We are pleased to indroduce to you our latest rOLe model:

Maja Hanić – biophysicist and PhD student at our university.

#Gleichstellung #CarlVonOssietzkyUniversität #UniOldenburg #WomenInSTEM #WomenInScience #UOL #UniversitätOldenburg

We present: Maja Hanic, PhD student, biophysicist and our new rOLe model.
What’s your field of research and what do you work on? 

My field of research is computational biophysics. I study physics of biology by simulating biological systems in a computer.  My topic of research is cryptochrome, a protein that is found in the bird's eyes, enabling the bird to see the magnetic field of the Earth. By seeing that field, the bird knows where to fly. A rOLe scientist that was interviewed earlier, Jingjing, was working with the cryptochrome protein in the lab, but I'm working with that protein inside the computer, as I have a 3D structure of it. I simulate it in different environments and try to predict not only what’s the role of the protein, but what role does each part of the protein have. Proteins in the cell are like small factories with subdivisions: different parts have different roles, and it is easier to study this computationally because you can see every atom.
In which country or countries and institutions have you been doing research?

I am from Croatia, where I finished my chemistry bachelor and masters at the University of Zagreb. During that time, I also did research on catalytic oxidation of olefins in Toulouse, France. After that, I continued my master, but I decided that I want to do more biochemistry. That's why for my master’s thesis I did a topic of biochemistry connected to cancer and combined an experimental and a computational approach. Then I applied for a PhD and now I'm in Oldenburg, so basically Croatia and France and Germany.
Maja shows us a graphic: The length scale of the topic that I am working on. From the bird (in cm), to a bird's eye, to the cells within, to the protein in the birds eye (in nm) and, finally, to quantum physics level and electron transfer reactions that occur inside cryptochrome (in angstrom size).
What made you want to go to science? Did you have any role models or otherwise inspiring persons who influenced your career? 

Science has always been interesting, but I would say this interest is somehow connected to science fiction, which I always really liked. Since a young age I like to watch it and read popular science books. That made me realize how sometimes the true story behind scientific concepts is more interesting than science fiction. Apart from that, it showed me how past discoveries are really some wonders and beautiful stories in the history of science, which inspired me to also try to do science, and study chemistry. 

Maja shares another graphic with us: The green protein is an avian cryptochrome 4 with a zoom into the region where the electron transfer reaction occurs. This mechanism of radical-pair creation includes electrons moving from one amino-acid to another.
What is the achievement you are most proud of?

I recently published a paper where I'm the first author and I was really proud when I managed to finish that successfully. It is about cryptochrome 4 and I studied the difference between migratory and non-migratory birds, connected to what Jingjing was doing.  It took a lot of time, effort, collaboration and learning how all these methods work. That is something I'm proud of. But there will be more papers in the future!
Did you meet any barriers during your career as a scientific researcher? 
 Sometimes when you're applying for PhD, they're asking you if you have some published papers. I guess that would make complete sense to ask in some countries, but in Croatia, or at least at in some fields of my university, as an undergrad interested in chemistry and biology, there are not a lot of labs to join. They don't have space for a student to just come and work on their project because there's no money, basically. So, the barrier would be that they're asking me to have a paper, which I can’t have because the lab doesn't accept people, and they don’t accept people because there's no money, since they can’t get good grants. And why’s that? That's because they don't have money to hire people, so it's a cruel circle.
 What is your advice for those who are interested in working in science?

Chase your wildest dream of what you want to do! Working in science can be very difficult. Don't start a PhD in something that you’re half into, because no matter much you like it, you're going to start hating it at some point - but at least it's still going to be interesting to you! When you go into depth, you need to learn new methods, new ways of doing things. If you go into a topic not sure that it's really something that you are crazy about, then it's just going to be much worse. But if you’re sure, it will be much easier for you to motivate yourself every day, instead of thinking “Why am I learning this about the thing that I'm not even interested in, what am I doing here?”.
Finally: what is your agenda for the coming months? 

Currently I'm at the stage where I'm finishing my PhD soon and then I have to think about my next job. Simultaneously, I work on finishing it, and that's difficult. 

A last graphic and Maja explains: I worked on reconstructing cryptochrome 4 from migratory and non-migratory birds. The colors of the birds drawn correspond to their name in Latin and their protein structure color which are all overlayed one on top of another.