Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Alexandra Magold’s Research Journey Around the World

Author:  | Friday, October 30th, 2020 | 

Schlagwörter »  |  Category: News

Alexandra Magold, a 2007 graduate of the University Freiburg, received her PhD from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and works as a scientist at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago. She advises her fellow alumni: “Be picky about your environments, they matter on the long run.” 

Friends of Freiburg: Tell us about your background with Uni-Freiburg, and what you are studying right now:
Alexandra Magold: I was among the first generations to graduate with a Masters degree of Molecular Medicine. It was the start of an amazing journey through biomedical research allowing me to seamlessly transition from researching muscular dystrophies at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia/UPenn, to genetic profiling of Alzheimer’s Disease brain samples at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology , before discovering a subcellular structure in the lymphatic system in an American lab in Lausanne. Molecular Medicine also allowed me to gather additional experience working in cancer stem cell research at the Weizmann Institute, before rejoining my previous lab that had in the meantime moved to Chicago. Here I am investigating a mouse model, which we generated based on my previous findings.  

FoF: Do you have a current research focus or project?
AM: I am investigating the role of a subcellular structure that I discovered in lymphatic wall cells, in murine and potentially human Immunology. Over the last couple of months, however, our team has switched to joining the efforts to research Covid-19. This unprecedented “all hands on deck” situation has allowed me to experience next level teamwork and introduced me to an exciting new project working with a specific type of Immune cell. 

FoF: Tell us about your time in Chicago. What do you do?
AM: It is a funny experience to come back to your old lab and team and finding them all in a new environment. The French speakers that had been “at home” in Lausanne were now the foreigners and the American “foreigners” had come home. Going through a transition like that fosters collaboration on all levels and while we were tight before, it has cemented the family-like connections in our group. I had started creating the mouse model that I am now using in Lausanne and it is such a stroke of luck to be able to go all the way from a theory to having a living, breathing model. I am deeply grateful to my exceptional PI for supporting my work.

FoF: How did you decide to come to Chicago?
AM: I had had to leave my lab in Lausanne in the middle of my project due to an out-dated law that limits the time a foreigner is allowed to work at a federal institution. I appreciate everything I learned during my time in Israel, but my heart was with my own project. So when my former lab moved to the Midwest, this problem was solved and I could return, wiser and highly motivated to finally see the relevance of my findings in vivo. 

FoF: What lessons will you carry with you from your time in Chicago?
AM: You are never ever too old for anything new. If we managed to turn an entire vascular Biology lab into a Covid-19 lab and to collaborate successfully with scientists, engineers, and medical doctors all over the world – whilst facing a pandemic and social unrest — then anything is possible. Don’t listen to the nay-sayers; there are always a million reasons not to do something, but things get accomplished by doing them anyway. 

FoF: Any advice for students who might be interested in a similar experience?
AM: If you find yourself in a lab where you have no agency in your work, pull the plug early! Look for labs that expect more from you, look for labs where everybody reads a lot and where incredible ideas are flying – look for a lab with a culture of constructive discussions. Go for the lab where people discuss their work enthusiastically every chance they get, and avoid labs where people get mad if you bring up work-related topics during your time off. Be with people who want to do what they do. 

FoF: Why did you choose to study in Freiburg?
AM: I had started out in Med School but was dying of boredom. The content is amazing but the emphasis is on knowledge consolidation, not on critical thinking. The study course of Molecular Medicine is perfect for my personality. You are required to command new fields of knowledge quickly, and the emphasis is on grasping the implications. In Freiburg they teach the scientific subjects with those academics rather than giving you the simplified version, and yet you also get to fully participate in medical classes. I am also particularly fond of the Eucor program. Having grown up at the border and with French and Austrian grandmothers, being able to study across the border was very me. Eventually my studies in Basel prepared me to also look for PhD options in Switzerland and my experience with French academics gave me the courage to work for a French PI in a mostly French speaking laboratory. 

FoF: What was your favorite part about being a student there?
AM: I loved the city. Our Pharmacology classes started at 7:30AM which meant I had to leave the house in Merzhausen around 6:30 by bike no matter what the weather was like. There is a new tram now but living in the dorms down there ensured that you would get your generous dose of fresh air and a workout no matter what – I miss that. 

FoF: How do your connections with University of Freiburg impact your work and life today? And how has connecting with Friends of Freiburg impact your time in Chicago?
AM: FoF activities peaked after I had already left Freiburg. So ironically my main alumni experiences were my own efforts to run alumni activities of my Swiss alma mater in Israel. In fact, their network and activities have helped me a lot in Israel and in the US. Therefore, I was happily surprised to see my Freiburgian alma mater engage as well. Due to the pandemic, much more of the program is online now, which effectively allows me to participate in East Coast events that would otherwise have remained outside my reach or required I take a plane, a hotel, and two days off. I have met amazing Friends of Freiburg and I would love for the virtual seminars and meetings to remain a solid part of the outreach even after the Covid-19 challenge has been mastered. (knocking on wood).

FoF: We’d love to continue the virtual outreach as well! With regard to this year, do you have any favorite alumni memories to share?
AM: I was invited to give a zoom talk about what it practically means for a wet lab to switch to Covid-19 research overnight. The feedback and all the different perspectives were amazing – you made this possible! Thank you, Marta – it made a huge difference for all of our perceptions of the situation. 

FoF: Finally, on that note, what advice do you have for current Uni-Freiburg students?
AM: Your studies will be over in the blink of an eye. Try to enjoy the time, use the Eucor program – it will provide you with a whole new perspective and amazing new connections. Freiburg is a top university. Going abroad during your studies is a risk worth taking. My master’s research work with a scholarship at the University of Pennsylvania ended up costing me a whole extra year, but it was so worth it, so do it anyway. I have benefited tremendously from seeing different ways to do research. You never know what will happen, the world is an absolute village — particularly in the sciences. You never know what or whom you will need and we need people who are able to think outside the box, now more than ever. Knowing that your box as amazing and beautiful as it may be, is by far not the only one – will allow you to think of or at least anticipate solutions for whatever problem you find yourself to be working on, that you otherwise would not even have thought possible.

You can contact Dr. Alexandra Magold on LinkedIn by clicking here, and listen to her podcast at www.goodmorningscience.com

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