Postdoc highlight series: Dr. Wojciech Ambroziak (#7)

This week on the Alternative Postdoc Superheroes we have Dr. Wojciech Ambroziak. Wojciech did a lot of traveling in his career and in this interview he shares how to look for international opportunities and adapt to new working environments.

Enjoy the read!

 Quick notes on Wojciech:
NameWojciech Ambroziak, PhD
Countries he has academic experiences fromPoland, Spain, Denmark, New Zealand, Germany
Wojciech as a scientist/researcher/academicdetail-oriented, reliable
Currently excited about:Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami
Wojciech’s typical day:        Generally, I prefer doing experiments early in the morning and then assess at the data in the afternoon, but this does not always work and often I end up grinding lots of experiments for several weeks and then analyzing data in bulk for some days.  

Writing, at the current stage, is not a major part of my work. Instead, I make presentation slides or review the literature to find answers to the questions that come up during experiments or to find solutions for technical issues – but I do not make a tight schedule for these things, just whenever a need arises.  

Then, in the evenings (not all of course), I do coding exercises which then I try to incorporate into the analysis of my own data.   During my PhD I used to work on most weekends but I no longer do that these days.
Contact Wojciech at:Insta: @backpropagating_ap
Twitter: @wojciechambroz2

Hi Wojciech! Thank you for saying yes to this interview.

Could you introduce yourself briefly?

My name is Wojciech. I am currently a postdoc working in Heidelberg, Germany. I did my PhD in neurophysiology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Originally from Warsaw (Poland) where I completed MSc degree in biotechnology.

What kind of student/pupil were you as a kid?

I tried to be a diligent student all along, studying hard before each examination. I would not call myself excessively smart or intelligent, just hard working. I enjoyed studying about biology, chemistry, and history. Maths was never my forte and I always hated it, which is regrettable now when I wish I understood it better. Until the end of high school, I was not quite sure what I should be doing next.

What was your experience studying in your undergrad program?

I did my undergrad at the biology faculty University of Warsaw and I enjoyed every bit of it. Officially it was called biotech but nothing even remotely associated with industry so I would just call it biology. I loved studying zoology and molecular biology stuff. I can say that was a very enjoyable time in my life without much stress. On top of that, I had a chance to do internships in other institutions in Spain (UPV) and Denmark (University of Copenhagen) during that time which further broadened my scientific and overall life experience.

Why and how did you decide to go into a PhD?

During my master’s degree, I was already working in the lab and could not, at that time, imagine doing anything else. Therefore, it felt natural to continue that path and find a PhD position. To make a change and expand the array of my skills I decided to change the field from human genetics to neuroscience, as it seemed more attractive at the time with more potential.

What was your PhD program experience?

My PhD was okay. In Auckland, I received a doctoral scholarship to work at the Centre for Brain Research which lasted exactly 3 years and there was not so much structure to it, just 3 years of doing experiments. I had a clear goal which came out from my then-supervisor project grant and I finished all the lab work required within these 3 years; then it took me another 3 months to write everything up.

Especially at the start of my PhD, I was really enjoying it as I was literally learning new things every single day. Of course, there were struggles on the way too, like the 2nd year was a bit depressing results-wise. But in the end, everything turned out well to the point that I could say the whole thing was not too difficult. It may be easy to say in hindsight but some of my colleague students in the same institute were struggling for much longer.

The whole experience highly depends on the project you’re involved with and the mentorship you receive.

Could you briefly describe what your research was and/or is about?

In my PhD, I was focusing on synaptic physiology in an in vitro model of Huntington’s disease. I was trying to figure out which postsynaptic receptors are up- and which downregulated in neurons carrying the HD mutation. Currently, my focus is on the physiology of thermoregulation.

What advice would you give your younger self starting a PhD program?

Perhaps to worry a bit less about the experiments not working the way I wished them to.

What have you decided to do after your PhD and why?

Following my PhD I decided to continue my career in academia a bit more and proceeded to a postdoc position. At the time I felt like doing more science and that’s what people normally do after PhD, so I started a search for a postdoc which eventually took me where I am currently.

What PhD has given you and how you use it now?

PhD gave me lots of experience in various experimental techniques, like electrophysiology and imaging, which I am also applying currently during my postdoc.

As for mental aspects, it feels satisfying after you have completed your doctoral degree. At least I felt good. However, when I became a postdoc I quickly realized I was overestimating my knowledge and skills quite a bit 😉

What are your other superpowers?

Working in a lab full time, sadly, does not leave much time for extensive hobbies, at least in my case. That being said, the more I expand my knowledge the more I realize my weaknesses and so I am trying to use some of my free time to acquire additional skills such as coding, for example, but also general knowledge in various aspects. No superpowers, unfortunately.

Learning how to code in your free time is a superpower to me!

What is the hardest in doing what you are doing and how do you deal with that?

The life of a scientist ain’t easy. I find it hardest to deal with mounting negative results and experiments not working. Being a postdoc you’re not a student anymore and expectations from you are higher. It is easy to develop anxiety and a sort of depression.

It helps if you have someone close you can talk to about the way you feel.

For me it’s my wife who has nothing to do with science in her professional life which for me is a big plus.

What are you the proudest of?

There’s nothing I am particularly proud of really.

If you could teach people one thing, what would it be?

How to seem confident while in reality your self-esteem is hanging by a thread. 🙂

How you were finding all these opportunities in different counties?

In my case, each time I was looking for an internship, PhD or job opportunities,

the process was very similar and involved searching for research groups that fit my scientific interest and apply the techniques I want to learn in order to solve those scientific questions, and then emailing their PIs asking about opportunities.

In many cases, you don’t get any reply, but so far I was eventually able to find positions this way and was doing this independently. Of course, it is easier if you’re mobile and do not mind moving overseas in order to do what you’d like to do. I always preferred to directly email the labs instead of browsing the job adverts as not all jobs are being announced online.

How one can prepare and best adopt to doing science in different settings (be it different countries, different cultures, different area of research)?

I am not sure I was ever trying to prepare to adopt to anything, at least not actively.

In my view if you have an open mind, you’re curious and ready to learn new things then you should not have problems with adaptation.

Of course, moving countries or cultures will require some time to get used to the new setting. I was never afraid of changes because thanks to them you acquire life experience, and experience is invaluable.

Who was/is the most influential person in your science journey, and how so?

I could mention here several big science names here but come to think of it, the person I really admire(d) is a zoology and evolution professor from my early student years whose knowledge was just immense. He’s name is Jerzy Dzik.

Who are the people you follow on social media and enjoy they content?

I am not using social media much lately.

Are there any tools, resources or software you are obsessed with at the moment?

I like reading the “dendrites” book by Greg Stuart part by part and enjoy playing with R and Phyton code for data analysis.

What are your future plans, upcoming projects, what is next?

I still have a couple of years of my postdoc fellowship left and during that time I’ll be working on several projects I’ve started.

After that, I am no longer sure if I want to stay in academia. The reason for that being, as much as doing experiments can be exciting at times by letting you in on pieces of scientific information way ahead of everybody else, I found that at the same time (in my personal case) it rarely leads to having a sense of accomplishment.  In other words, I could say the passion for science I once had has been lost somewhere along the way, although it might be a temporary notion.

Working as a researcher gives you a lot of freedom in decision making compared to other professions, but on the other hand science is becoming more and more competitive in a bad way – more and more industrialized if you will. On top of that, I keep having this feeling that doing something different, something that would serve other people ad hoc and solve their problems in a more immediate manner would be more fulfilling. I have no particular idea on my mind currently as to what I could be doing exactly in the future but I keep thinking about it.

Is there anything you would like to add?

I would be interested in connecting with people who transitioned from science/neuroscience to industry recently and don’t regret the decision.

Where people can find you?

Insta @backpropagating_ap

Twitter @wojciechambroz2

Thank you!

If you want to read more about research abroad:

Postdoc highlight series: Dr. Ken Yan Wong (#3) – Alternative Postdoc

PhD highlight series: Mr Reuben Holmes (#1)

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