Sander van Kasteren

Chemistry and Medicinal Chemistry 2001

Your Time at the University

I came to study chemistry at the University of Edinburgh in 1996 where my initial plan was to stay for only a year and switch to medicine. During this first year, however, I realised that my love lay not with the treatment of patients, but with the molecules that could treat them, so I stuck with chemistry. During my career I have always worked on the interface between chemistry and biology. During my degree I had the opportunity to take biological courses in the first and second year that put me on this track early on. The extensive training in biochemistry and organic chemistry gave me a solid foundation for the work I do now.

The people I met and the friends I made were the most valuable part of my degree. I still feel privileged that I had the opportunity to study and work in the beautiful city of Edinburgh. The first class honours I obtained from this well-regarded university also opened a lot of doors for me.

Sander van Kesteren

Your Experiences Since Leaving the University

After graduating, I worked around the Edinburgh area for a year before starting a PhD in Oxford in the group of Ben Davis. Here I worked on the synthesis of glycoproteins and therapeutics for applications in immunology. This piqued my interest in this field of biology and my Wellcome Trust funded postdoc, I spent learning more about the cells that process immune cells. I never fully left my chemistry behind me, so after this postdoc when I took up a Veni-fellowship in the Netherlands I started using some of the chemical techniques of my degree and PhD to start looking at the processes in the immune system from different angles.

This was also the theme of my own research group that I started at the University of Leiden in 2012. We now look at developing new chemistry to address key questions in immunology. In 2014 I was awarded an ERC starting grant and in 2017 I was promoted to reader.

Alumni Wisdom

Follow your instincts. When I was working on my PhD there was very little interest in the field we were working on. I simply did it because I loved it. Only later, a few years after my PhD did industry clue on to what we were doing and the field I did my PhD in is now booming. Ignoring the advice to take a safe option paid off for me.