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Alumni Stories: Piotr Kowalski

Alumni Stories: Piotr Kowalski

"It will be a success for me to create a research team whose work will lead to discoveries allowing the implementation of new RNA-based therapies, thanks to which it will be possible to help patients suffering from diseases that do not have effective cures so far. Another success for me will be a good work-life balance, especially since my wife and I are both involved in science. (...) "

 

Name and surname: Piotr Kowalski
Place of residence: Cork, Ireland
Job position: Research Group Leader and Lecturer at University College Cork
Field of study: Biology with a specialization in biochemistry ( 2004-2009) 

 

 

  • What is your best memory of time at the Jagiellonian University?

It is difficult for me to choose one event because I remember the entire term at the Jagiellonian University as a fascinating time. Nevertheless, I think that the high point was my thesis exam, which was the culmination of 5 years of work and experience. Right after, I applied for doctoral programmes in several countries in Europe, including the Netherlands, Germany and France, so it was a very good motivation for further growth.

 

  •  How did your career start? What were the turning points?

My career began when I was still in college because it was the Jagiellonian University that enabled me to discover my passion for science, in particular for biochemistry and gene therapy. I got my first laboratory training at the Medical Biotechnology Department under the scientific supervision of prof. Józef Dulak and prof. Alicja Józkowicz. It was also one of the best memories of studying at the Jagiellonian University. Later, every step in my career, both as a PhD and a post-doc, was equally important as it allowed me to develop as a scientist and hone my knowledge and skills as well as build a network of contacts. In particular, my post-doc work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) gave me a unique opportunity to develop and the freedom to do research in an extremely stimulating Cambridge environment.

 

  • How has your education contributed to the development of your career?  

My career began when I was still in college because it was the Jagiellonian University that enabled me to discover my passion for science, in particular for biochemistry and gene therapy. I got my first laboratory training at the Medical Biotechnology Department under the scientific supervision of prof. Józef Dulak and prof. Alicja Józkowicz. It was also one of the best memories of studying at the Jagiellonian University. Later, every step in my career, both as a PhD and a post-doc, was equally important as it allowed me to develop as a scientist and hone my knowledge and skills as well as build a network of contacts. In particular, my post-doc work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) gave me a unique opportunity to develop and the freedom to do research in an extremely stimulating Cambridge environment.

 

  • Please tell us about your current job. What are you doing now?   

I am currently a research group leader and lecturer at the Faculty of Pharmacy at University College Cork (UCC) in Ireland. My research is focused on the development of new technologies for the delivery of nucleic acids, such as messenger RNA (mRNA) and interfering RNA (siRNA), which are currently among the most promising classes of biopharmaceuticals, to places in the body that have not been accessible so far. This would allow for the development of RNA-based therapies for many diseases, in particular those for which there are currently no effective treatments, e.g. rare genetic diseases, type 1 diabetes or certain types of cancer. I am currently running a project funded by the Irish Health Research Board to use this type of therapy to treat sepsis.

 

University College Cork campus on a clear day, Ireland. Photo from the graduate's own collection. .

 

  • What are your biggest challenges right now? 

It is a big challenge to create a laboratory and a research team during the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. If you want to join my team as a PhD student or postdoc, please contact me (piotr.kowalski@ucc.ie) or visit the website of the UCC Faculty of Pharmacy (https://www.ucc.ie/en/pharmacy/).

 

  •  Jak wygląda życie i praca w Irlandii?   

My experience of working in Ireland is very positive. I had the opportunity to get to know Ireland as a student at the Jagiellonian University during the internship. It is a very picturesque country, friendly to foreigners. Poles constitute a large national minority (2.75% of the population) and have a lot in common culturally with the Irish. Today, Ireland is one of the most dynamically developing countries in the European Union, thanks in part to investment in research, innovative technology and the pharmaceutical industry. In Cork, there is UCC, one of the leading universities in Ireland and Europe, in addition to other world-class research institutions, such as Tylndall National Institute and APC  Microbiome Institute. This creates an environment for cutting-edge research. Cork is a dynamically developing student city, with a relatively young and international community, also known as the culinary capital of Ireland. Living in Ireland, however, you have to get used to the island weather with quite a lot of rainfall. 

      

  • What is your definition of success?

This is quite a difficult question. It will be a success for me to create a research team whose work will lead to discoveries allowing the implementation of new RNA-based therapies, thanks to which it will be possible to help patients suffering from diseases that do not have effective cures so far. Another success for me will be a good work-life balance, especially since my wife and I are both involved in science. 

 

Time off work, with wife in Maine, USA. Photo from the graduate's own collection. .

 

  •  What advice do you have for students who are entering the job market? 

This is a topic for a longer conversation, but I would definitely advise you to follow your interests. You also need to be open to acquiring new knowledge and skills. Currently, many branches of industry and science are opening up to the use of the latest achievements in other fields, such as computer science, biology, bioengineering and chemistry. Technological progress means that we are becoming more and more interdisciplinary, and we will have to be able to find our niche on this kind of labour market. Examples of this are large corporations such as Google, Amazon and Apple, which are increasingly entering the biotechnological and pharmaceutical industries.

 

  • How do you envision the cooperation of the Jagiellonian University with its graduates? What can graduates of the Jagiellonian University expect? 

Graduates can offer a lot to students and universities. For graduates to share the knowledge and experience with students is one of the opportunities for cooperation. Another is to enable students of the Jagiellonian University to gain practical skills in laboratories and companies where graduates currently work. The creation by the Jagiellonian University of a database of graduates working in Poland and abroad would help to better utilize the scientific potential, e.g. in international research projects. This would bring mutual benefits for both graduates and universities, and for Polish science. 

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