Interview series

Angelika Riemer, M.D., Ph.D.

Interview with Angelika Riemer, M.D., Ph.D.

Date: 23.05.2013.

Location: Heidelberg, Germany

##Short Bio Angelika Riemer holds an M.D. and a Ph.D. in molecular biology. She was trained as an immunologist as well as a dermatologist and spent time abroad as visiting scientist at the Dana-Faber Cancer Institute/Harvard Medical School. In 2010, she was appointed as junior group leader at the German Cancer Research Center and is currently working on cancer vaccine development.

YAAC: Dear Dr. Riemer, thank you very much for making time for this interview. A lot of young cancer researchers are eager to learn more about your career. Do you recall any particularly joyful moments, big or small, besides, of course, being mentored by a Nobel Prize laureate?

Dr. Riemer (smiles): I remember loading my first Western Blot, way back when I was still a trainee in science. After developing the film I saw a few black bars but I did not know the importance of my finding. When I showed the blot to my group leader she was very excited and told me how great this result was. This was certainly one of the moments, which drew me into science. But then of course you get continuous motivation from every accepted publication and from every successful experiment along the road.

YAAC: You have been quite successful in your scientific career. What has been the most difficult part of your research path?

Dr. Riemer: Perseverance. Hanging on for many months even if experiments go wrong. As a physician one often has immediately rewarding experiences, for instance, when a patient recovers or is released from pain. In research, however, you need to sit through it, mostly alone and with an uncertain outcome.

YAAC: How would you have encouraged yourself during your early scientific beginnings - knowing what you know now?

Dr. Riemer: You have to love what you do and be passionate about your work. Research is not a risk-benefit calculation - you need to be excited about the quest itself. YAAC: Job vs. leisure – how do you recover after a hard week of work?

Dr. Riemer: I do sports twice a week and I try to hike with friends as often as I can.

YAAC: I have been trying to avoid the gender question, but I have to ask: Have you ever encountered any obstacles as a female researcher and do you think that today, female cancer scientists have less obstacles than, let’s say, 10 years ago?

Dr. Riemer (smiles again): I was lucky during my career. Once I had reached a certain level, being a woman in science became an advantage for me. Regarding support for female scientists, I think there definitely has been some improvement over the last few years, but at a slow pace.

YAAC: Do you have any scientific role models past or present (except Harald zur Hausen)?

Dr. Riemer: Every group leader and advisor has been a role model, to some degree. But you can also learn a lot from bad mentorship. You then learn to appreciate things that have been working great in other groups, but you took for granted.

YAAC: Here is a tough one. Could you please arrange the following items in order of importance (for a young scientist) and based on your own experience: stay abroad (preferably in the US) - scientific award/stipend/funding- double degree such as MD/PhD – 10+ impact factor publication – summa cum laude thesis – finding a good mentor

Dr. Riemer: Well, you have to differentiate between early and late stage researchers. For the early researcher, a summa cum laude thesis might be a desirable task. It will not matter much once you apply for a group leader status, though. Then you will need the publications, preferably a stay abroad, funding and a good mentor. I would rate a double degree as the least important of these items.

YAAC: Besides all that we covered, would you care to give some additional career advice to young cancer researchers?

Dr. Riemer: It does not suffice to strive for excellence in terms of grades. No matter how good you are, you still need to keep your eyes open for what is out there and be very pro-active when it comes to applying for scholarships, grants or research awards.

YAAC: I apologize for changing the subject a bit but we are coming to the end of the interview and I have to seize the opportunity to ask you an immunology-related question. Cancer immunology is having a powerful revival. In your opinion, what will be the most important focus in this field?

Dr. Riemer: I remember when, not too long ago, tumor immunology was considered a research field only pursued by dreamers. Since then, we have witnessed a strong development, culminating in the design of Ipilimumab and Provenge, the first FDA-approved immunotherapies. Currently, combination therapies are the most important task to be dealt with.

YAAC: Thanks for staying with me until the very last question. Again, this is a tough one: Cancer is a multinational endeavor with an approximate budget of 14 billion Euros. There are more than 2,6 million publications on the subject on pubmed alone. Are you afraid that this might lead to a fragmentation of the field with small research islands and a lot of redundant research?

Dr. Riemer: Actually, I am not so afraid of redundant research. Nowadays, research is shared easily through the Internet and regular conferences help researchers working on similar tasks to stay in touch. Just think about previous generations of scientists, and you will realize that they lacked these means of obtaining information and often, after years of research, were preempted by their colleagues.

YAAC: Thank you very much for the interview and good luck with your future work!

(This interview was conducted by Benito Campos on behalf of the Young Alliance Against Cancer)

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