“Heidelberg is a hub for top-level research, and I have always dreamed about working here.”

Dr. Gorjana Rackov is the group leader of team TDA, one of the “youngest” research groups at BioMed X. TDA stands for Regulatory T Cell Dysfunction in Autoimmunity and Inflammaging, the research topic of this team. A collaboration between the BioMed X Institute and Merck KGaA (Darmstadt, Germany), this project was launched in March 2022. In between setting up the first round of experiments with her team, Gorjana agreed to tell us a little bit about her career so far and her new start in Heidelberg.

BioMed X: “Was immunology “love at first sight”? Was this topic always particularly appealing to you or did you gradually develop an interest in it during your career?”

Dr. Gorjana Rackov, Group Leader of team TDA

Dr. Gorjana Rackov: “I had several “loves at first sight” and immunology was definitely one of them. When I was in seventh grade, we started having chemistry classes, and the book was so colorful and interesting that I immediately fell in love with it. In high school, I also became interested in proteins and DNA. During my undergrad studies, the immunology book was certainly standing out with its complex and multicolored schemes. Colorful books aside, what drew me to immunology, in the end, was the realization that it connects all the systems in the body and if you want to cure any human disease, immunology will provide the basis for that.”

BioMed X: “What was the accomplishment that brought you the most satisfaction or pride in your career so far?“

GR: “The most memorable day in my career so far is certainly the day of my PhD defense. Years later, when I look back, there were several accomplishments that seemed almost impossible for me to achieve at the time, like getting highly competitive fellowships, publishing my scientific results in one of the top scientific journals, or winning the BioMed X boot camp and becoming a group leader. Now, this pushes me to continue to dream big, and this is the message I would like to convey to researchers who are just starting their career: just go for it, and everything is possible.”

BioMed X: “You have a very young daughter. What does she know about her mother’s job?”

GR: “My mother is also a scientist, so I was always fascinated by being in the lab and wearing a lab coat. My daughter also enjoys visiting labs whenever possible. Kids are so curious, and they ask the right questions. The most important part of this or any other career path she chooses is to have lots of fun.”

BioMed X: “Heidelberg is still a new environment for you. What do you like (or dislike) about it so far?”

GR: “I moved to Heidelberg from Madrid, where I did my PhD and postdoc. So, the bar is set high. Heidelberg is a hub for top-level research, and I have always dreamed about working here. I was not aware that you could fit so many prestigious research centers in such a small city. I really like its diverse international environment, the charm of the river and the beautiful nature so close to the city center. I also like the fact that I can bike to work – this is something I have always wanted to do. What I like the most is that people smile at each other on the street, which is something I have not noticed before in other places.”

BioMed X: “What is your favorite thing about working at BioMed X?”

GR: “I like the way the projects are organized. We get constant feedback from industry mentors, academic mentors, as well as our Head of Research, Thomas Rückle, and our Managing Director, Christian Tidona. We have so many opportunities to grow – I feel like a sponge soaking up all the new experiences I am exposed to. Not to mention the group leaders – I have never felt so supported; it is simply such a friendly environment! People at BioMed X are just amazing. I think the core values of BioMed X serve us well. We have many different backgrounds and nationalities, but we are all part of one big family.”

BioMed X: “In which ways do you think your PhD experience would have been different if you would have started your project at BioMed X in 2022 as opposed to the National Center for Biotechnology in Spain in 2011? Do you have any advice for early-career scientists?”

GR: “The National Centre for Biotechnology (CNB) is part of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), which is the most important science institution in Spain. Doing a PhD there was a fantastic experience because we had different departments and core facilities, you were surrounded by many renowned scientists, and almost any technique was at hand. In the end, this is what enabled me to advance in my career and reach my current position. BioMed X is a smaller institute, but it is located within the Heidelberg University Campus, in proximity to the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). There are plenty of opportunities to expand your network and collaborate with other labs. I think whichever place you choose it is important to be passionate about the project, and that the environment allows you to grow and brings you closer to your next desired position.”

BioMed X: “What kind of group leader do you aim to be? What do you think are the most important abilities of a good group leader?”

GR: “These are tough questions for someone who just became a group leader. I have learned a lot during the first months, but I feel I have so much more to learn. I am privileged to lead a team of intelligent and creative young scientists who all have different skill sets than mine. My goal is to support them and create an environment where each individual can grow and produce the best outcomes possible. This, I believe, will enable us to create value and bring our project to a fruitful end.”