Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Sara Sebastiani


What's your name, nationality, current function, and department?
My name is Sara Sebastiani and I’m from Italy (from Como lake, for the ones that know it). Currently I’m at the 2nd year of my PhD at the DCN. I work in the department of Molecular Neurobiology in the Neurodevelopment group of Sharon Kolk.

What is the topic of your PhD project and how does your work look like in practice?
The main topic of my PhD project are Neurodevelopmental disorders. In particular, I study the molecular mechanisms responsible for the phenotype observed in patients with mutations in two different genes: SIN3A and ARID1B. In order to do this, we compare mutant and control models and study their differences. The models that we use are both mouse models and human models, like brain organoids. Modelling these disorders and understanding the pathogenetic cause, can help us to develop a therapeutic strategy and improve the life of our patients.

In practice, my work consists of hours spent in the tissue culture to grow induced pluripotent stem cells and brain organoids, followed by molecular analyses (like immunohistochemistry or Western blot) and other hours at the microscope to acquire cool pictures.

What did you want to be when you were younger?
When I was a child, I constantly changed my mind about what I wanted to be, from interior designer to hotel director. However, when I started high school I fell in love with human biology and here we are.

What has your career path been so far and how did you come to your current position?
As I was saying in the previous question, during high school, I started to be interested in human biology and, exploring the different university courses I found the perfect one for me: medical biotechnology. There I found out that my main interest was neuroscience. Motivated to learn as much as possible, I decided to do the internship in a laboratory specialized in neurodevelopment and to later enrol in the Medical Biotechnology and Molecular Medicine – curriculum Neuroscience –master’s degree course. During the master internship, I started to work with brain organoids and to study neurodevelopmental disorders and I understood that it was the topic I wanted to specialize in during my PhD. At the same time, I also wanted to work abroad, so I looked for a group that was working on a similar research and I found here the right match.

What does your perfect weekend look like?
My perfect weekend is a combination of fun and relax. I love to spend time with friends and family, going on a trip together, doing some shopping or just enjoying the nature.

When it’s winter, my perfect weekend also includes a figure ice-skating training!

And… of course cells and organoids don’t know what a weekend is, so sometimes my Saturdays or Sundays include a trip to the lab.

What is the most important advice you want to share with Donders PhD candidates?
Don’t be scared by failure! In science, as well as in life, things often don’t go as planned. The important thing is to react to that, find a backup plan and get support from colleagues.

The last part is even more important for international PhDs. It’s normal that you don’t know everything and it’s fine to ask for help, don’t forget it.