Bart van Sloun (23, The Netherlands), Systems Biology
I think the future of medical research is at the interface of mathematics and biology

“I actually wanted to study biomedical technology after high school, but because I did not take any physics or technical courses at school, that was not possible.  Via the bachelor Health Sciences, track ‘biology and health’, I can now do this master’s after all.

This master’s programme is a combination of biology and mathematics: you learn to model biological systems mathematically. You can make a computer model of every living thing, from cells to organs and entire ecosystems. Such a model helps you understand a biological system and investigate how it relates to time or reacts to external influences. For example, when you model a heart, this can lead to a better understanding of the system, new hypotheses and the development of new medication. I think the future of medical research is at the interface of mathematics and biology.  

In high school, I took mathematics A and I wasn’t very good at that, also because it didn’t really catch my interest. That’s a shame now. During the summer holidays before I started the master, I had to study hard to brush up on my math. My brother, who is doing a PhD as an electronic engineer at the Technical University Eindhoven, helped me.

This is the very first year of this research master. There are only three students; it almost feels like a private class when your professor is teaching. You can easily ask questions and it is very interactive, which is a great advantage. Besides me, there are a Czech girl and a German boy in my class. A good mix of nationalities and gender. All three of us have a background in biology; in an ideal situation half of the students have a background in biology and the other half in mathematics. But we are a good team and study a lot together in the library.  Doing sums together: that sounds simple, but in reality…

One of the things we learn is how to work with the computer program MATLAB, which is used worldwide by mathematicians and bio-engineers. In the next block we will have practical courses where we learn to program. At home, I can connect via Student Desktop Anywhere to the university server to work with the programme. That works very well. 

I spend most of my free time in the library. Even on weekends I occupy myself with mathematics all day. I have no more free time, ha-ha. No, seriously, I can still go out for a drink in the evening, but the study load is more than I had expected, especially compared to the bachelor. But I am very enthusiastic, because I find it super-interesting. That makes it easier to devote so much time to it.”

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