Radboud University

Student story: Mohammadali - Research Master in Molecular Mechanisms of Disease (MMD)

Mohammadali from Iran tells us about the Research Master Programme in Molecular Mechanisms of Disease (MMD), student life in Nijmegen, how he managed to have fun despite corona, his career prospects, and more.


Mohammadali, a Master’s student in Molecular Mechanisms of Disease

Mohammadali had just finished his experiment when we sat down for an interview at RadboudUMC. He studies the tumour microenvironment by using a technique called flow cytometry to see the effects cancer cells have on dendritic cells.

“To put it in simple words, we isolate immune cells from the blood of healthy donors and put them together (co-culture) with the cancer cells. Then we observe how cancer cells change these immune cells. This way we can see what usually happens in the human body when cancer cells and immune cells are present in the same environment.”

This experiment is a part of the mandatory internship that MMD students have in their curriculum. “Not all MMD students work on the same topic, - Mohammadali explained,- we had an opportunity to visit different laboratories and talk to different researchers to choose where we would like to do our internship. The topics are rather diverse: there are students who study diseases caused by parasites like malaria, whereas I do research on cancer which happens within the body.”


Mohammadali with his supervisor

Mohammadali decided to do his internship at the department of tumour immunology of RadboudUMC. “MMD is a rather flexible programme not only with regards to the topic but to approaches we use in studies as well: from genetics and imaging to biostatistics and more."

Mohammadali enjoys working in this environment. “My colleagues are really professional, but they are also nice and friendly. Sometimes we have small gatherings with lab members, and once we played online games together. It was really interesting to see them outside academia.”

The young researcher wanted to work in a laboratory since high school. “I wanted to wear a lab coat and study life. That is how I always imagined myself.”

At elementary school, Mohammadali would take samples from the surroundings like onions and the pond close to their house and would look at them using his microscope. “I’ve been interested in biology for as long as I can remember myself. People change, and what used to be their passion as children, frequently doesn’t remain their passion when they grow up. Interestingly, for me, it did.”


Mohammadali is doing his internship at RadboudUMC.

When Mohammadali was graduating from high school, there was no doubt that he was going to study biology at the University of Tehran. He specialized in Cell and Molecular Biology. Later he got admitted to several universities, but, eventually, decided to come to Nijmegen.

“I came to Radboud because I liked this course the most. It is focused on research and also enables us to do two internships.”

Research Master programmes differ from regular ones. The duration of the programmes is two years, and they are designed in a way to prepare the students for a career in academia. The requirements also differ. They have to present a strong motivation to study this programme, recommendation letters as well as proof of experience in the field of molecular life sciences. You can learn more about the programme here.


Without a proper graduation ceremony from the University of Tehran due to the pandemic, Mohammadali took the plane to Amsterdam and later the train to Nijmegen

This year Mohammadali was one of the 24 students that were admitted to this programme. Without having a proper graduation ceremony due to the pandemic, he packed and took the plane to Amsterdam. “I had to quarantine for 14 days, so I couldn’t physically join the Orientation Week. I received a red Radboud hoodie and joined some of the online activities. That was nice.”

It is a tradition for second-year MMD students to organise activities for the newcomers. The pandemic was not an obstacle, and the classes of 2021 and 2022 were able to meet for online activities. Mohammadali is an international ambassador and he would like to help the committee organising the activities for first-year MMD students.

Mohammadali also told us about his opinion on living in the Netherlands. “I really like the cycling culture here. The infrastructure of Nijmegen is convenient. I think getting around by bike is easier and faster than by car”. Mohammadali knew how to cycle, but he used to do that only as a sport. My bike has never been a means of transportation for me. 10 minutes of cycling in Iran makes you really tired because Tehran is a rather mountainous area.

“There are many nice spots for doing sports in Nijmegen. I live next to a park. It’s really nice to jog there. The air is clean and there are lots of trees."


Mohammadali in Nijmegen

One may think that an international student that moved to the Netherlands during the pandemic would not have had the time to experience the Dutch culture. It is not the case for Mohammadali. During Christmas, he participated in an initiative that connected international students with Dutch families. Together with another student, he visited the house of a Dutch professor and celebrated Christmas there.


Mohammadali in the tulip fields of Flevoland

Mohammadali took a course in social Dutch as well which is free for Radboud students. “I’d love to learn Dutch on a deeper level than being able to order food in a restaurant. Unfortunately, I have to focus on my studies right now because I want to do a PhD.”

He is, as he says, determined to do research after his Master’s and considers doing a PhD.  “I want to be a researcher, but that is not the only reason I want to enter academia. I would also like to teach”. In Iran, Mohammadali used to teach English and biophysics. “To me, teaching is like an art. You may be the best researcher, but not the best teacher”

We asked Mohammadali for some pieces of advice for students that would like to enter Radboud University. He thinks that international students should embrace the differences, enjoy every possibility, create a social network, and explore the Netherlands and the Dutch culture.

Mohammadali thinks that diversity is the thing that makes the world beautiful. “To some people, cultural differences may seem striking. I think, if you see differences, you should realize they are normal. The Dutch are very direct, for example, but they are also very respectful. I’m really indirect in interactions. I think Iranians are indirect in general (not all of them though). I don’t want to change that, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t understand the Dutch. I find these interactions funny sometimes”.

Mohammadali also noted that students should enjoy every possibility. “Even if you have only one day off, use it, go out and meet people. Not everything is about science.” He also advised students to join student associations, get a subscription for the sports centre, and explore different cities in the Netherlands. “I think that it would also be valuable to learn Dutch. Although here everyone can speak English, it’s always nice to communicate with people in their mother tongue. It’s a different level of communication.”

Author: Knar Ohanjanyan