Meet our new FIMM-EMBL-DSHealth doctoral students

Warm welcome to the 2021 FIMM-EMBL & DSHealth International PhD Programme students! This energetic and ambitious group of junior scientists can’t wait to get to learn as much as possible during their first year.

This autumn, we welcomed four new doctoral students to the FIMM-EMBL & DSHealth International PhD Programme.

PhD students in the rotation programme will work with 2-3 different research groups during a 6-9 month period prior to selecting a research group in which to remain for their complete PhD studies. The 2021 call was the first one organized with the Doctoral School in Health Sciences at the University of Helsinki, enabling new collaborations between the Viikki life sciences and Meilahti biomedical sciences campuses.

“We received way over 200 applications in the call and the quality of especially the top candidates was impressive. Due to the involvement of DSHealth and group leaders also from Viikki campus, the call covered a wider range of research fields than previously. It was great to get to work with group leaders also outside of FIMM and introduce the rotation program idea to them”, says Dr. Ulla Tuomainen who coordinated the application process at FIMM.

Meet the four students, who share why they chose a scientific career and our training programme and what they are most looking forward to this first rotation programme year.

Franziska Birk


Education: Cell biology/developmental biology/biotechnology, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

Primary scientific interest(s): bioinformatics, cancer research

What inspired you to choose a scientific career?

Back at school, my teachers were sometimes annoyed because I didn’t stop asking “why?”. As a researcher I never have to stop!

What attracted you to Finland/University of Helsinki/ this programme?

This programme offers me great opportunities to combine bioinformatics with cancer research in the country that I’ve wanted to visit for the last ten years.

What expectations do you have for the first year?

To see how far I can get! And to finally have somebody around to ask difficult questions to.

First rotation group: Tero Aittokalllio


In my free time I enjoy riding my bicycle or going for a walk. If I’m not outside, you would most likely find me reading, writing, watching a movie or playing skat, a fascinating card game for which I am still looking for fellow players here in Finland!

Giovanna Dashi


Education: Biotechnology and Drug Discovery at University of Rijeka (Croatia) & Biomedicine at Uppsala University (Sweden)

Primary scientific interests: biotechnology, molecular biology, drug discovery

What inspired you to choose a scientific career?

I have always been fascinated by the complexity of different molecular processes in the human body.

What attracted you to Finland/University of Helsinki?

I enjoy the Nordic countries and appreciate both the internationality and networking possibilities the program offers as well as the translational research focus.

What expectations do you have for the first year?

Learn as much as possible! I am already looking forward to the possibility of utilizing some of the great technology platforms I have seen and working with the great, helpful core facility staff. 

First rotation group: Markku Varjosalo

Hobbies:  I am more of an indoors person (especially during winter) thus I often spend all of my free time cooking, reading books, watching movies and spending quality time with friends and family.

Mikaela Hukkanen


Education: Physiology and genetics, University of Turku, Finland

Primary scientific interest: epigenetics

What inspired you to choose a scientific career?

I was, and still am, fascinated by linking small-scale molecular mechanisms to the big picture – such as complex ecosystems and evolution.

What attracted you to Finland/University of Helsinki/this programme?

The possibility for network building by rotating in several different groups and the vast amount of genetic and other omics data available. I also find the courses offered by the DS Health very relevant and interesting.

What expectations do you have for the first year?

Get familiar with the newest technologies and methodologies, just learn!

First rotation group: Miina Ollikainen

Hobbies: Badminton

Kristen Nader


Education: Bioinformatics, Lebanese American University & Katholieke Universiteit Leuven

Primary scientific interest: Bioinformatics

What inspired you to choose a scientific career?

I’ve always been amazed by the central dogma of life and how at each level, we can study something different but at the same time, they can be integrated to reveal a bigger picture

What attracted you to Finland/University of Helsinki/ this programme?

I was initially attracted to the FIMM EMBL program due to translational medicine being one of their main missions. The more I looked at the research and the group leaders, the more excited I was to join.

What expectations do you have for the first year?

I want to learn new sets of research skills and meet others that have similar scientific interests. I like getting stuck and troubleshooting my way out of it (either by myself or through discussion with others), so I hope to be able to do a lot of that and, consequently, grow as a researcher.

First rotation group: Filip Scheperjans

Hobbies: Baking, hiking and crocheting