Patrycja Nowak-Sliwinska

1977

Assistant professor at the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Geneva

"I know that it’s important to stick to my goals and never give up."

My career path

I am an assistant professor in molecular pharmacology. I have a background in biochemistry and conduct both fundamental and translational research with a view to designing effective drug combinations for the treatment of complex disorders, especially cancer.

My passion. I am curious, and there is so much to learn every day. The fact that I have a major goal to achieve – namely improving cancer therapy through new and intriguing research findings – challenges me in how I think and how I analyse and organize my thoughts. I know that it’s important to stick to my goals and never give up. I find this way of working extremely rewarding – it’s all about taking small steps towards improving cancer therapy. I am very much inspired by the people I collaborate with. I think that producing excellent research is only possible if you work closely with other experts.

My career path. During my PhD in Poland, I was given the opportunity to go on a research visit to Switzerland, where Professor Hubert van den Bergh helped me a lot, first in getting my PhD and then in developing my research ideas. My mentor in the Netherlands, where I did my postdoc training, Professor Arjan W. Griffioen, played an important role in helping me to secure a European Research Council (ERC) grant. The directors of the School of Pharmaceutical Sciences in Geneva believed in my research project and offered to host me. My parents, my family, my mentors and those who have funded me have all been instrumental in my career.

A downside or obstacle ? Sometimes I think that my work and family life make it hard for me to enjoy others pleasures, such as films, theatre, culture and sport. I am convinced that there will be a moment later in life for those things. Although biomedicine is quite popular among women, only a few make it to the top in academia and industry. It’s more difficult for women, but I’m determined not to be put off by that. I recently received one of the most prestigious EU grants, the ERC Starting grant.

I’m proud that I am able to work on a project to design optimal drug combinations for the treatment of cancer. The project uses mathematical tools to find optimal conditions in large search spaces. Finding an optimal combination of drugs is difficult because of the immense number of possibilities. By working with other researchers, I was able to apply this technology in my research. The idea came to me when I did not have a stable position or proper funding. It took some effort to determine how I could make it work. In addition, I had to try and find funding for the project and an appropriate host institution. I’m extremely happy that I found a home in the School of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Geneva and that I found funding for my research idea through the ERC. This enabled me to form my research team, which really helped me to get the project up and running smoothly. It hasn’t always been an easy journey, but I’m really thankful that my hard work has paid off and will soon be helping patients. It feels great that sticking to your goals can be so productive. I’m equally proud that I managed to achieve all that and raise three wonderful kids, who are now aged two, ten and fourteen.

The Proust Questionnaire

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Other interests beyond work

Alongside my scientific interests, I like cinematography and photography.

People who inspire you

My mum. I have an endless admiration for how she combined a busy job as a medical doctor with lovingly raising a family. Also Bojan Slat, a Dutch high-school student who invented a way of ridding the world’s oceans of plastic and raised money for his company The Ocean Cleanup. Recently the first mega-device was deployed in the Pacific Ocean. It’s a great example of how to stick to your goals.

A book & a film

Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë) and Cast Away (Robert Zemeckis).

An objet

A camera

A colour

All shades of blue

A dream

My dream is that when I retire, my work will have helped to improve the lives of people living with certain diseases.