Maurizio Sury

Interview with Maurizio Sury

Master student

He came to the Biozentrum just to get a feel for it but almost immediately decided to stay for his Masters. The international flair of the Biozentrum along with his project at the interface between basic and applied research won despite what he considers to be “not so nice weather”. No wonder. Maurizio Sury, who is doing his Masters in neurobiology in Prof. Markus Rüegg’s group comes from Locarno in the Ticino.

Which Bachelor do you have and where did you study previously?

I grew up in Locarno, in the south of Switzerland. For my Bachelor of Science in Bioscience and Biotechnology I went to the University in Varese, a small town just across the border in Italy. But as the environment there was not very international nor the opportunities as wide-ranging as here and also since I wanted to do my Masters in Switzerland, I applied for an internship in the group of Markus Rüegg.

Couldn’t you have started with your Masters right after the Bachelor?

No. Firstly, I wanted to do an internship to get to know the Biozentrum and its research. But, to be honest, I then applied almost immediately to do my Masters here (he laughs). And secondly, since the curriculum of my Bachelor differed from that at the Biozentrum, I first had to complete six months of additional hands-on training in the form of the two block courses in Biophysics & Structural Biology and in Biochemistry, in order to be admitted.

And how did you choose the topic for your Master’s thesis?

Markus Rüegg had been recommended to me by someone engaged in Telethon, a foundation supporting people with muscle diseases and research into these disorders. So, since I very much liked the project I was working on during my internship, I asked Markus if I could stay on for my Masters. We are investigating mouse models with muscular dystrophy and what attracts me most is the fact that this project involves working at the interface between basic and applied research. I have always been most interested in the medical application of biology.

How was your first day in the lab?

It was a bit overwhelming. I came from a place where nobody in the lab spoke English, so I had to adapt not only to a different environment but also to the language. But everybody here is very friendly and also helps you with anything, so in the end, it was not too difficult to settle in.

And what is a normal day in the lab like?

I’m in the lab every day. The timetable is very flexible and I can manage my time on my own, according to my plan of experiments. I also have to attend certain courses but I am pretty autonomous in regard to which ones I attend and they actually do not take up too much time. For the Masters you only need 30 credit points from courses and the lab meetings also count. And since they all take place at the Biozentrum, it’s easy; you just go down from the lab and then back up again.

What are the lab meetings and how is the collaboration in your group in general?

We have actually two group meetings a week. On Monday, we have the journal club, where we discuss papers and, on Friday, we meet to present our experiments. We are quite a large group, so I think it’s about four times a year that your turn comes around. And this is very helpful because everybody gives you input. Then I also have weekly meetings with Markus and I also get a lot of help from other lab members. We are four people working on this project. Mine is a sort of project within the project. Hence, I have different supervisors, depending on the experiment.

And how is socializing at the Biozentrum?

Our group always has lunch together and sometimes we go out for dinner and, for instance, celebrate the end of the neurobiology block course week that we are in charge of or have a barbecue. I still have contact with some colleagues from the block courses, especially with those students who also come from the Ticino (he laughs). You wouldn’t have guessed it but there is even an association of the students from the Ticino, which organizes quite a number of events during the year.

What’s the biggest difference between doing the Bachelor and now the Masters?

At the University of Varese, I only did a short internship and, when doing experiments, there was always someone looking over my shoulder. At the block courses, I then got the chance to practice lab work but it was, of course, still in a very supervised manner and it’s somehow like following different recipes. I’m not so sure that we always fully understood what we were doing (he laughs). With the Masters, at least here in Switzerland, you are in the lab from day one. And it’s great; you immediately start to learn new techniques. To properly learn a technique may take several months and as a Master’s student you have this time and can actually start to produce results.

Would you recommend the Biozentrum to other students?

Absolutely. It provides you with a very international environment, many interesting research groups and everything is very well organized, down to the tiniest detail. The Biozentrum also has a great network with other life sciences research institutes around the world. And finally, in Basel there are many opportunities for internships in the pharmaceutical industry and also for work later.

For your Masters you moved from Locarno to Basel. How did your start here?

I already knew Basel. I was often here as a child because my father originally came from here. But I also have to admit that the landscape has changed pretty much, with the new Roche tower and the new Biozentrum. I like Basel, except for the weather, which is of course not as nice as in the Ticino, although they say that it’s much better than in the rest of Switzerland. But Basel has a very nice historical center and it’s great to go to the riverside in the evening and have a walk or a beer. I now also intend to learn German and do some of the courses the University offers to students. In fact, I had to learn German at high school but I was never good at it (he laughs).

How about the student life in Basel?

During the week I hardly go out. After a long day in the lab, I just prefer to relax at home and see a movie. And on the weekends I often go back to Locarno. But the Skuba organizes several gigs and aperos where I meet other students and, of course, I also go to the events of the association of the students from Ticino.

Do you have a tip for future students?

The information on the website is very accurate. So if you follow what is written there, you don’t really encounter any problems. And with regard to finding the right Master position I encourage them to directly approach the professor they would like to have as a thesis supervisor and not wait to positions being published. I mean, show your interest. Also go visit the lab if possible and talk to the people working there. This way you find out if this is really the kind of research you want to do. And in any case, while it's important to find a research topic you like, it's still possible to change direction when starting a PhD.

And do you want to do a PhD?

I still haven’t decided but I like the idea of continuing in research and with only a Masters you can’t really do so but can only work in some kind of technical position. So I think I’d rather continue and graduate with a PhD in my hand.