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Interview with Julian Dommann

With a morning jog and boxing in the evening he forges ahead. But when it comes to decisions about his career path, there is no rush, these take time to mature. For Julian Dommann, there are many exciting prospects ranging from doing research to teaching or working in the consulting business. Before he has explored all these avenues more closely, he is keeping all his options open. 

Why did you decide to study biology?
For a long time, I didn’t know what I wanted to study and initially enrolled in mechanical engineering at the ETH. However, during Military Service, a colleague told me of his plans to study biology at the Biozentrum. This got me thinking, as I remembered that in «Gymnasium», the one subject that I had always enjoyed, irrespective of what topic we covered, was biology and this brought about a last minute change of plans.

Was it clear from the start that you would pursue molecular biology?
No. Just like with choosing what to study, it is rare for me that things are clear from the beginning. I didn’t even realize that in the Biology Course of Studies there was a choice of directions (he laughs). But it soon became clear that molecular biology stood out as my preference. And I also think that it provides me with more options. At the moment, I would like to keep all doors open and then, after I have been able to immerse myself deeper, decide whether to go into research or if I should rather become a teacher.

You have four block courses in the third year. What is the daily routine?
I am currently in the Microbiology and Immunology block course. Before that I took the block course in Structural Biology and Biochemistry and although we were already working in the lab for six weeks then, I am still learning more new things that I have never done before. I think there is much in store for us. We usually start in the morning with a two hour lecture. The rest of the day is dedicated to lab work in the form of conducting experiments, receiving instructions for the next experiment or analyzing our findings.

What do you like most about the block courses?
There are two things really. Firstly, that the third year is much more practical work oriented than the first two years. I don’t enjoy listening for so long, so it suits me well when lectures take up less time, giving us time to work in the lab ourselves. Of course, it is not exactly like research, where at the start, you have no idea of how the experiment will turn out. In order to learn how to do the lab work, we follow a «recipe», and if we don’t achieve the expected results, the tutors know, of course, where the problem lies. Nevertheless, it is a huge step from having an experiment explained to you in a lecture to getting hands on experience.

Secondly, it is the collegial atmosphere. We were much more anonymous in the first two years. Now it is like in «Gymnasium» again. There are 36 of us, so a relatively large «school class», and we enjoy a great camaraderie. We often eat lunch together and on Friday evening many stay on. Sometimes we just go for a drink, other times we go out.  At the end of the Biochemistry block course, almost the whole of our group spontaneously went sledding together. Those are things that really develop the group spirit.

Do you plan to do a masters after the bachelor studies and has a topic already crystalized out for you? 
Absolutely. Though, in regard to the subject, I am still undecided (he laughs). In the third year, we have a different professor each week and they each take time at the beginning of their lecture phase to briefly describe their research to us. And so, with time, you become familiar with what each group does. At the Biozentrum, I very much like that for a masters you work in the lab for 12 months and so have time to delve into a research topic and also to complete the project. But I would also find it exciting to do a masters at the ETH, for example, or at the Department of Biomedicine, simply to get to know another research institute. 

You like practical work. Would a internship interest you?
I have the possibility, within the Civil Service program to work in a lab at the Swiss TPH for six months and will suspend my studies for this after completing this block course. Just today, I spoke with a colleague who also did a internship, and found it cool to have the chance to be able to work in research.

Back to the beginning. How was it to start studying?
Basically, at the beginning each new student is allocated a «buddy», that is a student in an advanced semester, to whom you can bring your questions. I am also a «buddy» to two younger students. At the beginning, I wrote to mine for tips about the elective subjects. However, I made little use of the offer, simply because a colleague knew someone further on in the course and so information just filtered down to me. And then each person needs to find out what is personally helpful for them. Mathematics was, for example, quite challenging. But there are many ways to manage this. For instance, tutorials helped me. I often only really understood then, what we had looked at in the lecture.

Do you still have time for a hobby or job along with your studies?
I am a «Jungwacht» youth leader, work as a Canon promoter and, on weekends, in a Pizzeria. And I love doing sports, actually twice a day. I jog each morning before attending Uni and then go boxing or to the Uni Fitness Studio in the evening. If I decide to become a «Gymnasium» teacher, I would take sport as a second subject. As in the third year of studies, the presence hours have become more stringent – we are in the block courses daily from 8 am to about 6 pm – I have moved to Basel, in order to manage everything. Previously, I commuted from Lucerne.

Do you have a tip for other students?
At the start, I became stressed when choosing subjects or making other decisions. In the meanwhile, I have learnt to take my time, particularly when it has to do with decisions about my career directions. I am only in the third year. To decide whether I want to go into research, I first need to know more about it. Or I just heard about a combination with Engineering and Management. This would pave the way to becoming a consultant in a pharmaceutical firm. You see, there are many exciting opportunities.