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Be Inspired Series

Christian Hölscher

Innovator
University Of Ulster

Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Ulster Christian Hölscher is actively involved in the commercialisation of new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease, working closely with Ulster’s Office of Innovation.

What does your job entail?
There are three main responsibilities in my job;
1.Running various research projects from the administration of staff, time management, budgetary controls and funding applications.
2. Commercialisation of projects and getting them off the ground. This might include attending business meetings, meeting industry leaders and giving presentations.
3. Teaching students at Ulster, plus I’m also the director of Alzheimer’s Research in the UK and I help organise their annual conference to be held in March this year.


Is it 9-5?

This isn’t a 9-5 job. I travel throughout the world. I’m currently collaboratin on three research projects in China. I’m also involved in applying for funding for large-scale projects. I teach during the semester and supervise in the labs and help troubleshoot on projects too. I’m also in touch with other researchers and collaborators to align the work we do here at the university. Most of the work I do is carried outside of 9-5. I work a seven-day week. Even when I’m out of the country I’m always contacting people, following up on developments of projects and forever checking and responding to e-mails on my iPhone.


How did you get into this line of work?

I really enjoy research. By applying my skills set to a project, and there are many diverse projects, you have the ability to change, adapt different techniques. Working in neuroscience there is no day ever the same as there’s always a possibility of investigating how the brain works and working towards a possible cure to diseases and effective treatments.


Outline your career to date?

My first professional job was a Postdoctorate position at Trinity College in Dublin from 1995 for two years. I was reading about the position in the Neuron Science journal and New Scientist and I wanted to further develop my learning into research and decided to apply for it.

The job entailed mainly research, looking at the projects that were active, managing the people in the lab that carry out the work and looking at the skills set of the people in the lab and matching them to research projects to develop favourable outcomes and progression on long-standing research.

I am currently a Professor of Neuroscience based at the University of Ulster, Coleraine where I’ve been for eight years.


Tell us about your qualifications/training

I have a degree from a German university, obtained a PhD from University College, London and have research fellowships from Dublin & Oxford.


What qualities are required for your job — personal and professional?

There are many. Professionally, a track record in research. You’ll need to have been in this area for a long time to be taken seriously. The ability to express ideas and be a people person — being able to network and attract funding for projects and to lecture. A managerial quality is also essential to follow-up on leads and ideas not just to delegate and be a multi-tasker. I have various projects and ideas at various different stages that need constant assistance, it’s similar to having several balls in the air, they all need to be juggled to ensure they stay in the air and on target for completion. So there’s a need to be well organised, patient and to be cool under pressure.


What are the biggest challenges and rewards of your work?
The biggest reward of my work is learning. Learning about new techniques, interacting with other researchers, and generally finding something new with positive effects enthrals me and it’s the buzz that keeps me going.

The challenge of my work is that university life in general has changed. Long gone are the days of ivory tower institutions, professors in tweed jackets sitting around smoking pipes. There is a lot of pressure from students as they are paying fees and have demands from the university — it’s not just simply teaching any longer. From a business perspective it’s about demonstrating the impact of our high quality and cutting edge research and making it readily accessible for commercialisation, transforming novel ideas into commercial products on the market. In my case, it is about bringing new medicines to patients.

For anyone thinking of going into research they need to think hard about what they want and if they have the passion.

This industry needs someone who has the drive to try and try and try again to make something work. It’s a tough journey, a lot of knock backs, research that ends up at a dead end and you have to go back and start from scratch. The process can be brutal and no one will care if you break down and cry at the end of it. You have to convince yourself you have the determination to put the long hours in and cope with the stress.


What do you like to do in your spare time?
I don’t get much spare time. I do enjoy travelling and I do enjoy being by the coast.


Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.

I’m a German living in Coleraine.


Who has inspired you most in your life?
I don’t believe one person has inspired me. The people around me inspire me everyday, the people I work with on projects and collaborate with through Ulster’s Office of Innovation.

For further information on Professor Hölscher and Ulster’s Neuroscience Research Programme, please visit http://biomed.science.ulster.ac.uk/neuroscience/

For more information on technology commercialisation at Ulster, please visit http://www.oi.ulster.ac.uk/

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