Biology Education Centre

Javier Aguierre – Master programme in applied biotechnology


Read on for a longer version of the interview:

There’s a cultural festival in Mexico, called festival cervantino, and it’s one of the biggest in Latin America. One year when I went there the invited country was Sweden. So then I realised that Sweden existed, and all the natural landscapes that Sweden has to offer, and I thought it was extremely exotic so I decided to come here. I wanted to be in a country that was totally different from my own, so a country that offered me a challenge.

I did the Master programme in applied biotechnology, and the strength of this programme is that it offers both the basic molecular biotechnology skills, and also offers a very strong industrial connection. It also helps you to develop an idea and transform it into a product, or even a company. So it’s mostly for people that are interested in going further to industry or to develop their own product.

I’m a chemical engineer, and I was just entering the biology field, so I felt I needed some basic courses, and Uppsala University offered those courses and not just focussing on research. During the programme we were always encouraged to analyse, to think on our own. We were always given real problems, either from industry or academia for us to actually solve. This has helped me develop skills to solve problems in a very efficient way.

Most of the courses are given by researchers that are world renowned, so you can learn a lot from them. And the good thing here in Sweden is that teachers and professors are very approachable. It was a bit of a cultural shock when I came to Sweden, because here you address the professors by their first names, and in Mexico you have to use their title. Here I think it makes me feel a bit closer to the lecturer, and it feels like they’re open to discuss with you.

I think that biotechnology is the future of industry, and of course it’s an industry that has a lot of potential. And I want to participate in the development of solutions that can actually create a positive impact in people as much as possible. So I thought that entering the biotechnology field will be a good way to actually create this positive impact in the world.

The main difference between the Mexican education system and the Swedish is that here you can do things at your own pace. You can develop your skills as much as you want. In Mexico for example you take around eight courses at the same time for one semester, and here in Sweden you can focus on one course for half a semester. So you can actually focus all your attention on learning as much as you can on this subject, which I think is very useful.

The student life in Uppsala is the best among all of Sweden I think, because here you have a lot of different activities that you can do. There are thousands of student groups you can join, and it’s also a very international city. So you can have the opportunity to meet a lot of international people from all over the world. Being a student in Uppsala also gives you the opportunity to attend the Nobel lectures, and actually interact with the Nobel laureates of the year, which I think is a great opportunity.

Sweden has some of the most fun traditions in the world. For example a crayfish party, where you basically sit at a table and eat crayfish in a very fun celebration. It’s the first time I have ever seen this in my life. Here in Sweden they also celebrate midsummer, dancing around a pole. And then they have Valborg, which is the start of the spring. That doesn’t mean that there’s not going to be snow though, which is a bit complicated. But it’s one of the most fun celebrations here in Uppsala, and it’s worth visiting even if you are not studying here. Basically all of the celebrations here involve being with your friends and family and having a great time.

I mostly studied at the Biomedical Centre here in Uppsala, but I also studied in the Ångström laboratory, which is the engineering campus. I think every campus has its own personality. For example, what I enjoyed about Ångsröm is that you could always find people studying astronomy, or mathematics and have very good conversations with them about a lot of different topics. I also studied at the Evolutionary Biology Centre, which is where the green biologists are studying. It also has it’s own personality, and you can discuss a lot of environmental issues with these people.

My favourite place in Uppsala is probably walking next to the river, because the landscape is very nice. You can find a lot of old buildings, and then during the summer all the people are sitting next to the river having an ice cream.

After my master programme I was offered a PhD position at the Johansson group, and I decided to take it. So I started in April this year. We are studying initiation of translation in vivo, in living cells. I think being a PhD student in Sweden is very good, because it combines still being a student with being considered an employee. So you have the advantage of having all the benefits of being employed here in Sweden, but also the freedom of being a student. This means that you can actually develop your own interest in research.

I think with the skills you acquire in Sweden, you are capable of doing anything anywhere. But Sweden is an especially good place to be creative, because the government is very supportive of new ideas, and the environment is also very good for innovation. So I think that if I decide to follow the entrepreneurship path, then I will stay here in Sweden. If I decide to join the industry, then I would prefer to stay here, but it could be anywhere in the world.

One of the biggest pros of having an international network is that you can get to know a lot of different cultures, and you can learn a lot from each of them. And I think being very different also makes you open your mind a little bit more. The biggest disadvantage of having a lot of friends all over the world is of course when they leave. When you’re here you feel like a family, you’re sharing a lot of different things together. Moments that you will remember your whole life. But then of course there’s always the moment to say goodbye, and that is very sad. Although you know that you have a friend in some other country that you can always visit. And in my personal experience I know that they are welcome at my place wherever I am in the world. And I feel like I will be welcome as well, wherever they are in the world.