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Mihaela Peycheva

Mihaela Peycheva has completed her PhD in the lab of Rushad Pavri. She has been investigating the mechanisms that control the rise of chromosomal translocations in B cells. Earlier this month, she published her results in the journal Science.

She is now open to work and looking to expand her scientific expertise and gain managerial experience.

What have you learned during your years at the IMP?

From a student, I became a scientist. During my PhD, I learned good scientific practice and gained tremendous technical knowledge. I learned how to thrive in an international environment and to collaborate with colleagues, and how to manage a project from conception to experiments and publishing. Most importantly, my years at the IMP boosted my passion for science: I would love to work in a similar environment in the future.

On the personal level, I learned how to deal with frustration and not give up. I also taught myself to balance work and private life and get the most out of both. Science is associated with long working days and often weekends in the lab. Having enough personal time to balance this and get your mind off a frustrating experiment is very important to keep your motivation.

How did your passion for science grow?

I became interested in biology rather early: it was before high school. Biology has always been the subject that appealed to me the most, and I could easily understand the concepts and the logic of it. From my first biology lessons onwards, I found it fascinating how the cell has evolved to such a clever, competent system – every process has a reason to exist. Thus, for me it was a rather straightforward path to majoring in biology. I then worked as research assistant at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and later on moved to Vienna to pursue my PhD in molecular biology at the IMP, which I completed in 2021.

Can you describe your PhD research in simple terms?

It’s not easy to summarise seven years of work in simple terms! I studied B cells, the cells of our immune system that produce antibodies. These cells undergo the process of antibody diversification, which helps us fight the wide variety of pathogens we encounter. This diversification happens because the antibody-encoding genes actively mutate and break. If the system malfunctions, mutations and breaks may occur elsewhere in the genome, which may destabilise it, cause more mutations and translocations – when DNA fragments are exchanged between regions – and potentially cancer. Pretty scary, right? In my PhD, I wanted to understand what dictates these translocations in B cells: is there a mechanism that explains why some regions are more likely to translocate with each other, or is it simply a matter of proximity?

I did find a global mechanism: the replication timing. When DNA regions replicate at the same time, they are more likely to translocate with each other. And if I disturb the replication timing of one of the regions, that is enough to dramatically reduce the translocation frequency.

My years at the IMP boosted my passion for science: I would love to work in a similar environment in the future.

Mihaela Peycheva

What is your working style?

I am a very versatile scientist and I adapt to my environment – I’m confident that I would be comfortable in many working cultures. In my PhD, I have had long phases in which I worked independently because my topic was so unique in the lab: if something needed to be done, I researched how to do it, asked for tips, and made my own protocols. The analysis and publishing processes, though, were very collaborative – I worked with bioinformaticians, our facilities, and master’s students.

What is your next career step?

Above all, I want to continue tackling scientific questions. Ideally, I would like to move into a more applied field, but I don’t want to limit myself to a specific topic just yet. What I would like is my science to reach and benefit people who need it. In my next job, I would like to learn more about project management, and to mentor junior scientists to help them reach their full potential.

What are you looking for in a potential employer?

In short, I’d say professionalism, a good team, a collaborative spirit, an inspiring mentor, and the opportunity to learn new things. In addition, having access to state-of-the-art facilities as here at the IMP would be the dream.

Published in September 2022.