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Meet our pioneer: Yvonne van Mil

In Brainport Eindhoven we change the world because here we develop key technologies that change society. We can only do this thanks to our pioneers. That's why we'd like you to meet one of our pioneers: Yvonne van Mil.


In Brainport Eindhoven we change the world because here we develop key technologies that change society. We can only do this thanks to our pioneers. That's why we'd like you to meet one of our pioneers: Yvonne van Mil.


Who are you?

I'm Yvonne van Mil and I'm 25 years old. I'm originally from Ammerzoden. Since my second year of college, I have been living on my own in Eindhoven.

What do you study?

I am currently doing the master Biomedical Engineering at TU/e. Within this master's program, I completed my master's in the group of Jan van Hest of Bioorganic Chemistry last May.

At the moment I am doing an internship at NTRC BV. That company wants to develop a drug against cancer. There I am investigating the CRISPR-Cas system. CRISPR-Cas is a system that can cut very specific DNA using RNA and a protein. This activates a repair mechanism in the cell. You can tune that repair mechanism a little bit so that you can modify it. So I'm now investigating how the system works and whether the company can use it to insert different modifications into a particular cell line. It's a very challenging project.

Before my master's, I completed my bachelor's in four years, a year longer than normal. This is because at the beginning I had to get very used to studying at a university. During that extra year, my friends started doing a year of administrative work, so we eventually got back on track. That felt good.

Was it a logical choice for you to do a master's?

Yes, because after completing my bachelor's I didn't feel like I had been specifically trained for something. I had general knowledge, but no direction in which one could look for work later.

In my master's I chose the direction of molecular biology. That also appealed to me during my bachelor's. You can see the difference between the general subjects and the specific subjects you like. That makes it a lot easier.

"After finishing my bachelor's degree, I didn't feel like I was trained for anything specifically."

Why did you choose this study?

I am one of those typical girls who first thought I wanted to study medicine. But I didn't want to be part of a lottery (NB to study medicine in NL, you will have to be part of an extensive selection procedure, that can feel like a lottery), so I started looking for something else that was similar. I started looking at biology, but I found the human aspect very interesting and Botanics, not at all. Besides, my science subjects went very well in high school. That's why I went to see the open day at BMT where they showed luminous proteins. I liked that so much that I wanted to work with that too! That is how I ended up here.

Why did you choose the TU/e?

I chose the TU/e because it is close by. It is also not such a big city. A big city like Amsterdam did not appeal to me. I liked the open day and then I stopped looking.

What student team were you in?

Halfway through the first year of my master's I joined the student team iGEM Eindhoven. iGEM is an International Genetically Engineered Machine competition that is all about synthetic biology. The goal is to solve a problem and we wanted to come up with a solution for antibiotic resistance because that is a big and growing problem. The detection of bacteria in the human body can take quite a long time. Therefore, we wanted to invent a system that speeds up the detection. In doing so, we also made use of the CRISPR-Cas system mentioned earlier. We used a dead version of the CRISPR-Cas system so that it can detect DNA in conjunction with bioluminescence. We won no less than 5 nominations with it in the competition in which 350 teams participated. One of the nominations was for 'best diagnostic project'.

During iGEM I only helped out in the lab now and then. Because apart from the fact that you must put down a good biology project or deal with synthetic engineering, you are also setting up a small start-up, as it were. We did have some help from a few professors, but otherwise, we did everything ourselves. I wanted to do something extra in addition to my studies to develop my soft skills, so I was responsible for PR, social media and was secretary. In addition, I helped with sponsorship and with the part of the human practice (the ethical part of the project). This is also how I got in touch with Brainport Eindhoven; to accomplish the social aspect of the whole assignment.

I learned that I find the communication of a project very important and fun.

"In a student team, you are also setting up a small start-up, as it were."

Did you also work next to your studies?

I have been a student assistant. The TU/e offers everything to become a student assistant. You can help with subjects, you can be a project supervisor or you can help with open days. Then you are employed by the university and it is a nice paid part-time job. I was a student supervisor for a first-year BMT project and twice a week I was in a group to help them through the first case within Design Oriented Education. I enjoyed doing it. What I liked most was seeing how far you've come on your own.

I became a student assistant because I wanted to do something study-related in addition to my studies. I already had a Saturday job, so it wasn't so much that I was doing it for the money. It's just really fun and educational.

What do you want to do later on?

I wouldn't know exactly what kind of job I want to end up in. I think I'll just start as a researcher in a lab and then we'll see which way it goes. I also really like communication, so it would be nice to be able to combine that. I would like to take on the conferences and presentations, for example, because you do need the knowledge of the research, but you can also use your soft skills for that. In any case, I have no ambition to do a PhD or to start a start-up.

What do you find important about a later job?

I think team spirit is very important. I did notice that when I was at iGEM. The sense of pride you have together is very nice. You also have to feel at home. If you have a dream job, but you don't feel at home, then it is not your dream job. I do want to have fun.

I also think it's important that I contribute to a social problem with my work. You're not just doing it for yourself, but also others.

Would you like to continue working in Brainport Eindhoven?

I have had a relationship for eight years now and we live together in Eindhoven. I like Brabant, a bit between Den Bosch and Eindhoven, so I would like to continue living and working here. I now work in Oss at Pivot Park. That is a very nice area with lots of companies that fall within my interests. It's a nice place to end up later on.

"I also think it's important that I contribute to a social problem with my work. After all, you're not just doing it for yourself, but also for others."

What do you think about studying and living in Brainport Eindhoven?

I have found my place in Eindhoven. It’s the first place where I have felt at home. It is not such a big city. The TU/e is a very free environment. In this region, you can be whoever you want to be. I feel accepted here. It is also flourishing more and more like a beautiful technical place. It makes me proud when I hear about something that Eindhoven and Brainport Eindhoven have done. It is my city.

"It makes me proud to hear again about what Eindhoven and Brainport Eindhoven have done."

What else would you like to tell (future) students in Brainport Eindhoven?

Of course, I am a big fan of Eindhoven and TU/e is a great place to study. You are very free to choose what you want within the study, such as electives within other studies. I have never felt restricted in my choices. I also think it is important to say that it is not at all important to finish your studies within three years. I took four years for my bachelor but in the end, you all learned the same thing. I would also recommend doing extra activities such as a student team. Finally, I would also really recommend working as a student assistant. It's a lot of fun and makes pretty good money as a student. It’s also easy to combine with your studies.

As a student in Brainport Eindhoven, you can go in so many different directions, there is so much you can do here. Especially as a woman in technology. Fortunately, there are more and more women coming. And don't be put off by all the boys walking around here, they're also very sociable.