Gabriela Tapia (25), Colombia

Graduate MSc Medical and Pharmaceutical Drug Innovation, now PhD student Medical Microbiology

"I would definitely recommend the MPDI master program, but it’s not for everyone!"

Academic experience

My name is Gabriela Tapia, and I am originally from Chile but I was raised in Colombia. Before coming to the Netherlands I studied at la Universidad de Los Andes where I completed a bachelor in Biology.

I was a student of the Top Master in Medical and Pharmaceutical Drug Innovation and now I am in my first year of my PhD at the Medical Microbiology Department of the UMCG under the supervision of prof. dr. Anke Huckriede.

A year before I applied for the MPDI Master program, I had received an Abel Tasman Scholarship from the Graduate School of Medical Sciences of the University of Groningen which allowed me to come to Groningen for two months in the summer to be part of a small research project at the UMCG. As I got to know the university a little bit through this experience, choosing Groningen for my Masters seemed like a great decision as I already knew the city, I already knew the university and I knew more or less how the university treated their students.

As for the MPDI program, it is a research program so it is focused on research and there were two compulsory internships to be done. The first one I did lasted roughly 5 months and took place in my first year and the second one was for 6 months and was in my second year. Overall, the program was a bit stressful, but stressful in a good way! Doing a Top Master program a very high standard is expected of you and so we were asked for a lot, but at the same time they also gave us a lot. The first maybe 6 months were very hard and we were attending lectures, learning from the latest research projects going on at the UMCG and giving presentations every week.  The main goal was to improve our critical thinking. It was very demanding but I think this was very good because then, when it came to getting our internships, we were able to go to very good labs and we were able to use and show everything that we had learned before.

For me, in general, all of the facilities are great. If I compare things here to my home country, it is completely different; here there is a lot of technology, there are technicians that know exactly what they are doing, and all of the PIs know what they want, so it is a little bit more of a straight forward research environment.

As a highlight of the program, the lectures were really very interesting because they were given by PIs who were working at that very moment in that specific field of research, so that meant that we were being taught the very latest techniques and were being shown the most innovative ideas, which helped me myself to generate more innovative and challenging ideas in my own research. I had been used to having lectures where they just tell me the theory of everything, how this technique works etc. but this instead was far more up to date, relevant and exciting as it was something that was happening right in that minute, which was excellent.

My program was in fact made up of only international people! I think this was actually the first time this had ever happened in all of the programs of the university, and they were quite shocked, there was even a report of it in the newspaper, that this was the only program where there was not even one Dutch person! So yes, it was very international, but in general the whole of the UMCG is very international, for example the two labs that I went to for my internships they both had many international students. The first one was half international and half Dutch and at the second one all of the students were international.

I would definitely recommend the MPDI program, but it’s not for everyone. It is a very demanding program, but it is also very rewarding. You have to be a hard worker, you have to be smart, and importantly, you have to love research. If you don’t want to be in a lab then don’t do it!

For now, I am working on my PhD and we are trying to develop an in vitro system to test vaccines, we want to know whether a vaccine is immunogenic or not. For this I work in a team, mainly along with a technician and a Post Doc.

Living in Groningen

As for Groningen itself, I would absolutely recommend the city, I love Groningen, I love that everything is so close and that you can go biking everywhere. The weather in the summer is amazing, but only in the summer! With Groningen, with the weather and the food, you always have to view them with a bright outlook! The language barrier was not a problem at all, that’s one of the things I like the most about the Netherlands, in fact going back to the question of why I chose the program, I had been to the Netherlands twice before and I had never felt this language barrier, which was great! And the people, they are super easygoing, especially here in Groningen, they never ask you to speak Dutch, or question why are you not speaking in Dutch. Though of course you can also speak Dutch if you would like; I took a course of survival Dutch in fact, but the language has not been something I have had to worry about since.

Living in Groningen on the whole is a very nice experience, I have made so many good friends from different nationalities, and from Colombia too, there are a lot of us here! Making friends was easy because everybody is in the same situation, they are all looking for different things to do besides studying, so everyone is looking to just make friends and to find fun activities. So you will always find someone to go climbing with, someone to go to the gym or the movies with, or to grab some food or a drink with!

Do you want to contact Gabriela? Feel free to do so via e-mail. As of October 2014 Gabriela is also the Groningen Graduate School for Medical Sciences´ student ambassador for Colombia.