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Inside stories from Master students in Chemical Biology: Jelena Gajic

Freedom of choice is a very important factor in a creative field of studies, such as Chemical Biology. In the Master of Chemical Biology programme at the University of Geneva and EPFL, you have the  freedom to choose courses, internships and master project! One of our Master student, Jelena Gajic, is currently conducting her master thesis project in collaboration with three different laboratories embed in two faculties (Science and Medicine) of the University of Geneva. This is interdisciplinarity applied at its highest level!

What did you study in your bachelor and where did you do your bachelor?

I studied chemistry at the Faculty of Chemistry, the University of Belgrade in Serbia.

Why do you want to learn more about Chemical Biology?

I like interdisciplinarity as an approach and the way the chemical biology discipline approaches scientific problems. There is one definition that I find suitable: chemical biology exceptionally well refines chemical matter so that it interfaces with biological systems in precise and predictable ways that allow us to build an intimate understanding of biological complexity. It is chemistry applied to biology.

What were you most curious about when you started your Master in Chemical Biology and which topic do you want to learn more about?

My goal as a young scientist is to get knowledge about drug design and improve human healthcare. As a chemist, I had an opportunity to learn and understand principles and methods of organic synthesis but to design a drug one needs to have more knowledge about various fields of biology as well. And that is what I am looking forward the most, combining chemistry and biology synergistically.

What is your favourite part of your studies so far?

I like the freedom to choose courses, internships and master project and to suggest and realize your own ideas. Freedom is a very important factor for such a creative field of studies. Furthermore, I find very unique and valuable the two-semester master project that allows us to completely devote to the research.

How was the transition between your bachelor studies and your masters?

The way of studying is definitely different but the transition was very easy because of the great atmosphere at the NCCR Chemical Biology and lovely people that I have met.

Do you have advice for the students who are thinking of applying to this program?

If you are looking for a state-of-the-art multidisciplinary program that comprises both chemistry and biology, the Chemical Biology Master program is for sure the right choice.

Currently, you are conducting your master thesis project in an interdisciplinary environment, under the supervision of three professors from three different departments (Molecular Biology, Organic Chemistry and Cell Physiology & Metabolism). Could you describe your master project? How do you manage to work and collaborate with three different teams?

I work on protein-lipid interactions. These are very important in biology, where – amongst other activities – they mediate lipid transport and the recruitment of proteins to membranes to initiate signalling events or to deform membranes during fission or fusion events. Dysregulation of protein-lipid interactions can have dire consequences. The aim of my project is to identify small molecules that block the ability of various proteins to interact with lipids. Pursuing a master project in three different labs is quite challenging but also very motivating. Good communication with my PIs, the collaboration between labs and smart time management are the key factors for a successful work!

What new technique(s) have you learned during your master project?

Cloning and purification of proteins, LiMA, screening with the PNA-encoded chemical libraries, various biological assays, microscopy techniques and more.

What excites you more about your master project?

The whole journey! I’m excited to be here doing what I enjoy and learning what intrigues me, but also, I’m looking forward to make some fond memories in Switzerland.

Did you have time to explore Geneva and Lausanne and what did you like the most?

Yes, of course! Geneva is a nice and sophisticated city with a lot of amusing things to see, do and eat. I highly recommend fondue. And Lausanne is a vivid young city to spend a pleasant and fun time. Furthermore, everything is close in Switzerland, so there are plenty of opportunities to travel and explore this unique country.

Born in and raised in Serbia, Jelena Gajic completed a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry at the University of Belgrade. She had an interest in medicinal and bioorganic chemistry, so she obtained a Bachelor degree in the Organic Chemistry department in the laboratory of Bioorganic Chemistry studying synthesis and biological activity of quinones. She is currently conducting her master’s project at the University of Geneva, under the supervision of Profs. Robbie Loewith (Department of Molecular Biology),  Nicolas Winssinger (Department of Organic Chemistry) and Anne-Claude Gavin (Department of Cell Physiology and Metabolism), where she is working toward the identification of inhibitors of protein-lipid interactions. Besides her studies in chemical biology, she enjoys doing sports, trying Swiss food and travelling around Switzerland and nearby countries with friends.

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