News | Oct 7, 2021

      Postdoctoral pursuits

      We celebrate our postdoc fellows and find out what inspired their journey. Thirteen candidates have taken part in our Postdoctoral Fellowship Program at PMI Science since its inception in 2017, covering topics ranging from genome engineering to human behavioral psychology. Our R&D Center in Neuchâtel, Switzerland – called ‘the Cube’ – houses those projects, as well as the tools, techniques, methods, and knowledge that helped our Postdocs reach their research potential.


      PMI Postdoctoral Fellowship Program

      The Cube offers a foot in both academia and industry, giving our postdocs access to equipment that you’re unlikely to find in most other postdoctoral environments, while also providing the freedom to cover research topics outside of what you’d expect from a tobacco company!

      Six participants of the PMI Postdoctoral Fellowship program.

      So, of all the institutions and options available, why did they choose PMI? We’ll proudly let our postdocs speak for us…


      Marion Alriquet

      System Biology & Toxicology Scientist, Marion Alriquet.

      Why did you become a scientist?  

      At school, I loved mathematics, biology, and chemistry, and it was an obvious choice for me to follow a scientific path. My parents were also big fans of the French science education program “C’est pas sorcier” and I’m sure it played a role in my love for science. After high school, I decided to specialize in life sciences. The more I learned about human biology, the more I realized how incredibly complex it was, and how much there was still to discover. This naturally led me to embrace a career in R&D in the field of life sciences. 

      What did you study before joining PMI?  

      I studied chemistry and biochemistry in the National Chemistry School of Montpellier in France. In parallel, I obtained a master’s degree in Biology and Health from the University of Montpellier. I moved to Frankfurt, to start a Ph.D. in Biochemistry at the Buchmann Institute for Molecular Life Sciences.  

      Why choose  PMI? 

      I heard about the PMI postdoc program on LinkedIn, and one project caught my attention. This project was ambitious and challenging from a scientific point of view. It required some of the experience I acquired during my studies, but it would also allow me to extend my knowledge and skills in the field of genome engineering and of organotypic models. It was a terrific opportunity to lead independently on my own project and to gain industry experience. 

      Tell me about your research.  

      The aim of my project was to generate genetically modified 3D bronchial models, which would allow us to easily monitor the expression of stress-induced genes upon exposure to aerosol. I used CRISPR-Cas9 to tag a stress-induced protein with a fluorescence marker, so that its induction can be detected simply by measuring fluorescence intensity.  

      What did you enjoy most about it?  

      I loved working with cutting-edge technologies and applying genome engineering to 3D cellular models. 3D organotypic cultures were new to me and it was very enriching and stimulating to work with such advanced models. I also really liked the collaborative atmosphere between different departments at PMI.  

      How has the Program equipped you for the future?  

      As postdoctoral fellows, we also had the opportunity to present our projects during internal events (both in front of a scientific and non-scientific audience), but also at international conferences, which allowed us to develop our communication skills.

      What do you plan to do next?  

      I’ve already started my next step as I changed position a few months ago and became a scientist in systems biology and toxicology at PMI. I’m working as a study director for toxicology studies. I took a step away from the bench, but I’m still very close to the lab as I’m designing experiments, performing data analysis, and writing reports and publications. It’s a very stimulating and exciting new step in my career.


      Helena Andrade

      Helena Andrade, participant of PMI's Postdoctoral program.

      Why did you decide to become a scientist? 

      I’m very curious and love to solve puzzles. Science was a natural way for me to satisfy my curiosity for new subjects, while exercising some other part of my brain that requires a high degree of creativity to find solutions to new problems. I studied in Porto, Portugal, (MSc. in Pharmaceutical Sciences, MSc. in Clinical and Forensic Analytical Toxicology) and in Dresden, Germany, (Ph.D. in Chemistry). 

      Why did you choose PMI? 

      I wanted to see how a massive company in the midst of a huge transformation process was doing R&D.  

      What is the title of your research? 

      “How to Assess Reduced-Risk Products (RRPs) Faster Using a Chemical Reactivity-Directed Non-Targeted Screening Approach”. 

      What did you enjoy most about your time at PMI?

      The fact that nothing was missing regarding materials or equipment. Also, the people working at the labs were very knowledgeable and helpful. 

      Was your mentor helpful and in what ways?  

      My mentor was very helpful. The technical side was great, because he is a world expert on the subject matter and that’s a wonderful way to start your postdoc. On the personal side, he very kindly showed how he leads and manages the team and project, inspiring me to follow in his steps when my time comes.  

      What is the next step for you?  

      My plan is to steer my career into a more managerial position, from where I could oversee more projects and help them succeed using my background and problem-solving skills.


      Tanja Semren Zivkovic

      Metabolomics Scientist, Tanja Zivkovic Semren.

      Why did you decide to become a scientist?  

      After obtaining my master's degree in Analytical Chemistry at the Faculty of Sciences in Zagreb, I worked as a research assistant for a year. I found the science exciting and very much wanted to continue. l enrolled in the Ph.D. program of Medicinal Biochemistry at the Faculty of Pharmacy and Biochemistry in Zagreb. 

      Why did you choose PMI?  

       I wanted to have broader and different experiences beyond Croatia's borders. While googling about my Ph.D. topic “metabolomics”, I found the announcement for a postdoc in the breathomics field at PMI. After researching more about PMI Science, I could see the state-of-the-art laboratories, found that I had the opportunity to work with scientists that had published their work in journals, such as Nature. It was a motivation for me. I knew I would learn a lot. 

      What does your research involve? 

      My role is to develop analytical methods for exhaled breath analysis and to conduct research on the data to learn about the potential benefits to adults, who would otherwise continue smoking, of switching from cigarettes to better smoke free alternatives 

      What advice would you give to potential postdocs? 

      Take the opportunity to learn from a lot of qualified people in a supportive environment.  I learnt a lot from my mentor. He was always willing to share his knowledge with me and gave me the space to learn from my own experience. After working with him, I can add a whole new page of experiences to my CV.  


      Melinda Barkhuizen

      Melinda Barkhuizen, participant of PMI's Postdoctoral program.

      Why did you decide to become a scientist?  

      I became a scientist to help find new medicines for people with neurological diseases. I’m fascinated by the brain. I’m a pharmacist by training, with a Ph.D. in Neuroscience. I did my bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and half of my Ph.D. in South Africa, and the other half in the Netherlands. I also did a postdoc in the U.S. 

      Why choose PMI?  

      PMI had an intriguing project on neuroinflammation. I build induced pluripotent stem cell-based cellular models and computational network models that the company can use to understand the impact of our products on inflammation in the brain. I also visited the site in Neuchâtel during my interview and it’s a beautiful place to live.  

      What did you enjoy most about your time at PMI? 

      I love my topic. The research is interesting and stimulating. I also enjoy the inspiring atmosphere at the Cube. The view from the Cube can’t be beaten. 

      What advice do you have for potential postdocs? 

      Consider doing a postdoc in industry. I’ve done postdocs in academic and industry environments. Being a postdoc here is a good opportunity to learn how research in a company works and publish my results and present at conferences, in the same way I would have in an academic environment. 

      How has the Program helped equip you for the future?  

      It has given me industry experience and the chance to expand my expertise in my field. PMI has also gone to a lot of effort to help me integrate in Switzerland, including sponsoring language classes and cultural integration training. I went from absolutely no French to an intermediate level of French in two years, thanks to the language classes from PMI.


      Cecilia Cheval


      Why did you decide to become a scientist?  

      I’ve always had an interest in science, especially life sciences. I was privileged to grow up in New Caledonia, which is a hotspot of biodiversity and plant endemism. I naturally decided to study plant sciences. 

      I recognized early on that, if I wanted to develop the required skills to lead my research projects, I would need to expand my horizons. Thus, after my BSc. in Life Sciences in New Caledonia, I moved to France to study a MSc. in Microbiology-Agronomy-Plant Biology (University Toulouse III). After obtaining a competitive fellowship from the French Ministry of Research and Education, I undertook my Ph.D. in the cytosolic and nuclear calcium signaling team working on the importance of calcium signaling during plant-pathogens interaction.  

      Why did you choose to join  PMI?  

      The project, deciphering senescence responses in N. tabacum, was appealing to me. The study of senescence is a fundamental and inescapable way to understand the life cycle of a plant in its environment, and I’m excited to be working on this fascinating aspect of plant biology. 

      I wanted to develop my career by working abroad as a postdoctoral researcher, to expand both my interests and experience. Joining the John Innes Centre in the U.K. and later joining PMI gave me greater expertise and the opportunity to experience a different research culture, which are essential when much research today is both collaborative and international. 

      What is your research about? 

      My research is aimed at understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying plant molecular responses to the environment and is broadly motivated by the idea that understanding these mechanisms can be translated into crop improvements. Now I want to tackle new challenges, and I’m willing to work on projects that keep fulfilling my curiosity for life sciences.


      Postdoctoral Fellows from our inaugural 2017 intake


      Roman Li

      Roman Li, participant of the PMI Postdoctoral Fellowship program.

      Systems toxicology assessment of chemicals in zebrafish

      Why did you join PMI?

      Joining the PMI postdoctoral program was a great prospect to try a completely new industrial environment. I am very happy with the training and experience I received. I was given opportunities to manage this project, foster innovative collaborations, and explore multi-omics approaches.

      Was your mentor helpful?

      I received fantastic support and guidance from my mentor, who was focused not only on the project but also on my personal and professional development. 

      What would you tell potential postdocs?

      Take advantage of the various courses that are offered to employees, such as the public speaking course. They are well designed and the skills you’ll learn will be useful not only in this job but throughout your career.


      Kacper Kaminski


      Valuable compounds in tobacco plants

      Why choose PMI? Has it lived up to your expectations?

      It was a great job offer with very nice location. Yes, and more.

      Did you have doubts about joining PMI?

      No doubts, smoke-free vision is great for me. I’m also all about personal freedom.

      How much did your mentor help?

      Perfect guidance with a lot of freedom.

      What would you tell others about being a PMI postdoc?

      Best place to work. You gain business experience and still do great science.


      Mohamed Bilal Fares

      Mohamed Bilal Fares, participant of PMI's Postdoctoral program.

      Assessment of neuroprotective effects of alkaloids in Parkinson's disease

      Why did you choose PMI?

      I chose PMI for my postdoc as I found it to be an exciting and challenging opportunity that would allow me to apply my knowledge and expertise in developing neuronal models of Parkinson’s disease, but also to investigate the puzzling inverse association of Parkinson’s with smoking and nicotine consumption. I also assessed that this experience would broaden my horizons as I would learn how applied science is performed within an industrial setting, in a stimulating, interdisciplinary scientific environment. Over the past two years, PMI has lived up to all these expectations.

      What advice would you give to future postdocs?

      I encourage future postdocs to consider PMI as a venue where they can build on their scientific expertise and contribute to shaping and executing exciting interdisciplinary scientific projects, but also a place where they can grow and develop key soft and leadership skills that would enrich their experience and talent portfolio.

      Our Chief Scientific Officer, Manuel Peitsch, also extends his thoughts about the importance of our postdocs, “Science is at the core of our future, and the postdoc program is one way to advance our science by welcoming young talented scientists with new ideas. I am very impressed by their work and how they contribute to our endeavors.”   

      Everyone at Philip Morris International is immensely proud of everything our postdocs have achieved, and we look forward to welcoming the next wave of researchers.