Director of Studies for Biomedicine programme
Rachel Fisher has always had a passion for research. Now the Director of Studies of the Master’s Programme in Biomedicine, she began her academic career in the United Kingdom – her home country. After a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry in Bristol, a PhD in Oxford and a Postdoc in London, it was time to see another university: Karolinska Institutet.
In her cosy, book-filled office next to her lab in Karolinska Hospital, Rachel tells how she ended up at KI: “I came to Stockholm and KI because I missed clinical research. During my PhD I worked a lot with patients and human samples - that aspect was missing in my postdoc. So after a bit of soul searching, my PhD supervisor advised me to talk to a group at KI. I came over in 1998 and I never left!”
Rachel continued researching the topic that fascinates her: fat. “I focus on adipose tissue, trying to understand what happens when this fatty tissue becomes dysfunctional. Not long ago, people thought that fat was just like butter, that it didn’t do very much. But we now know that it is metabolically very active. I am trying to understand why adipose tissue becomes inflamed – it seems to be very closely linked to disturbed metabolism. The great thing about working here at KI is that we work closely together with clinicians.”
Soon after her arrival in Stockholm, Rachel started teaching within the Bachelor of Biomedicine at KI.
“After a while I became responsible for the Molecular Medicine course, which is one of the last courses in the Bachelor programme. So I tried to tie everything up and give the students a hands-on experience of real life, preparing them for what lies ahead of them. I feel I try to carry this on into the Master’s Programme as well,” she says.
Preparing students for the real world is one of the things Rachel calls the signature of the Biomedicine Master’s Programme. The strong focus on communication complements this: “You can give the students a wonderful grounding in the academic parts, the facts, the figures - but they have to be able to use it, to apply it, to sell it. Communication has been built into the Master’s Programme ever since it started 2007.”
Rachel became the Director of Studies in 2013, which wasn’t exactly an easy year for her to start in her new role. It was the year the Swedish Higher Education Authority evaluated all the Biomedicine programmes in the country. ‘It was a lot of work, but I am very proud that we got the top ranking,’ she smiles.
The Master’s in Biomedicine at KI is an excellent preparation for an academic career. About 75% of the graduates continue with a PhD – approximately half of them at KI. Rachel: ‘Our students are very attractive as future PhD students. They perform several research projects, and they get in touch with labs where they could potentially continue as a PhD student.’
Getting a top ranking also means that Rachel and her colleagues are very strict when it comes to applications.
“Obviously, future students need to have the right background. But that’s not enough. We’re looking for motivated students who have shown that they care about a career in biomedicine, that they’ve gone the extra yard – and show ambition and drive.”
Being relatively new in her role as Director of Studies, Rachel will soon see the first batch of ‘her’ students graduate. “That’s going to be a big moment for me, it really will. I am very curious to hear where they will end up and how successful they will be.”
Profile by Maike Winters and Photography by David Humphreys.