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Graduation with distinction

Sonja Rittchen received her doctorate in the presence of Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen

Sonja Rittchen is a graduate of the bachelor programme Medical and Pharmaceutical Biotechnology at IMC Krems. Today she works as a university assistant at the Medical University of Graz in the Department of Immunology.

Portrait von Hellmut Samonigg, Sonja Rittchen und Alexander Van der Bellen

Sonja Rittchen graduated with distinction. A sub auspiciis doctorate refers to a special form of doctorate in the presence of the Federal President. It is the highest possible award for academic achievement in Austria. In the photo: Principal Hellmut Samonigg, Sonja Rittchen and Alexander Van der Bellen; Photo credit: © Med Uni Graz/Lunghammer

Dear Ms. Rittchen, what else should we know about you?

I was born in Carinthia, in the Millstättersee area, where I also grew up. Even then I discovered my passion for horses and travelling. After graduating from high school, I moved to Krems to complete my bachelor degree. Quite a difference from the alpine Upper Carinthia to the wine region around Krems, but I quickly got used to the hilly area and the Heurigen culture. After completing my bachelor degree (2014), I moved to Graz for my master's, where I still live today. I love travelling, from short city breaks to exotic country trips. My top 3 trips were probably Australia East Coast, Scotland and Cambodia, but hopefully there are more to come, because the list is long.

Why did you decide to study at IMC Krems? Why the bachelor programme Medical and Pharmaceutical Biotechnology?

I wasn't sure what I wanted to study for a long time. However, I have always been very interested in biology and natural sciences, which led me to the degree programme at IMC Krems. The offer was very tempting: a degree programme in English, a very clear and comprehensive curriculum and, above all, the possibility of a semester abroad. I was completely convinced at the Open House - happy, motivated students, committed teachers and a great presentation of the bachelor programme were reason enough to choose Krems and I have never regretted it. I then completed my master's in Graz (Biochemistry and Molecular Biomedicine, TU Graz).

What were the highlights during your time as a student?

The biggest highlight was definitely my semester abroad, which gave me the opportunity to get an insight into medical research.
I am still close friends with some of my fellow students at that time, we had a very good community. I also appreciate more and more all the networking and scientific events. They gave us the opportunity to meet important people from companies and alumni and gather perspectives for our future careers. I still draw on the experiences and some connections I had back then.

Where did you spend your semester abroad and how did you like it?

I spent my semester abroad in Edinburgh at the Scottish Center for Regenerative Medicine. The 6 months in Scotland are among my fondest memories. I was very lucky with my group and was able to work independently on a project straight away. I had very good supervision, but also a lot of freedom. Although I worked and learned a lot, I still had time to explore the country and the city and make friends for life.

What is special about IMC Krems?

What is special about IMC Krems is that you are taught an incredible amount of knowledge and experience without forgetting the well-being of the students. Through the great support of the teachers and the interaction with the partners in industry, you are motivated to do more, to achieve more, but at the same time not crushed by unfulfillable expectations. That doesn't happen often and I appreciate it more and more.

Why does studying pay off, apart from gaining knowledge?

Studying broadens your horizons. You get to know people from different regions and countries and thus also their point of view. A semester abroad strengthens this experience even more. During your studies you can acquire broad knowledge and get to know yourself better and explore what you are particularly good at.

What does your career look like after the master degree?

After completing my master degree at TU Graz, I started PhD studies at the Medical University in Graz and completed them sub auspiciis in 2021. My dissertation topic was the characterisation of prostaglandins in acute pneumonia. In the last 1.5 years I worked as a PostDoc at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institut für Lungengefäßforschung in Graz, where I was involved in projects related to pathological vascular remodelling in pulmonary hypertension. At the moment I am working as a university assistant at the Medical University of Graz at the Department of Immunology.

What tip can you pass on to those who are interested in the Medical and Pharmaceutical Biotechnology degree programme at IMC Krems?

If you are interested in biotechnology and medical research, this degree programme is a definite plus for your future career. You get a good overview of the theoretical background, but in contrast to a university degree programme, you have incredibly more practical experience and a better network. In addition, you already have the opportunity to get a picture of future jobs and make connections in the practical semester during your bachelor degree.
So take advantage of the practical/abroad semester, but also the socializing- and career events. These opportunities don't come along as often later on and help immensely with the job search and specialisation.

Sub Auspiciis doctorate

A sub auspiciis doctorate refers to the awarding of a doctorate in the presence of the Federal President. It is the highest possible award for academic achievement in Austria.
- Preference in all upper grades of a secondary school
- "Matura" with distinction
- In the course of studies, a grade of "very good" in all partial examinations of the diploma or bachelor and master examinations as well as in the Rigorosum
- Top marks in academic written work (diploma or master thesis and dissertation)


Photo credit right-hand side: © Med Uni Graz/Lunghammer