"Working together to get somewhere, both in the lab and on the boat".

Cancer research

Daniel Flender (28) has been active within VITO since December 2020. As a PhD student, he does research at the Health Unit, which is linked to the University of Antwerp. There he is working on a doctorate in proteomics. Daniel researches cancer cells. In his spare time, he likes to go to the sea. Together with his father, who visits his son from Düsseldorf, he has an intense and connecting hobby.

"I am doing my PhD at VITO," says Daniel Flender. "I did my master's in molecular biology around the structure of cells. My PhD focuses on peptides presented by cancer cells. This is a very multidisciplinary field with many research opportunities. However abstract my research may seem to outsiders, in the long run it can help improve the lives of cancer patients and increase knowledge about health. That's a great motivation, right?"

Support from colleagues

"Moving to Belgium was never really high on my agenda," Daniel laughs, "but look, the doctorate I could do at VITO was too interesting to pass up. So I did not hesitate for long." And so Daniel arrived in our country in December 2020. He settled in Berchem. "I have a flat there. It is an excellent base for my work. The lab is near the University of Antwerp and offers a lot of possibilities for my research."

Those opportunities were an extra incentive for Daniel to choose a PhD at VITO. "Especially the mass spectrometer is an important tool. Mass spectrometry allows you to analyse complex protein samples even more targeted and sensitively. And that is very important for the success of my research."

Daniel moved to Antwerp in the middle of the corona pandemic to do his doctoral research for VITO. Daniel previously lived in the East German university town of Greifswald. "It was difficult to build up a social life with the corona measures. But somehow, I managed. Fortunately, I had a lot of support from my colleagues. Now everything is open again, and I fully enjoy the culture, the liveliness, and the cafés that Antwerp has to offer."

Daniels' working day

With his doctorate at VITO, Daniel opted for a day full of scientific research involving preparation, experimentation, and analysis. His day starts with going over the planning. "Then I start preparing my experiments in the 'wet lab'. That takes up most of my time: preparing test samples and analysing them after the experiment. For this, mass spectronomy is very important because my work revolves around proteins and peptides."

"I usually work alone on my experiments. However, there are colleagues with whom I can consult, or work together on an experiment. That help ensures that I can really focus on my research. I am grateful to VITO for this professional support, because it also determines the success of your PhD.

Daniel works mainly among Flemish researchers. "The official language in science and research is English. In the meantime, I have learned a bit of Dutch for the 'small talks'. We have a good relationship, a good mix of formal and informal. Because of corona, it was, of course, difficult because many people worked at home. But now we can have lunch together again, and when the weather is nice, we sit outside."

And the future?

"My PhD contract runs for four years, so I will stay in Antwerp for that period. I'm not thinking too much about what might come after that. Right now, my focus is on my doctorate. I like doing research, so I suspect that this is my path. In Belgium, I also feel at home. There are many similarities with my homeland. The language barrier is not so big as a German speaker, and the culture is similar. And the proximity of the sea... I love being close to the sea."

Veerse Meer

"When I was still studying in Greifswald, I started sailing. My father, an engineer, happened to get an old boat at the time. We started refurbishing it together. We are very proud of this family project, which we worked on together with our own hands."

"He has to drive 2.5 hours from Düsseldorf, where he lives. But my father is happy to do it. It's our thing. Sailing together is a powerful experience, where you are dependent on each other and on nature. At times like that, you get away from your work or worries, and you can see certain problems from a different perspective."

"Sailing is not just a pleasure trip because everyone has to cooperate to move ahead. Who you have next to you determines your success. A bit like scientific research," concludes Daniel.

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