Why have you chosen to do a PhD in an international collaboration project?

Unfortunately, I was never abroad in a foreign country during my studies and could not enjoy the great opportunities that come along with such an experience. An international PhD program like the eCHO systems ITN provides the possibility to move to a foreign country. Therefore, I chose to do this PhD program in an international collaboration environment to undergo a cultural and scientific exchange as well as the ability to work with international scientists from the academic and industrial environment. Furthermore, I’m not only expecting to improve my English skills but also to profit on a personal level, e.g. feeling more European. Last but not least, this international collaboration project opens up the prospects of exploring different countries as potential living destinations for the future.

My lab and the PhD-project I am doing

Nicole Borth’s lab at the Department of Biotechnology at BOKU in Vienna (Austria) is mainly focusing on the characterization and improvement of the CHO cell line as a host for the production of biopharmaceuticals. This includes not only the analysis of all kind of omics data generated from CHO cell lines cultivated under different conditions to get a better understanding of the host system but also the establishment of cell line engineering and epigenetic controlling tools for the manipulation of these cells. Furthermore, the genome stability and genomic rearrangements are monitored through the use of chromosome staining techniques as part of the groups’ work.

As ESR 10, I’m working on the generation and sorting of a CHO knockout library. Therefore, I’m establishing CRISPR -based tools and strategies to combine phenotypical changes and genotypic modifications in CHO. It is planned to set up a pooled CHO knockout library to be able to perform genomic studies. With the help of the knockout library, potential targets for cell line engineering should be identified. Ideally, these identified targets will have a beneficial impact on industrially-relevant cell line characteristics like productivity and cell growth.

What kind of tips would you give to future PhDs taking part in an ITN?

My experiences living in Austria as a stranger has been good so far, since the linguistic and cultural differences between Germany and Austria are not extensive and so it was easy for me to get integrated. Yet, being open minded and extroverted helps to become a part of the local community and to be able to benefit from the advantages of the city you are living in. Depending on the country you are going to move, I would recommend to learn the language on a basic level to be able to communicate with people outside the scientific field and for instance to read signs or forms. In my opinion, an international PhD program is even more challenging than a PhD position allocated to only one university. Such an international program brings many tasks with it, which have to be considered when choosing an ITN PhD program. For instance, you have to write reports towards the EU frequently, organize meetings with your advisory board, which can be spread all over Europe or even the world. Therefore, you should be highly motivated, well organized, independent and self-confident to pursue your interests and achieve your goals.

eCHO Systems

Scientific Background

My name is Valerie Schmieder and I was born in Tjumen (Russia) but actually I grew up in Germany close by Stuttgart. I obtained the B.Sc. at University for Applied Sciences Aachen in Germany. My bachelor’s thesis, conducted within the group “Pharmaceutical Product Development” at Helmholtz-Institute AME and Fraunhofer IME in Aachen, concentrated on the generation and analysis of scFv fusion proteins for the diagnosis of prostate cancer. Afterwards, I studied Pharmaceutical Biotechnology in the Master’s cooperation degree course at Ulm University and Biberach University for Applied Science. During the master’s thesis, I was focusing on the establishment of a nuclease-based technology for site-directed modification of the CHO genome at the Department of Cell Line Development at Rentschler Biotechnology, Germany. Currently, I’m working on my Ph.D. topic with the title “Generation and sorting of a CHO knockout library” under the supervision of Professor Nicole Borth at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU) and the Austrian Center for Industrial Biotechnology (acib) in Vienna, Austria. During my scientific career I gained a fundamental knowledge and expertise in molecular, protein chemical and immunological methods as well as mammalian cell cultivation and treatment.

Valerie Schmieder, BOKU