“I wanted to know how the world works”

A DAAD scholarship gave Isabela Paredes Cisneros the opportunity to study clinical physics in Heidelberg and Santiago de Chile. Isabela, who comes from Colombia, is now working on her doctoral thesis and has found an effective way of coping with the culture clash.

Before she scares people off with too many scientific terms, Isabela Paredes Cisneros calls in Radio Man. He is a superhero character who can entertainingly explain how radiotherapy works and how cancer research is attempting to optimise it further. As a student, Isabela won a prize with her engaging superhero at a science slam in Heidelberg in 2018. In contrast to a poetry slam, where simple funny stories are told, a science slam is about presenting scientific facts as humorously as possible on a stage. At the end the audience votes on who has been the most successful. At the summer school organised by the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), Radio Man – a comic figure who swept through the presentation slides – clearly won the audience over.

26-year-old Isabela is now a doctoral candidate at the DKFZ, a renowned Heidelberg institution, and retains her passion for communicating complex facts in a lively and interesting way. “I like entertaining people,” she says. “The science slam is also a great opportunity to help the public understand science better. There are so many preconceptions when it comes to cancer. For example, many people think that chemotherapy or radiotherapy are generally a bad thing. But that’s not true. That’s why I think it’s important to explain the facts to people, and humour can be useful for this.” Isabela was able to obtain her current position as a researcher at the DKFZ thanks to a DAAD scholarship that enabled her to complete her dual Master’s degree programme in Santiago de Chile and at the University of Heidelberg. This particular cooperative programme is coordinated by the Heidelberg Center Latin America, one of the DAAD’s Centres of Excellence. 

Helping people directly

Even as a child, Isabela wanted “to know how the world works”. When she finished school, it was clear that she would study physics. But the first crisis came after she had completed her bachelor’s degree: “My love for this science started to wane because I didn't know what profession I wanted to pursue with it. Then I discovered clinical physics. What I like about it is that it directly helps people because it is about improving radiotherapy, laser technology and computer tomography.” Then, in the middle of making decisions about what she wanted to do after her bachelor’s degree in physics, she happened to come across the DAAD. She met two professors from the Heidelberg Center for Latin America, the DAAD Centre of Excellence in Chile. Isabela says, “The DAAD scholarship enabled me to study clinical physics at the very highest level. Germany is the benchmark for many areas of physics. It was an amazing opportunity to be able to learn from world-leading researchers.”

If everything goes to plan, she will receive her PhD in two years’ time and will be thinking about the direction she wants to take in terms of her professional career. The opportunities for clinical physicists are varied: “I enjoy conducting research but it’s difficult to become a professor because there’s a lot of competition in Germany. The management element in science also appeals to me. I could also go into industry, into science communication or to a specialist journal.”

Overcoming culture shock

Isabela does not envisage returning to Latin America for now “as the situation there is very complicated at the moment”. Besides that, she has also got a bit more used to her new home country. “I am Colombian through and through, but I’ve also become a little bit German now too.” She has coped pretty well with the culture shock that probably hits everyone from Latin America sooner or later when they visit central Europe. “I simply take the best from both worlds as I like learning from other cultures. I am very punctual, and I always clearly say what I want. But I’m also quite relaxed about things, like we are in Colombia.” When asked what Germans could learn from Colombians, the researcher does not have to think too hard: “To dance! That would be the most important thing. And you should also learn to appreciate all the good things you have. You often complain that the train is late – but many people around the world don’t have a public transport system like that at all.”

author: Klaus Rathje

Isabela Paredes Cisneros

The 26-year-old grew up in Popayán, Colombia, and first studied physics at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Bogotá. A DAAD scholarship gave her the opportunity to pursue the international Master’s course in Clinical Medical Physics (CMP) offered by the Pontifical Catholic University in Santiago de Chile and the University of Heidelberg. The German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) is also involved in this degree programme. Since completing her Master’s degree in 2018, Isabela Paredes Cisneros has been working as a doctoral researcher at the DKFZ and is involved in research projects relating to applied clinical radiation physics.

Centres of Excellence in Research and Teaching

The interview with Isabel Paredes Cisneros took place at the 10th aniversary ceremony of the DAAD's "Centres of Excellence in Research and Teaching". The event took place on November 9th in Berlin. Representatives of all five institutes came to Berlin and presented their work.

Do you have any ideas on how to make sciene public – apart from Science Slam? Let us know in your comments below!

December 2019

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