Sander de la Rambelje: "Life is about creating opportunities"

21.07.2016 | Alumni Porträts

Von:  Nina Bader

ETH-Student Sander de la Rambelje was always driven by his fascination and curiosity for the unknown. Two years ago he decided to start his Master at the ETH Zurich in Biomedical Engineering after finishing his bachelor in Eindhoven. Today, he is doing an internship at swissnex in Boston where he learnt that small things can make a big difference.

Dieser Text ist nicht übersetzt. Hier finden Sie das ganze Interview in Englisch.

Sander de la Rambelje
Sander de la Rambelje

Sander, you did your Bachelor in Eindhoven – why did you decide to do your master in Zurich?

In 2013 I started to look for promising universities for my Master’s degree. In the end, I had KTH Stockholm, TU Munich and ETH Zurich on my shortlist. While my German language knowledge was reasonable at the time, I thought it could still have been a burden in the (then still) all-German Master program at TU Munich. Furthermore the KTH Stockholm did not offer the type of specialization I was looking for: Tissue Engineering. The ETH, on the other hand, did not only tick these boxes, but also seemed to possess several advantages: the best equipped research facilities, a highly international base of professors and students, and the incredibly idyllic location at the Lake Zurich on the foot of the Alps. Having been a regular visitor of different parts of Switzerland since early childhood for both skiing and summer holidays, it was not hard picturing myself living here.  

You are doing an internship at swissnex Boston as a Junior Project Manager. Doing an internship in the US is a dream for many students. How did you get this internship?

When I was going into the third semester of my Master’s, the thought of going somewhere for an internship turned into an objective. I learned about swissnex by coincidentally passing one of their former offices in Singapore in April 2014. The swissnex flyer I took home that day allowed me to create another opportunity from this travel experience more than a year later. With several famous universities, a score of world-class research institutes and a unique start-up ecosystem, I would consider the Boston-Cambridge area to be a global hub that attracts talent and ambitious ventures in quite a unique way, especially when it comes to life sciences. My application was actually a very simple procedure of submitting the requested documents at swissnex Boston’s own website; anyone who meets a few basic qualifications can apply. I was lucky to be invited for an interview, which surprisingly turned out to be for a different internship than I originally applied for. Later, I got to know that I was offered the interview because of mentioning “renewable energy” as one of my major fields of interest. So in the end, just these two words out of two full pages made the difference.       

What are your tasks at swissnex Boston?

I am fulfilling a special internship focusing on the World Expo 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan. Together with several colleagues working at Presence Switzerland (PRS), FDFA (Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, EDA in German) and SERI (State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation, SBFI in German), we try to acquire content for the Swiss Pavilion at the Expo. In 2017, the Expo theme will be “Future Energy”. Besides the Astana 2017 project, I have been co-organizing a FinTech event for late June with an intern colleague. Here, we host moderated panel discussions in Boston and New York with leading academics, corporate researchers and entrepreneurs from Switzerland and the US. I am quite excited that we as swissnex interns are given the opportunity to lead the organization of such events.

Part of the swissnex Boston Team
Part of the swissnex Boston Team

You also did an internship in Switzerland before you went to the US. What is the difference in the work atmosphere comparing Switzerland and the US?

Interestingly, neither of my internships are completely Swiss nor American. During my four-month internship at CellSpring, a life sciences start-up on the Hönggerberg, only few of my colleagues were Swiss. CellSpring’s co-founders were both from Louisiana, the lead researcher Italian and my fellow intern was from Catalonia. It is quite fascinating to meet these different cultures and see what develops out of Northern Europeans, Southern Europeans and Americans. This circumstance led to a very pleasant working environment for all of us. I feel that swissnex has a very open and rather informal working culture, probably in between what you would find in an American and a Swiss company of similar size. Probably this culture can be attributed to our location in the young and dynamic town of Cambridge, right between Harvard and MIT.

Can you recommend to do an internship during your master studies?

Yes, I would definitely recommend an internship if you had no full-time work experience outside the university before. This is especially beneficial when you are leaning towards a career in industry rather than academia. It is incredibly valuable that the ETH gives the students the chance of taking an “Urlaubssemester” for such endeavors. While working in a diplomatic organization such as swissnex leads to different daily activities and work experience than a profit oriented company, I believe the experience of working as part of a team, taking personal responsibilities but also relying on others, is universal and highly valuable. I highly recommend to take the “Urlaubssemester” in the second half of the Master’s rather than after graduation. Instead of having to prepare for the next step from the moment I started working, this allows me to explore my interests and ambitions during the full duration of the internship.

You’re planning to finish your master in 2017, what are your plans for the future?

The question where to go after my studies has already been asked many times, not in the least place by myself. There are many opportunities in my field in The Netherlands, but I suppose innovation in life sciences is even on a slightly higher level in Switzerland. Needless to say, a lot is going on in the US as well, in particular if you’re planning to embark on an entrepreneurial adventure. Last but not least, Japan also has a strong biomedical engineering sector, but it’s mostly the big corporations and institutes that dominate there. On the other hand are the cultural and social aspects that should be considerate.
As important as the “where” question is the “what” decision. If the location would be Switzerland, I might consider a PhD at the Institute of Biomechanics, where I will be starting my Master thesis in September. Their research is highly focused on medical applications to restore the body’s fascinating capacity to regrow defects: regenerative medicine. While I ultimately envision a career in an R&D department in industry rather than in academia, I may answer my drive to understand what is going on in the forefront of life sciences by pursuing further studies.

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