Tell us about your career so far
Originally from Germany, I moved to the UK in 2009 to do a PhD at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, investigating how male and female fruit flies differ in how they process sex pheromone information in the brain.
I traded fruit flies for mice in my postdoc at Harvard, honing in on the brain circuits responsible for parental behaviour in both male and female mice.
The last year or so of my postdoc was spent continuing this research at the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour in London, just down the road from the Crick. And now I’m here!
What is the focus of your lab at the Crick?
Building on the work that I did during my postdoc, I’m really interested in how different states like pregnancy, hunger or stress affect neural processing in the brain.
Using mice as a model, my team in the State-Dependent Neural Processing lab, will investigate how different hormones released under different body-states affect not only the activity of individual neurons, but also the structure and function of whole brain circuits.
You hear plenty of anecdotes from expecting mothers about how pregnancy affects the way they think, or experience the world (e.g. heightened sense of smell), but the molecular, cellular and circuit-level mechanisms behind these changes remain largely unknown.
We want to drill down into these effects in a controlled, scientific way, combining molecular and cellular biology, measurements of neural networks that form circuits in the brain, and behavioural analysis to address these questions in mice.
How are you settling in to life at the Crick?
So far so good! Everyone has been super supportive, and it’s been really great getting to know the other neuroscience labs and finding out what sorts of areas they are working in and how we can help each other.
The Crick’s location is also really helpful for me to maintain collaborations between other research groups in London and Cambridge.
Have there been any challenges?
When you’re a postdoc, you focus exclusively on your research project, and what I’ve realised in the past couple of months since becoming a group leader is that being able to multitask is a necessity!
Starting up a lab from scratch requires lots of new skills like recruiting, managing multiple projects and procuring everything your team might need to carry out their research. It’s a steep learning curve, but one that I’m hopefully getting the hang of.
What job would you be doing in an alternative universe?
Growing up in Bavaria, I’ve always loved being in the mountains – which is the one thing London is missing. So if I hadn’t ended up becoming a scientist I probably would have been a mountain guide in the Alps.