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A liaison between the postdoc community and the institution

CIBSS Postdoc Representative Ning Zhang is committed to science and supporting his peers

Ning Zhang works as a postdoc in the research group of CIBSS member Prof. Dr. Thomas Laux. He is a member of the CIBSS Launchpad Programme since 2020 and has been elected CIBSS Postdoc Representative in 2022. Here he tells us what motivates him to be a scientist and why he is committed to supporting his peers.

CIBSS Postdoc Representative Ning Zhang, Ph.D.
Photo: Jürgen Gocke / CIBSS, University of Freiburg

What motivates you to pursue a scientific career?


The secrets of biology and nature deeply attract me. I always feel curious about biology, our earth, and even the universe. As I'm progressing step by step on the scientific road, I am finding more and more mysteries and have realized how little we humans know about our world. I really want to know the truth. Sometimes, I even hope I can become tiny enough to go inside the cell to see what happens there. It is a pity I cannot do that! I realized that if I want to reveal these secrets, I need to try my best to increase my ability, gain more knowledge, learn new techniques, and cooperate with scientists from different fields. Then maybe I will gain answers to make my research useful for our world.


What do you currently research?


My current project is about the epigenetic regulation in root stem cells. Together with Ph.D. student Pamela Bitterli, we use different advanced technologies, such as Fluorescence-activated nuclear sorting (FANS) or low-input omics and genetic methods to find out how epigenetics regulate the identity of stem cells in plant roots. Specifically, we investigate the profound effects that the regulatory molecule WOX5 has. Moreover, together with another Ph.D. student, Yanling Yu, we use a method called single-nucleus spatiotemporal RNA-Sequencing to explore how signalling dynamics in plant root stem cell niche change during aging.


Does the CIBSS Launchpad Programme help you in your career?


When I learned about the CIBSS Launchpad Programme, I applied immediately, because the resources and support it offers seemed like an ideal choice for my postdoctoral journey. It offers structured mentoring, qualification programs, networking opportunities, and funding for independent research projects, which aligns perfectly with my career goals. I feel that this program really helps me prepare for the challenges of becoming an independent group leader. The emphasis on nurturing creativity and encouraging innovative thinking resonates with my aspirations to contribute original insights to my field. I was awarded the CLP Launchpad Funds in 2021which empored me to engage in independent research projects. Overall, CIBSS and its CLP represent an ideal environment for me to thrive as a postdoc and launch my career in the world of scientific research. I wholeheartedly recommend CLP to aspiring postdocs who are looking to thrive in their research careers.


Why did you become a postdoc representative?


The scientific career is not easy. Scientific research can be complex, frustrating, and time-consuming. Experiments may fail, hypotheses may be disproven, and progress can be slow. Patience and resilience are essential. In addition, many scientific positions, especially early in one's career, are temporary or reliant on grant funding. This can lead to job insecurity and the need to frequently change institutions or fields. Moreover, scientific careers often demand long hours, including evenings and weekends. This can put a strain on work-life balance, leading to stress and burnout. Despite these challenges, a scientific career can be highly rewarding, offering opportunities to contribute to the advancement of knowledge, solve important problems, and make a meaningful impact on society. It requires passion, dedication, and a willingness to persevere in the face of difficulties. I believe that fostering a supportive and collaborative environment is essential for the success of postdocs in the early scientific stage, and I wanted to be part of that effort.


What is your role as a postdoc representative in CIBSS?


As a postdoc representative in CIBSS, my role is to act as a liaison between the postdoc community and the institution. I facilitate communication and advocate for the needs and concerns of fellow postdocs. My primary objective is that my peers can thrive in their research and professional development. In my capacity as the postdoc representative, I've been actively engaged in listening to and addressing concerns raised by both postdocs and professors within our CIBSS community. In one instance, there were concerns that the CLP programme might impact ongoing research projects by postdocs. There, I initiated a discussion with CLP committee members and we took proactive steps to address the concerns, such as providing positions for student assistants to save the time of postdocs. We made effective strategies to ensure that both postdocs and research groups benefit from CLP while maintaining a productive research environment. Another instance where my role was crucial involved addressing concerns about support funding for senior postdocs. Senior postdocs need to write proposals and apply for funding. However, there is no suitable support funding for postdocs at that career stage. After talking with CLP committee members, we added more funding to provide senior postdoctoral researchers with the necessary time, support and mentorship to conceptualize, write and submit their independent grant or fellowship proposal or prepare their application for a junior group leader position in the field of signalling research.


What are the next career steps waiting for you?


I am currently working towards pursuing an independent group leader position. To achieve this, I presented my research at an international conference and have recently submitted an exciting publication. At the same time, I am applying for new funding and positions to establish my own independent research group. For this, the CLP was really helpful for me, especially because of the trainings I received, for example in scientific writing, which benefited me a lot in preparing the manuscript. In the future, I plan to focus on researching crop root structure, and understanding how root structure contributes to increasing crop yield.