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Biotech graduates at the world’s top universities

Our graduates make it onto prestigious PhD programmes across the globe

In under 20 years, the Institute of Biotechnology at IMC Krems has established a reputation for excellence which extends far beyond Austria.

IMC FH Krems Biotech-Alumni genießen weltweite Anerkennung

IMC Krems biotech graduates achieve global recognition

The Institute of Biotechnology’s Medical and Pharmaceutical Biotechnology bachelor and master degree programmes have long since propelled IMC Krems to a place in the biotech ‘champions league’. This is down to the outstanding work of everyone involved.

One factor in the programmes’ success is an agreement with Sweden’s respected Linköping University, which enables Krems master students to obtain a double degree. A graduate employment rate of 98% speaks for the high quality of these English-language, industry-focused courses, as well as the dedication of the programmes’ staff. The combination of all these elements adds up to a persuasive case for prospective students, and the number of applicants for both the bachelor and master degree programmes continues to rise year to year.

PhDs at the world’s top universities

From Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, Harvard, and the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) in Japan to the Medical University of Vienna: Krems biotech graduates are building international careers in medical and pharmaceutical biotechnology, and enrolling on PhD programmes at the best universities all over the world. Take Anna Traunbauer, Jan Grašič and Patrick Rericha for instance, just three of many examples.

Flown in for interviews

Anna Katharina Traunbauer has been a PhD student at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology since September 2019. And on 1 October, Anna, who is originally from Linz in Austria, received her first accolade from the world-famous university, the Presidential Graduate Fellowship Award, in recognition of her outstanding academic performance, remarkable background and promising future.

Anna was invited to PhD admissions interviews at four institutions: MIT, Harvard, University of California San Francisco and the Rockefeller University in New York – all expenses paid. Such interviews are usually a three-day process that allows prospective students to meet academic staff in person and discuss their scientific interests and motivations for doing a PhD. Anna performed outstandingly and was accepted by all four universities. She just had to take her pick.

In Anna’s own words: “I was fortunate to have already experienced the extraordinary scientific environment at MIT, and came to my decision based on the exceptional time I had spent there during my research semester. I had already had some productive and fascinating interactions with experts from a range of departments at MIT, who had helped me to look at scientific problems from a variety of different angles. After carefully considering MIT and the biomedical research institutes it is linked with, I’m convinced that MIT’s biology PhD programme will offer me the perfect environment for achieving my career aspirations, as well as excellent opportunities for improving my scientific skills and developing personally.”

First steps into research: internship with Mark Kotter

Patrick Rericha completed IMC Krems’ Medical and Pharmaceutical Biotechnology master programme in summer 2018. From day one he was impressed by the Institute of Biotechnology, the course content, and the head of institute, Harald Hundsberger. He felt valued and in good hands throughout his time in Krems. Patrick, who was born in Lower Austria, is now a PhD candidate on the stem cell biology and medicine programme at the Wellcome - MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute in the UK, a world-leading centre for research in this field.

During his internship at Cambridge, where he focused on regenerative medicine and clinical neuroscience under the supervision of Dr. Mark Kotter, Patrick made up his mind to do a PhD at the university. He took full advantage of the internship and was asked if he would like to come back to do a PhD after finishing his degree [editor’s note: in the UK it is possible to do a PhD without a master degree]. However, Patrick decided that he first wanted to gain more industry know-how and continue his education with a master degree at IMC Krems.
On his master programme, he chose to do the compulsory scientific internship at Boehringer Ingelheim, where he spent a total of ten months and was involved in a fascinating project focusing on promotors, experiment design and robots.

He then applied for the prestigious and highly selective four-year Stem Cell Biology and Medicine PhD programme at Cambridge. Patrick describes the application procedure: “The selection process wasn’t easy and you had to submit several supporting statements. I sent off the application on Christmas Eve and in early January I received the invitation to the interviews at the end of the month. Cambridge paid my expenses. And it was quite an experience: beforehand I was sent three academic papers, and had to choose one to summarize at the interview and critique in discussion with the board of the Stem Cell Institute. You were also really put through your paces in true job-interview style. I got the news that I had been accepted on my mobile, with only 1% left on the battery. I can’t describe how happy I was.”

Japanese connection

In September 2019, Jan Grašič started a PhD at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) in Japan, where he is focusing on the biology of aging, biogerontology, nutrition science and optimal human performance. Prior to this he had spent a year working at Novartis as a quality assurance manager. Originally from Maribor in Slovenia, the dedicated young biotechnologist completed his master degree at IMC Krems in 2017.

He is grateful to Harald Hundsberger, the director of his master programme at IMC Krems, for the reference which Jan believes was an important factor in his successful application for the five-year PhD programme. At the moment Jan is getting to grips with the topic of cell membrane damage in the lab. He reports that the institute where he is working is very new, focuses on interdisciplinary research, and has an organisational structure with no departments.

PhD students also receive one free flight a year to make an educational visit to a professor of their choice, a scheme which Jan is particularly pleased about. On these visits, students discuss specific research topics, present the work they are doing at OIST and build up partnerships. Jan decided to visit IMC Krems, where he wants to inform students about the exciting research internship opportunities at his new institute.

Endorsement of outstanding teaching and research

The CHE international university ranking published this spring provided further confirmation of the excellent standards of biotechnology teaching and research at IMC Krems, with the Medical and Pharmaceutical Biotechnology programmes once again receiving top scores of between 1.3 and 1.6.

“From day one it’s been important for us that Krems biotech graduates have a smooth transition into jobs and research careers in Austria or abroad. That’s why, since the beginning, we’ve brought the brightest minds from industry and research to IMC Krems – including a Nobel prize winner. Our alumni are pursuing domestic and international careers, making valuable contributions to research into biotechnology products, and to their production and development,” explains Prof. Harald Hundsberger, head of IMC Krems’ Institute of Biotechnology.

Top-class work continuing

The interdisciplinary team at the Department of Life Sciences is committed to pushing ahead with application-driven research activities and extending its international research network. Direct involvement in research and the way in which research work feeds into course contents has helped the department to attract numerous international biomedicine pioneers for its teaching activities. These include a Nobel prize winner, a number of professors from international research organisations, and scientists who are part of the international biotechnology scene.

About the Department of Life Sciences

The interdisciplinary education and research in medical and pharmaceutical biotechnology at the Department of Life Sciences, an international centre of excellence, pursues a broad spectrum of applied biomedicine research topics including cancer, immune system disorders, toxicology, drug research and the latest bioprocess engineering techniques.

Research focuses on areas ranging from disease models to the identification and development of drugs and lead compounds, and is organised into the following four main research platforms backed up by appropriate infrastructure and strong scientific expertise:  Drug Research and Drug Development; Bioanalytics; Personalised Medicine and Diagnosis; and Bioprocess Technology and Biopharmaceutical Production.

Quality management strategies (GLP) have been implemented in these focus areas in order to satisfy the requirements of industry and ensure product development and validation meet the highest standards. Since 2002 the department has positioned itself as a life sciences hot spot in the core fields of teaching, research and internationalisation, as well as a pivotal education and research partner in Austria and abroad.

In line with its philosophy of “fostering a pioneering spirit from day one”, the department’s Medical and Pharmaceutical Biotechnology bachelor and master programmes have consistently demonstrated its commitment to providing high-quality education. Such quality standards are maintained by teaching the programmes in English, involving Austrian and international lectures as well as Nobel prize winners (Prof. Ivar Giaever) and recipients of various honorary awards, hosting scientific conferences, and forging strong links with top universities in Europe and around the world.

The department’s research activities play an important role in enhancing Lower Austria's standing as an innovative high-tech location in Europe, and consequently in strengthening the regional value chain and improving the standard of living in the area. Thanks to the department’s interdisciplinary, regional, national and international collaborations, and as one of the Lower Austrian government's Technopol locations, it also makes a huge contribution in terms of R&D and technology transfer – including on the international stage. One of the latest very positive developments in the department has been the introduction of its Applied Chemistry bachelor programme, the only programme of its kind in Austria, which is funded by the Province of Lower Austria.