EATRIS Meets Eliis Keidong

Tell us a bit about yourself

I am originally from Estonia but have been working internationally for over 10 years now. The Netherlands is the 4th country that I find myself living in. I have a BA in Political Science, with a minor in EU Affairs from Tallinn University. In addition, I started a Master’s Degree while working at a medical university in New York City (Weill Cornell Medical College) as I found myself very interested in online education. I ended up completing the post-baccalaureate programme in E-learning Design via the Pennsylvania State World Campus online program, but eventually, put the Masters on hold due to my move back to Europe in 2020. In addition to the USA and the Netherlands, I have also lived in Germany where I would say my science administration career got started at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology. Before this, my background was in corporate administration with a focus on internal communication and human resources development.

What is your role within EATRIS and what does a typical week look like for you?

At EATRIS I work as a project manager for 2 projects, EATRIS-Plus and ADVANCE. Due to the training components in both of the projects, I am also involved in our central training team. For ADVANCE programme, training early-career scientists in the development process of ATMPs, I coordinated the curriculum and development of the online course. This aligned well with some of my previous education and interest. For EATRIS-Plus, which is quite a large scale sustainability project encompassing all our nodes, I am quite involved in the national node capacity building, communication, training and outreach activities. And of course, at the end of the day, as a project manager, I am responsible for making sure all the project partners stay on track and complete the activities so I can report back to the European Commission. A typical work week, no surprise includes a lot of video meetings with people across Europe.

What has been the highlight of your EATRIS experience so far?

The highlight of my EATRIS experience has been the people. I am continually grateful for everyone’s support, generosity and commitment to what they do. Never have I heard the sentence “this is not my job”, everybody always tries to contribute their best and is very solutions-oriented. This is the advantage of a small team and I appreciate this tremendously.  

What is translational research for you?

Translational research to me is about finding solutions and about communicating those solutions. There is quite a lot of fragmentation in the landscape even though everyone at the end of the day is fighting the same good fight. I would like to see us all moving towards a more integrated system where barriers would be lower and lower between the different important stakeholders in the field – from scientists to patients, as well as governments, funding bodies and regulators.

Why did you decide to work in the translational medicine field?

I didn’t decide to work in the translational medicine field, but it came to be organically. In my career, I have worked very closely with bench researchers sometimes literally sitting next to tanks full of fruit flies, as well as medical doctors and physician-scientist. In my previous position as a science programme coordinator for medical students, it became clear to me that the link between bench and bedside is extremely important. I will never forget reading one particular student’s project proposal who was paired up with a PI at a large cancer centre. It was about operating on cancer patients and immediately testing their particular tumours for various treatment courses to come up with the best option for that person at that moment of time. The promise of personalised medicine couldn’t have been clearer.

What advice would you give your younger self?

The same advice as I give to myself now. Don’t be afraid to go where you want to go and do the things you want to do. And don’t compromise on the values you believe in. Be kind and honest to yourself and the people around you, this helps build real relationships with people you want in your life. Professionally and personally.

What do you like to do when you aren’t working?

I very much enjoy cooking and eating different foods. That also links in well with my passion for travel. I have eaten bugs in Thailand and dried squid in Japan. My motto is “I will try everything at least once”. Apart from food and travelling related experiences, I love spending one on one time with people who are closest to me and have meaningful nourishing conversations. 

If you were a drug, vaccine or diagnostic, what would you be and why?

I would certainly not like to be a COVID vaccine, I wouldn’t have been able to handle the negative press. But jokes aside, I think I would like to be a cell or gene therapy. There are a lot of paediatric patients in the rare disease community and the promise of gene and cell therapies is lifesaving.

What would surprise people to know about you?

I don’t know if it would surprise people, but I was a gymnast for around 15 years. With some careful warm-up, I can still do a full split!