Petra van Berkel hopes to teach at a School for Advanced Education or a University in the future, for which a doctorate is needed. So after her bachelor Bioinformatics at the School for Advanced Eductation in Leiden, she decided to continue with the master Bioinformatics. "I also did not feel like working already, so I was happy to continue studying".
The master Bioinformatics is also taught in Amsterdam, but Petra decided to go to Wageningen. "Wageningen University is specialized in farming and cattle breeding, whereas the University of Amsterdam is connected with the academic medical center. Above all I wanted to work with animals, so Wageningen University was a logical choice. My father has a dairy farm, so I think my interest must be kindled at an early age. Besides that, I do not want to be occupied with medical things, because that comes to close. I do not want to know how my body works, because then I know as well what can go wrong."
During her bachelor Bioinformatics, Petra had already learned a lot about programming, so in the master she followed mostly courses in the biological domain. "The master Bioinformatics appeared to be more difficult than the School for Advanced Education. I really have to learn for my courses now, whereas practical thinking was sufficient at the School for Advanced Education. Therefore, the first semester was quite difficult, but I got used to it by now. Looking backward, I think this challenge was positive.
Petra wanted to do something with cows and bioinformatics for her thesis. "I went to the chair group Animal Breeding and Genetics and I asked whether I could do this." She managed: Her thesis is about the genetics of milk fats. "I investigate where there are genes on the DNA which affect the composition of milk fat. For the health of consumers it is best to have as much unsaturated fatty acids and as least saturated fatty acids in milk as possible. One can try to influence this by means of genetics. I have a dataset of the DNA of 15 bulls with their 2000 daughter at my disposal. At the moment, I try to find the variation in the complete genome of the father bulls. If I have that information, I can search for certain regions in the chromosomes which are responsible for the milk fat composition. Afterwards, I can look at how the functioning of those genes fit in certain reaction pathways and how I can find the evidence in the daughters. It depends on my available time whether I can investigate the latter or not." Petra's thesis is part of the milk genomics project of the chair group Animal Breeding and Genetics. "That project is about to gain as much knowledge about milk as possible. It is mostly subsidized by the Dutch Government, but also some big commercial companies are involved like the Corporatie Rundvee Verbetering (The Corporation Cattle Improvement). So there is a big change that the results of my thesis will be used in the future.
Plans for the future
"I want to finish my study and then see where it ends up. Usually, I have very concrete future plans, but last year I did not manage. I hope to get my doctorate, if I can find a research project. Then I can show that I am capable to do that as well, although I do not have a pre-universal background and although I have dyslexia."