Interview with Jakob Mücke
Jakob Mücke speaks with contagious enthusiasm about his studies. In turn he has also been infected with keenness for Infection Biology, a course which immediately caught his eye. After completing the block courses in microbiology and neurobiology at the Biozentrum, one thing is for sure: the Master’s course at the SwissTPH, the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute.
When you left the Gymnasium, what did you want to study?
At that time I was tossing up between studying law or biology. Law, perhaps because I found the lawyer series so cool at the time. That really tempted me. To study biology was more of a gut decision. My focus was on science subjects at school and I always did quite well. I made up my mind on the spur of the moment, on the deadline date. I thought that if biology was not the right thing, that I could still change. And because I’ve enjoyed it, I’ve stayed with it.
What do you like about this course of studies?
What I really like is the practical work now in the third year block courses. After two years of lectures and theory, I can finally apply my knowledge. I find it especially cool when I can carry out an experiment on my own from the start to the finish, to produce my own results and evaluate these myself – this is great. Through these “pracs”, you get an insight into what scientific research is about.
Have you ever worked in a lab before?
No, I had no practical experience in biological lab work. That’s why the first week was a bit chaotic. But that was no problem as we learnt quickly. In the block course at the Biozentrum, we were a group of 29 students. That’s only a small group and, depending on the research group, there was usually one assistant supervising two students. That is a great student to supervisor ratio, so we received much assistance.
Which major study did you choose and by when should one make this decision?
For me, my direction was completely open at the beginning of the course. In the second year I chose Integrative Biology. This is a combination of Molecular Biology with Animal and Plant Sciences. But depending on the combination of block courses you choose, a change in major is still possible at a later point in time. So now the next step is the SwissTPH. At least that’s what I have planned to do. (He laughs). That’s why in the first two years, my emphasis was on organismic biology, that is Bio 5, rather than the molecular subjects. For the block courses you can then choose what interests you the most. I am taking half each from the molecular and organismic subjects. The only prerequisite, so that I can continue my studies at the SwissTPH, is to take the infection biology and epidemiology block course. The other subjects can be chosen freely.
And how many block courses are you taking at the Biozentrum?
I am taking the block course in neurobiology and microbiology. And then I will take plant biology and infection biology at another institute.
Do you think that you are already able to apply what you have learnt in the lectures?
I liken the lectures to a way of learning a new language with its vocabulary. They provide the basic requirements for understanding what the subject is about and perhaps also for a way of thinking. Each professor und research group introduces a completely new area of research. This means that in each course you start from the beginning again. So each provides just a small insight into the topic.
And what fascinates you about microbiology?
Its complexity! It has to do with individual cells and their tiny components. It’s incredible how many countless processes occur and how this complexity could have arisen. It’s hard to imagine it! Each professor has their specific area but all of it happens in the small cells. Trying to understand a part of this and then putting the individual puzzle pieces together to get the bigger picture is remarkable. It’s also fascinating, how the individual cells communicate and interact with each other. This was an important aspect especially in the neurobiology block course.
The course also offers elective subjects. Which outside lectures did you attend?
The classic ones! Forensic science, I think it’s an exciting topic irrespective of what course you are studying. The other was forensic psychiatry.
Why is this known as the classic course?
Word gets around! Firstly, the lectures are extremely interesting and, secondly, the exams are not too difficult.
Did you do any other subjects?
Yes, I attended lectures on photography and “Biology for Psychologists”. I think it is a good thing that we have electives, it widens one’s horizons.
How is the team spirit among the biology students? Do you help each other?
We have a good atmosphere in the group. I get along well with most of the students. You can always ask anybody anything. And even the professors always have a sympathetic ear for our concerns. However, we usually ask the assistants in the lectures. We have now made smaller groups and discuss scientific papers with our tutors but we don’t have any fixed study groups.
Have you already thought about your future?
No, not really except that I want to do my Masters at the Tropical Institute. What will follow is still an open question. But I could imagine pursuing the direction of research. Whether in academia or in the pharmaceutical industry, time will tell.
Last but not least: How do you clear your mind after a long day at the uni?
I play basket ball two to three times a week. I’m not such a partygoer but I do enjoy spending an evening with friends. And there’s always time to drink a beer together after uni, particularly when the weather is great.