, biochemistry and molecular biology from molecular medicine, only at engineering I discovered how it could be used in so many other settings than medicine. I work with medicine now, which I love, but I cannot exclude the possibility of working with other areas of the biology/biochemistry in the future, and least having more options is nice.

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 had one at the company that I work in now. I got it because I did my bachelor thesis there, and made a good impression (I hope 😊). It helped focus my studies to what a future job at the company would require. Actually why I chose to go the engineering way was also due to my bachelor thesis, because it was a bit more tech oriented, which I really liked.

You did you thesis with a company. How was the experience in that? Many students are afraid that they won’t get enough attention if doing a thesis with a company rather than University. So why did you do it and how was the outcome?

The company I work with know actually came from the university. So when I was there for my thesis it was still just a group at the university, and my supervisor was slowly starting up the company on the side. When I got my student job 3 years later it was a full-blown company. But I know many from my engineering degree who did their bachelor and masters at a company and have been very happy with it, a lot of them also have jobs there today. So it is definitely an option but university is also fine. I would say it depends on the project and your interests. Of course if you really want to pursue academia, university is best. But getting a job in the industry can be just as fine with a university thesis as a thesis in the industry.

Work Experience

What was your first job after graduation and how did you get it?

The one I have now, I got it because I did my bachelor thesis there and had already learned some of the skills at my thesis that was needed at the company. And, hopefully because they thought I did a good job at my thesis and would fit well with the company, since I already knew people there.

Which industry do you work in and in what role?

I am currently working as a Research Scientist at NMD Pharma. I have been working in the Medical Biotech industry for almost 3 years now.

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

Drug screening and smaller research projects, to determine the mode-of-action of our compounds but also more basic research in muscle physiology.

What are the typical tasks which you have to deal with?

Some of the typical tasks, I have to do are perform experiments, analyze and present data, write reports and plan new experiments or studies.

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

You have to be technically good at performing specialized experiments. Experience with technology and electronics is an advantage. You have to be scientifically strong and accurate. Then you have to be a good communicator, and flexible regarding work tasks. You have to work hard and meet short deadlines. And be a team player.

What is the best thing about your job?

It is challenging and you learn a lot, and quickly get experience in many ways. And research is of course always fun, we run some very exciting projects! And I really like my colleagues

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

The topics I use the most from my degree include Cell biology, protein biotech, physiology and Biology in general. But also physics and math.

How easy was it for you to change company and/or jobs if any?

Easy, I was very lucky that the company was founded from the group I was in writing my thesis. I was headhunted before even finishing my Candidate degree.

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

Become an even better scientist. Perhaps become a project leader. Otherwise I am engaged in environmental health and safety which I hope to expand my skills in and make a difference

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

Everyone says you should specialize in something, but I think that not necessarily the case. I have a very broad education with all kinds of different topics, and I use almost all every day! At least I understand a lot and can talk to almost everyone about what they are doing in the company, because I know a little about everything, and I can always quickly learn something new if needed. And also, you don’t need to do that Ph.D., unless you want to become a professor.

What skills should they focus on during university years?Teamwork and communication - human skills basically
Everything does not always go as expected, which can be really frustrating, but in my case it turned out for the better. Also, you can always learn a new skill but it is even more important to be a good team mate and colleague that to have a million skills or degrees.
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