Betty Tesfai, Master’s in Biomedicine – #HumansOfKI

Karolinska Institutet has a lot to offer including high-quality education, excellent research and exciting student life. A master’s student, Betty Tesfai, knows this firsthand. She might have just started the Master’s Programme in Biomedicine this fall, but it is her fourth year at Karolinska Institutet. Betty has graduated last June with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biomedicine. Read the full interview to learn not only about various opportunities KI has to offer, but also where you can meet Nobel laureates.

You have been in Karolinska Institutet for a while now. Why did you choose KI, and why did you stay at KI? 

I have always been very interested in biology, especially on the molecular level, and Karolinska is the hub of the medical field. It focuses on medical research and the career opportunities we have in the future.

Was there a certain moment in your life before you started working on your Bachelor’s degree when you realized you are interested in medical research?

I remember I was shadowing a professor in microbiology in the hospital back home in Kuwait, actually. I thought I was going to do medicine. I was with my sister; we were shadowing one summer, and I did not like the clinic. I did not like the hospital environment, but since I was shadowing a microbiologist, he had his lab as well. We passed it whenever we went to his office, and I realized, this is what I wanted to do. That was my moment of realization. A summer later, after a year at Karolinska, I was actually in a microbiology lab doing a summer project with iGEM.

What is so special about KI’s devotion to helping students with their career prospectives?

Both direct contact with lecturers and being a student representative from the Student Union, Medicinska Föreningen (MF) allowed me to meet with people at different positions at Karolinska Institutet. Just being able to talk to them about their research and work gets them so excited, and from there you even have an opportunity to be supervised by them, or do some sort of project with them, or organize an event with them. The fact that we are so closely connected with any researcher here is the biggest aspect of career prospects at KI.

Since you did your Bachelor’s degree here, at Karolinska, you already had an opportunity to do some research project at labs at KI. What labs have you worked at, and what did you enjoy the most about working in the lab?

I have worked in two labs. The first lab was both at Karolinska and at KTH for the iGEM project. it was a student-driven project. I, along with the group of students from different universities in Stockholm, planned our own project from scratch, started our fundraising, carried out all the lab experiments, and presented our project in Boston. It was done in the collaboration with supervisors Johan Rockberg (KTH Royal Institute on Technology) and Ute Römling (Department of Microbiology, Tumor and Cell Biology, KI). The main experience I gained from iGEM is that you do everything yourself. You plan everything, you have to think about materials, even the basic things like calibrating equipment, the things you would not necessarily think about if you just went to a lab with a supervisor already there in place. That was my first lab experience as well, and it was a good introduction.

The second lab project was with Birgitta Henriques-Normark’s group at MTC, supervised by Anuj Pathak, and I was there for quite some time. I continued with my degree project there as well. From that experience I got the real lab situation and what it is like to be a bachelor’s, master’s, or even a PhD student, because I was surrounded by real researchers.

So is your next step getting PhD?

Hopefully. I have only tried doing research in microbiology so far, and I would like to explore other fields. It is so nice that we have three projects during our master’s programme. And it is so nice that we are meant to go to different labs, and I would like to try different things, and then I will decide what field I would like to pursue my PhD in. I think it is the best part of Master’s in Biomedicine at Karolinska. There are so many projects. You can do it abroad; you can do it here. We have so many opportunities, and it is very important that we take them and use them.

Can you tell us which organization have you been involved with at KI? Why do you think they are important on campus?

I remember the first year I said I was not going to do anything. I started the university; I don’t have to do anything, right? But then, I went on exchange studies, I felt like I have not done anything the first year. I felt like I wasted my year! So I applied to everything while I still was abroad. I did not really have a good insight of what I was getting into, but it was definitely worth it! I started off being very involved with MF. I was a board member in the year of 2017, and a student representative to a few boards including the Board of Higher Education and Cultural Council, which I am still a part of. It was very hectic and involved a lot of meetings. It was a great experience, but I needed to remind myself that the student life and student union should also be fun. So I joined the choir. I have always loved music, but I left it behind. I joined the chamber choir of MF, A Scapella. And it is one of my favorites. It has the social aspect, and it  is a part of the student union.  I have also joined Studenter i Forskning (Students in Research), or SiF, which is an organization that helps students  reach out to researchers, and help to find supervisors. We also organize inspirational events and talks. It is meant to bridge the gap between students and researchers. Even although, KI is a research institution, it is also a university, so it is important that we keep it connected.

What are some of the ways that SiF helps to bridge the gap between students and researchers?

We created a database by contacting different labs and asking them if they wanted to supervise students either during the term or during the summer. We also asked the research oriented for medical students, psychology students, nursing or biomedical students and so on. We have a list of supervisors on MF website under SIF, and that is where you can find all the information. It is easy to contact the supervisors. On top of that, we also organize the events that will allow students to interact with researchers at KI. The most recent event was the third lecture series. The lecture series have originally started as a summer research introduction, but has become a lot more general. We had a lab manager, a PhD student and a Bachelor in Biomedicine student present at our event, so the audience could get all the perspectives. It was a great success, and a lot more people come to our events. We also host lunch seminars for inspirational speakers, pop quizzes and many other events.

What is the most memorable moment for you at Karolinska Institutet?

There are so many. I have been here for a while. I am going to mention two. The most recent one was the KI Culture and Creativity Day that I, together with the Cultural Council here at Karolinska Institutet, organized with the President of KI, Ole Petter Ottersen. I had a privilege of introducing the day and opening the ceremony along with the President. That was very exciting. Not the fact that I was on stage, but the fact that everything finally came together. I remember running back from the exhibition preparations, and going back to the hall at Aula Medica, where the ceremony was taking place, and realizing that it is finally happening, and that there are people here and they look happy. It was such a great moment.

And last year, in the Student Nobel NightCap, which was organized by MF this year, I had a privilege of going to the event as a board member, and met the Nobel laureates. It is incredible that we can meet this big people in such an informal yet formal setting. Yeah, it is incredible.

You have so much experience and you spent quite some time at KI. What advice would you give to new students?

Don’t be afraid to get involved in all the activities KI and MF have to offer. You should just find what you really like. And if you are not sure what you like, just try things out, and use every opportunity. It’s never too late. Use your opportunity here to make connections and start your lab research or other clinical practical experiences today!

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