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First, a bachelor's degree at Jacobs University, then on to Harvard for a PhD


May 29, 2018

What contributed to her success? "Early access to the laboratory courses and the involvement in the professors’ research right from the first semester were important factors," says Catherine Jacob-Dolan, who graduates from Jacobs University Bremen in a few weeks. The close interaction with older students, PhD students and her professors paved the way for her internship at the University of Cambridge. This in turn helped her to take the next step: successfully applying for a doctoral program at Harvard University. “One builds on the other,” says the 21-year-old.

Harvard is a legend among universities. The oldest university in the US was founded in 1636 and is considered to be one of the best educational institutions in the world. Catherine grew up nearby, in Boston. Studying there was always a dream that seemed unattainable to her for a long time. “I never thought that I could do it. My friends at Jacobs University encouraged me and provided an unbelievable amount of support – and I just gave it a shot.”

The application process started in late autumn of the previous year. She submitted certificates, letters of motivation, letters of recommendation and evidence of her research. Catherine is studying for a bachelor's degree in Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Jacobs University in the group of Prof. Dr. Sebastian Springer. She applied at Harvard for a five-year doctoral program that includes a master's degree. Her specialization is immunology, and she plans to do research on the HIV virus. "It fascinates me how the virus finds ways to bypass our immune system. I want to help contain it and outsmart it. Research on the virus is both exciting and important.”

The written application was followed by an invitation to Harvard for an interview with three professors and two students of the faculty. Then it was time to wait. More than 600 applicants had applied for the program, 30 had been invited for an interview and eight were finally accepted. "I was extremely pleased to have been chosen," says Catherine. "But I also have great respect for what's coming."

Catherine could have studied for her doctorate at Cambridge, too. In the end she chose Harvard because the university, like Jacobs University, has a particularly international and intercultural nature. "I wanted to keep this as part of my life, as I learned to appreciate it very much in Bremen.”

To have made friends from all over the world, to have spent three years learning, laughing and occasionally arguing with people from all over the world, that was all thanks to Jacobs University. "Even though we're all going to different countries now: we are a strong community, we stay in contact, and I can visit friends in Bremen, Madrid and England. That's really great."

Jacobs University has given her a "ton of specialist knowledge," she says. But most of all, the university has taught her to make something of herself. "If one wants something and draws attention to it, then one can get a lot of support." And this helps in achieving one’s goals. The culture at Jacobs University also includes commitment to others. Together with the German Red Cross, Catherine organized the blood donation service on campus every semester. She has co-organized numerous student events such as Dancestoned, a dance competition, and the TEDx Innovation Conference.

Her time at Jacobs University and her time in Germany ends with the graduation on June 8th. At age 16 she spent a year in Brandenburg as an exchange student, and when she was 18 she came to study in Bremen. What will she miss the most? “The Christmas markets. Even if it rains, the atmosphere is simply incredible.”

She will continue to speak German in the US, however, and has already registered at the Goethe-Institut in Boston. "I'd like to come back after my PhD," says Catherine. "I don't know to where yet, but that's my goal."

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