Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Pippa Staps

Date of news: 2 October 2017

Foto Pippa VermaatPippa Staps is a PhD candidate at the pediatric neurology department of the Radboudumc (DCMN) where she studies the biochemical and clinical aspects of the rare, neurometabolic disease Sjögren-Larsson syndrome.

What's your name, nationality, current function, and department?

Pippa Staps, Dutch, second year PhD student in the pediatric neurology department of the Radboudumc.

What is the topic of your PhD project and what does your work look like in practice?

The topic of my PhD project is a rare neurometabolic disease called Sjögren-Larsson syndrome. This is an autosomal recessive disease caused by a defective fatty aldehyde dehydrogenase (FALDH) gene, ALDH3A2. In this rare disease, the fatty alcohol metabolism is disturbed and therefore fatty alcohols are thought to accumulate in different body tissues: brain, retina and skin. Patients suffer from a spastic diplegia, cognitive impairment, retinopathy and ichthyosis (an itchy skin condition). My project focuses on many different aspects of the disease: from the biochemical basis of the disease to the long term follow-up of the retinal disease and quality of life of these patients. My work consists of seeing patients at the outpatient clinic to examine the eyes and collect blood and urine; a lot of practical arrangements with colleagues and patients; reading and writing papers (first paper is accepted!).

What did you want to be when you were younger?

I think it went from being a princess, a mother, a teacher, a lawyer to being a doctor. The last dream I pursued and I still love it!

What has your career path been so far and how did you come to your current position?

I studied medicine at Maastricht University for 6 years and when I was finished I started working as a resident at the pediatrics department in Tilburg and after a year I switched to the NICU department at the Radboudumc. Since my dream is to become a pediatrician, I really liked those years! Nonetheless, I also want to contribute in the scientific world and learn more about science. Therefore, I didn’t hesitate when I was offered the opportunity to do a PhD in the department of pediatric neurology.

Who are you working with and what do these collaborations look like?

For my project I work with a lot of people! My supervisors (a pediatric neurologist and an ophthalmologist), a professor in clinical chemistry, a laboratory analyst, a pediatric rehabilitation physician, a speech therapist, nurses, secretaries, and my roommates at the pediatrics department. Most of the collaborations are by email, but I make sure that I see these people in person as well, since I noticed this helps a lot in the collaboration. People are more willing to help you if they see you in person :)  (tip!).

What does the Donders Institute mean to you?

Tricky question. To be honest: not so much… The Donders Institute feels far away from my daily practice. My desk is at the Radboudumc and my roommates are not in the Donders Institute (they are in RIMLS and RIHS). Since more Radboudumc PhD students feel the same way (that we do not feel connected), we are currently collaborating with the PhD Council to improve this.

Who inspires you the most and why?

My mom! I think she is a great example. She is really good at combining work with her private life. She is a medical doctor as well, did her PhD in combination with her work and having small children at home. I always felt she was there for us, and now I realize how special this is.

What does your perfect weekend look like?

As long as it involves family, friends, good food, drinks, a lot of laughing and being outside in the sun, I’m happy!

What is an important life lesson you have learned in the past?

When I was in Nepal for an internship, I learned that most of our ‘Western’ problems are so relative! At home I can worry about small things, over there I was worrying because there was no electricity and no running water. At that time, all your regular ‘problems’ seem so tiny! It’s good to remember this when I am stressing out on stupid things :)

What is the most important advice you want to share with Donders PhD candidates?

I think the most important thing is that you try to connect with other PhD candidates. This way your project will be more fun, you can celebrate your successes and share your frustrations. You can learn from each other this way and make new friends!