Interviews with Scientists: Dr Deborah Kronenberg-Versteeg

Interviews with Scientists: Dr Deborah Kronenberg-Versteeg
6 years ago

Interviews with Scientists: Dr Deborah Kronenberg-Versteeg

Dr Deborah Kronenberg-Versteeg is a Junior Research Fellow at Homerton College, and postdoctoral researcher at the Wellcome Trust – Medical Research Council Stem Cell Institute at the University of Cambridge in the UK. She’s currently working on understanding the role of white matter dysfunction in Alzheimer’s disease.

Deborah holds a BSc in Molecular Medicine from the Georg August University in Göttingen, Germany. She then was awarded a graduate scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) to pursue an MSc in Clinical Epidemiology at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. After completing her MSc she moved to London on a MPhil/PhD studentship from the National Institute for Health Research to gain a PhD in Immunology.

It was great to speak to Deborah for our Interviews with Scientists series!

Hi Deborah, first up we’d love to know what your PhD was in...?

A hallmark of Type 1 diabetes is the destruction of insulin-producing beta-cells in the pancreas. During my PhD, I identified several insulin epitopes that caused CD8 T cell mediated beta-cell death, highlighting their importance in disease pathogenesis. Recently we elucidated the (non-canonical) processing pathways of these epitopes and could demonstrate that these are enhanced during disease pathogenesis.

Did you always want to be a scientist when you were younger, and why?

From reasonably young age I enjoyed mathematical puzzles and the logic behind science (in contrast to the struggle I was having with foreign languages). I was fortunate to have very supportive science and maths teachers in the final years of high school who nudged me towards science and helped me secure a place in what was a competitive undergraduate programme.

What advice would you give to someone just starting their PhD?

When I set out to do my PhD in immunology I enjoyed emerging myself into a completely new area which I found (and still find) incredibly complex to fully comprehend. This gave me the opportunity to ask simple questions and the freedom to make mistakes. I would advise any PhD student not to be afraid to make mistakes, it is ok to do so and is part of learning.

What did you enjoy most / are you enjoying most about your PhD?

I have had an incredible, supportive PhD supervisor who gave me the freedom to explore different avenues of research, ranging from molecular and cellular science, to proteomics and bioinformatics.

Tell us a bit more about what you’re working on at the moment...

At the moment we are trying to establish an in vitro model of white matter using induced pluripotent stem cells to help us understand the role of white matter dysfunction in Alzheimer’s disease.

What does a typical day in the lab look like for you?

No day is like another, but my time is usually divided between looking after cells in tissue culture, planning and setting up new experiments, data analysis, as well as attending seminars and meetings.

If you weren’t a scientist, what do you think you’d be doing?

I can’t imagine not being a scientist – even though being a scientist requires a high frustration tolerance and perseverance, I love what I do.

Outside the lab, what do you enjoy doing?

Time with my family is important to me, and being a German living abroad has forced me to develop some decent bread baking skills – which I enjoy now as part of my weekend routine.

What is it about your field of research that gets you most excited?

I am very interested in the crossroads of immunology and neuroscience, a field which is just beginning to gain momentum. It is very exciting to see the pace at which new concepts, paradigms, and technologies emerge in this field.

There are still so many unanswered questions, so many discoveries to be made in trying to understand how our brain works, that each new set of experiments is a small piece in the big puzzle.

What do you think are the biggest challenges currently facing life scientists and their work?

I think some of the main challenges early career researchers are facing are the pressure to publish, short term contracts, and gender imbalance, to name just a few.

Which scientists working today do you most admire, and why?

Dame Athene Donald, for being a pioneering physicist, mother, and incredible supporter of women in science.

What’s your favourite science joke OR science quote?

“The reward of the young scientist is the emotional thrill of being the first person in the history of the world to see something or to understand something. Nothing can compare with that experience … The reward of the old scientist is the sense of having seen a vague sketch grow into a masterly landscape.”

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (British-American Astronomer, 1900-1979)

What do you think is the greatest scientific discovery of all time?

Paul Ehrlich’s and Elie Metchnikoff’s discoveries of acquired and innate immunity, which became the foundation of immunological research.


Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us, Deborah! It was our pleasure to speak to you, and we wish you the best of luck in your research.

Read Deborah’s papers here:

Follow Deborah on Twitter at @DebKroV

Connect with Deborah on ResearchGate:

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