Curious and nerdy: Meet PhD student Eike Struck (32)

By Dana Meknas
Journalist at TREC

About a year ago, 32 year old Eike Struck started working as a PhD student in TREC. It wasn’t until September this fall, however, that he moved to Tromsø and got installed in the office at University of Tromsø – The Arctic University of Norway. Find out what his projects are about and what it’s like to be a part of TREC in this interview!

You joined the TREC team as a PhD student about a year ago. How has it been so far?
– I started this exciting journey in February 2018 in Stockholm and moved to Tromsø in September. So far it’s been great, challenging and incredibly interesting, says Eike, who is originally from Bremerhaven, Germany.

What do you actually do during a regular day at work?
– I arrive at work around 7:15, turn on the coffee machine and start with computer work, check my emails and do calculations for my lab work. Depending on the work I am going to do, I am either spending the day in the office or in the lab, doing experiments. How long I stay depends on the experiments. If I need a break, you will find me in the break room chatting with my colleagues.

What will the next couple of years look like for you?
– According to my contract I should be done in January 2022. That would be nice! My work schedule depends completely on the results of my previous projects. I will be involved in a lot of lab work, statistical work and writing. I hope to publish some interesting articles during that time and make my first contributions to the scientific society.

Which expectations do you have to the next couple of years?
– I expect to learn a lot and hope to overcome some interesting challenges on this exciting journey. I am currently involved in different projects, so I have plenty of stuff to do. I hope that I can contribute to the scientific community and especially to the collective knowledge of TREC. One or two Nobel prizes would be nice, but are not a must 🙂

How did you end up in TREC and how did you figure out that this was where you wanted to be?
– Due to personal reasons, I became very interested in hematology and blood related diseases. I tried to shift my area of expertise from biotechnology to hematology. During my master’s thesis I worked for a group in Sweden that is now integrated in TREC and my former supervisor sent me the advertisement for the PhD position in this group. When I applied for this position, I did not know much about TREC and was quite unsure if I wanted to move so far from home. If you watch the European weather forecast in Germany, you will see that the map is cut off below Tromsø.

I discovered that I really, really wanted to be part of this group during my interview. Not only were the supervisors incredibly funny, intelligent, nice and very kind, but they also challenged me with some very interesting scientific questions. I fell in love with Tromsø as well, when I saw my first northern lights… I told my girlfriend that we have to move up here as soon as possible and that I want to be part of this awesome group. And this was probably the best decision I ever made (except for buying a sandwich toaster… that was a pretty smart move as well…)

Do you like it in TREC?
– How can you not like TREC? The group is awesome. Be it the inside jokes or the variety of thrombosis nerds and nerdy nerds. There is a lot to learn and everyone contributes. It is a funny, intelligent and helpful group where everyone treats you as an equal.

What kind of project are you working on?
– My project is related to the vascular endothelium, the innermost layer of blood vessels. We believe that the function of the endothelium and their specific genes contribute a lot to the natural prevention of disease, such as thrombosis. I am investigating previously undescribed endothelial specific genes to try to identify their functions. The work is mostly based on cell culture and analyzing the behavior of cells after I change a parameter. Broadly speaking, I am inducing inflammation to see how the gene of interest behaves, and I also work on inactivating this gene to see how the cells behave after that. Sometimes this is a bit like fishing in murky waters, where we’re hoping that we will find interesting results, such as a new unknown mechanism of the disease. This is exactly what makes my work a challenging and interesting experience.

If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
– Clumsy, curious, nerdy.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
– Playing pen and paper role playing games, video games or board games. I love to watch movies, meeting friends, go out and read books, both fantasy and classic novels. I also enjoy writing (poems, short stories), reading and collecting comic books, watching musicals and enjoying good food. I used to love bodybuilding, boxing and triathlon and hope to begin training very soon.

Anything else you might want to add?
– It happens unintentionally, but you should know that I am a notorious pen thief. If you ever lose a pen in the lab, the office or the meeting room, it is very likely that you can find it on my desk…

Five quick questions
Something you cannot live without:
– Music.

The best day of the week and why:
– Monday. You’re fresh and relaxed from the weekend and have all the energy in the world to dive into work. And if you do not have any interest in working today, Monday is a great day to find your colleagues to chat about their weekends. This is called socializing and is important in TREC

A piece of good advice someone gave you that has helped you:
– My supervisor during my bachelor’s thesis taught me that science is not always as we want it to be. It’s okay if the results are not as expected and even completely screwed up. Stay calm and do not try to force anything.

Something you’re really bad at:
– Singing and dancing 🙁

A known or unknown quote you like:
– “Every champion was once a contender that refused to give up” from Rocky Balboa (2006), and also: “Do. Or do not. There is no try”. Master Yoda (no one knows what he wants to tell you with that).

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