Warm welcome to the 2023 FIMM-EMBL & DSHealth International PhD Programme students!

This autumn, we welcomed four new FIMM-EMBL & DSHealth International PhD Programme students. Students are recruited at the institute level and after a rotational period they select a research group in which they remain for their PhD studies.

Attracting talented junior scientists to FIMM has been central to our research training activities since the establishment of the institute. The aim of the FIMM-EMBL International PhD programme is to recruit outstanding, international and Finnish doctoral researchers, and provide them with diverse research training early in their academic careers. 

Doctoral researchers 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 2023 call was the third one organized with the Doctoral School in Health Sciences at the University of Helsinki, with the aim of creating new collaborations between the Viikki life sciences and Meilahti biomedical sciences campuses.

 “We received more than 100 applications from over 25 countries this year. The quality of the candidates was very impressive, and our selection committee had a challenging task of selecting four highly deserving and talented young researchers. It is great to collaborate with DSHealth and their group leaders from the Meilahti and Viikki campuses for this PhD programme. This provides young researchers an opportunity for diverse research training during their rotations and to select their research topics from a wide range of research areas,” says Dr. Rubina Tabasssum, the new FIMM doctoral training coordinator.

Meet the four smart and enthusiastic junior scientists who joined us in August and learn about their expectations for the coming year!

Anastasiia Kachalova

Education: I got both my bachelor's and master's degrees from Lomonosov Moscow State University. I finished my master's program in May 2022.

Describe yourself with three adjectives: Confident,  open-minded, kind

Primary scientific interest(s): 1) molecular mechanisms leading to cancer progression and therapy resistance and 2) understanding features of immune tumor microenvironment in different cohorts of cancer patients.

What inspired you to choose a scientific career?

For me, there is nothing more interesting than being a scientist. I also tried, for example, teaching and working in the industry, but only science for me can combine creativity, curiosity, the happiness of uncovering new connections and features, and the possibility of contributing to health care. I also love the scientific community and the opportunities you get while working with such great people. 

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

I actually didn't select the country to do my PhD, but it was more about the program - I find this rotation program a unique practice for Europe at the PhD level and also during the interviews and selection process, it felt like a perfect match. 

What expectations do you have for the first year?

Learn new techniques, try the work atmosphere in three labs, deepen my skills in data analysis, and find a perfect place to do a PhD.

First rotation group: Anniina Färkkilä's group

Hobbies: Climbing, running, mountaineering, and other outdoor activities

Alba Montedeoca Vázquez

Education: I did my bachelor’s in Biomedical science at the University of Barcelona (UB), and after exploring different fields of biomedicine I decided to study my master’s in Neuroscience at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB).

Describe yourself with three adjectives: Determined, empathetic and honest

Primary scientific interest(s): I have always been most curious about those questions nobody could give me a satisfactory answer to. These topics were the universe, as I have always been fascinated by the starry sky, and the brain, due to my early need to understand how this organ was responsible for my own thoughts and experience of the world.

What inspired you to choose a scientific career?

I guess there were many variables involved here. The first thing was my insatiable curiosity together with the willingness to learn by experimenting myself. I have always been told that I have a creative mind. However, my biology teacher, who encouraged me to participate in science-related projects and activities from the very moment he saw my potential, was an important influence regarding the direction of my career. I would say that the last crucial factor was my personal experience of life. When I was a child some of my relatives went through life-threatening, tough diseases and those moments remained imprinted in my mind during a time I was starting to discover myself. I think that the most critical moment for me was when my grandpa got his ALS diagnosis. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease caused by the loss of motor neurons, a rare disease for which no effective treatment is currently available. This made me decide that I wanted to become a neuroscientist and contribute to improve the lives of people in a similar situation.

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

To be honest, I fell in love with Finland. I had been here before, as an Erasmus student in 2022 and stayed for 5 months. I came to the University of Helsinki to do my bachelor’s thesis at the RNA repeat toxicity in neuromuscular degeneration lab. As to «why here?», the answer is because I have always been attracted to the Nordic countries. When I was a kid I used to daydream about living in a place like this, and I even used to write stories about it. When I first came to Finland I was not going through the best moment of my life, but this country, the lab where I did my thesis, and the people I met, made me feel at home just shortly after I arrived. I felt that I whole-heartedly belonged here, and it broke my heart to leave at the end of the erasmus. That was when I made an important decision in my life: I would come back to Finland as soon as I possibly could. It required a lot of sisu and there were days when the uncertainty brought me down, but I never gave up. When I saw this amazing opportunity at FIMM, I was delighted and I wanted to apply. Getting the position would mean that both my dream of living in Finland and doing my PhD in a field I am passionate about could come true at the same time. Honestly, I have no words to describe what I felt when I was told that I had got the position. I definitely cried out of happiness and relief, so this is really the most important and exciting thing that has ever occurred to me.

What expectations do you have for the first year?

I expect to learn a lot from the researchers I will meet, and also from the other three amazing candidates that I already met: Nastya, Li and Sannimari. I feel that this experience will allow for me to explore many different research fields and will give me new interesting insights. I think that another remarkable advantage is that we will make connections with really good scientists and we’ll maybe find ourselves doing some interesting collaborations in the future. Moreover, the personal experience that lies ahead seems wholesome and the social environment at FIMM eases the integration of us newcomers. There are many more things I expect from this great experience, but I am sure it will surpass the expectations.

First rotation group: Lassi Paavolainen's group


I am a person of many different interests. One thing I really enjoy is music and I experience it mainly through singing and playing the violin, as I am a self-taught violinist. Another thing I also like is reading and writing, as a form of connecting with my thoughts and emotions. I usually write some poem or story whenever I feel that I have to deal with strong feelings or with a challenging situation. I am also really fond of martial arts. I am a black belt in taekwondo, which I had been practising since I was 4 years old, and which I stopped doing after 16 years, when the pandemic started. One more thing I really enjoy in life is to build a close connection with nature, so I guess I am in the perfect country. I love hiking, mainly at the mountains or through big forests. Oh! And not to mention a new passion of mine that I discovered when I first came to Finland: sauna and ice-bathing!

Li Shen

Education: BE in Bioengineering (Donghua University); MSc in Biomedical Engineering (The Hong Kong Polytechnic University). 
Describe yourself with three adjectives: Motivated, sincere and sensitive. 
Primary scientific interest(s): Bioinformatics and Medical informatics. 
What inspired you to choose a scientific career? 

I’ve been always interested in discovering new things since my childhood. Thus, I believe that pursuing a career in science is the ideal path to satiate my desire to explore the world. 
What attracted you to Finland/University of Helsinki/ this program? 

The projects led by the group leaders at FIMM are not only interesting but also closely aligned with solving real-world clinical challenges, which perfectly fits my research interests and career goals. 
What expectations do you have for the first year? 

My primary expectation for my first year is to establish a robust foundation for my future Ph.D. studies. During this period, I hope I can familiarize myself with all the resources and platforms provided by the institute, as well as acquiring diverse state-of-the-art knowledge and skills across various fields through rotations. 
First rotation group: Jing Tang's group 
Hobbies: Watching football games, cooking and traveling. 

Sannimari Suhonen

Education: MSc in Life Science Informatics (Bioinformatics and Systems Medicine), BSc in Molecular Biosciences, University of Helsinki 

 Describe yourself with three adjectives: Honest, empathetic, and open-minded. 

Primary scientific interest(s): Human disease genetics/genomics, bioinformatics, and data analysis. 

What inspired you to choose a scientific career?

I find it fascinating how the human genome functions and how its interplay with the environment affects our traits and behaviour. Working in two different research groups during my studies has also strengthened the feeling that I want to pursue a PhD degree and continue working in academia. 

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

This program offers a great and rare opportunity to get to know different research topics and groups before choosing the topic for a PhD. Also, the multidisciplinary working environment and lovely community of FIMM are one of a kind.  

What expectations do you have for the first year?

I’m looking forward to familiarizing myself with different research topics studied here at FIMM, as well as the different groups and people working in them. I’m also eager to learn to work with different data types and to further develop my general computational skills. 

First rotation group: Miina Ollikainen's group

Hobbies: My hobbies include singing in a choir and Finnish folk dance. I also enjoy different outdoor sports like biking, running, hiking and cross-country skiing. At home, I like to read, write, watch TV series, and play the piano – whenever I find time for that.