Smaranda, MSc in neurochemsitry in KÖL building
Smaranda Bacanu, MSc in neurochemistry, now focusing on her PhD in cancer research

Hello Smaranda, can you tell me a bit about yourself?
”In 2008, through some quite unexpected turn of events, I decided to interrupt my almost-completed chemistry studies at the university in my home town (Bucharest) and to move to Sweden. Some two years later, after learning Swedish and working in the restaurant business for a while, I finally realized that my passion for chemistry did not fade with time and that the best thing for me to do was to continue my studies. This turning point did not happen at an easy time in my life, and it took a while to figure out what I wanted to do. But eventually, I signed up for the chemistry bachelor’s program at Stockholm University, and by doing so, I restarted my whole university education from zero”.

When and why did your interest in chemistry awake?
“I have enjoyed chemistry as a subject since very early on – maybe as early as the sixth grade in elementary school. But it was in high school that my passion for chemistry developed. I was not a “straight-A student”, more of a typical high school kid. But I did prefer natural science and chemistry was really my thing”
“There were many things that sparked my interest in chemistry. One thing I remember in particular was in 9th grade when we learned how to determine electron configurations for all the elements in the periodic table i.e. what the rules are for populating the available atomic orbitals with electrons and applying these rules for each chemical element. That was a cool moment!”

What is it that intrigues you about chemistry?
“For example, that chemistry is the science of what planets and stars are made of. As well as the science of what we, as living organisms, are made of. Certainly, all natural sciences are part of what we are, some in more fundamental ways than others. Still, it is chemistry (particularly biochemistry) that aims to describe the complexities and intricacies that characterize life. When I think of chemistry (biochemistry) as a science, I feel it has a certain elegance and profoundness that stands out”.

When taking the bachelor’s program, what moment/course helped you figure out your future choice of education?
”During my second year of university, when taking the biochemistry course. I instantly knew this was the type of chemistry that fitted me best and that I wanted to continue. It was a ”this is it” kind of moment. So, I ”tailored” the remainder of my bachelor’s and master’s level education to include as much biochemistry and molecular biology as possible and I still work and develop in this area”.

If someone is considering applying to the bachelor’s program in chemistry, what would you tell them?
“I would tell future students that this program taught me one of the most important things: the type of chemistry I am most passionate about. I would also tell them that this program is an excellent career starting point that offers a solid base of knowledge as well as practical experience, which is essential in the future. And last but not least that they will have the opportunity to learn and be inspired by many great teachers and colleagues”.

Do you have any advice for students who have just started?
“From personal experience, do not be intimidated if somewhere during your studies you run into a type of chemistry that simply is not “your thing”. It is all part of the experience, and later on, you will most likely encounter situations where that knowledge will be useful—I’ve been there!
“Also, be ready for some entertaining moments that the student association at Stockholm University might have prepared for newcomers during the first weeks of studies. There may be one particularly fun moment that awaits you as a new student. That is all I can reveal…”

Can you tell me a bit about the master’s program you chose? The best things about it?
“I chose to do a master’s in neurochemistry with molecular neurobiology at Stockholm University, and I´m pleased with that decision. The best part was the diploma project work, where I chose to study Alzheimer’s disease for one whole year. I learned so much during this time, and I had the great pleasure of working with amazing people both in the research group and at the department of neurochemistry, a part of the department of biochemistry and biophysics”.

What do you work with now?
“Nowadays, I am focusing on cancer research as a PhD student at the Department of Oncology-Pathology, Karolinska Institute. I work with a method known as the cellular thermal shift assay (CETSA), which can be employed to generate comprehensive information on drug mechanism of action and resistance. Together with my colleagues, I am looking closely into several currently-available cancer therapies with the overall aim of identifying novel biomarkers for drug efficacy, that one day may be used in the clinic to guide personalized cancer therapy in patients”.

What are your plans for the future?
“Complete my PhD and complete my PhD! I have two years left until my PhD thesis defense, so there is still a bit of time to think about what my next step will be”.