Bitten Plesner, Industrial PhD Fellow, Novo Nordisk R&D STAR programme

Out of the lab

"Outside of the laboratory, I like to stay active. I bike, play volleyball and I am training right now to do a half marathon over the bridge from Denmark to Sweden this summer. I also like taking in a good movie or concert and drinking good wine with friends."

Bitten Plesner

STAR Industrial PhD Fellowship

“Being a STAR fellow at Novo Nordisk means that I am able to work on research that is important to me with the added benefit of gaining insight into how science is conducted in the pharmaceutical industry.”

My life as a STAR fellow

Upon graduating, I wanted to understand better how science is conducted in the pharmaceutical industry so I contacted my former university advisor who was then at Novo Nordisk. The STAR Industrial PhD programme was a perfect fit for me and since my current advisor at the University had also been advisor to my mentor at Novo Nordisk, things moved quickly once the funding was approved.

New doorways opened

My fellowship research involves protein PEGylation, which was totally new to me so I started by reading the literature to get an overview of the field and its key players while getting acquainted with the lab. Eventually, I got the chance to work in the laboratory of a leading researcher in PEGylation, Professor Conan Fee. I worked for seven months with his team in New Zealand including scientists from India, China, France, Germany and Malaysia.

Cultural lessons mixed

Living in New Zealand was a great experience and I made some life-long friends amongst the people there. Working in such a multicultural lab environment was also eye-opening for me as I had to learn how to handle myself as a female scientist among men from countries where the attitude towards women is much different than that in Denmark. On my off-time, I joined a local tramping club and got to know the country-side of New Zealand better. From a work perspective, I still maintain my close ties to Professor Fee, co-authoring research papers. Eventually, I hope to return to do my postdoc work in his lab

Being my own master while

My research is about biophysical characterisation of the effect of PEGylation on the functional, structural and thermal stability of proteins. I work with various standard and newer techniques to investigate model proteins and then transfer that knowledge to Novo Nordisk pipeline proteins. In a sense, I am building a reference on PEGylation effects that will shape future drug development at Novo Nordisk. Before I became a STAR fellow, I had only a vague idea about how the pharmaceutical industry works and I was frankly surprised to see how specialised industry researchers are and the high level of science, including basic science, conducted here. Novo Nordisk researchers are also quite free to publish their work and that was also a surprise to me.