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Meet Nikolaus Fortelny

1.    Tell me in 5 words who is Nikolaus Fortelny?
I try to “be like water, my friend”.

2.    What made you join CeMM?
Initially, a job advertisement, an opportunity to learn something new, and a good track record. During the interview, the perspective to do exciting research with some talented and friendly people. Admittingly also the location, as joining CeMM enabled me to do cutting edge science while moving back after eight years abroad.

3.    What is it about science that interests you the most?
The process itself, by which I mean to go from ignorance to uncertainty - and then gradually to less uncertainty. This process keeps me excited on a day-to-day basis. More generally, natural science feels a bit like learning the rules of a board game. Just that those rules are not made by humans, which is obviously amazing. Doing something potentially useful for humanity is the cherry on the cake.​​​​​​​

4.    What is the best career advice you ever received, or you can give to the CeMM community?
I think it is critical to find and further develop one’s own style and interests. CeMM has a particular scientific culture and it took me a while to “get” it. Once I managed to combine my strength and interests with the local environment, I was more successful.​​​​​​​

5.    Tell us what happened to you after you left CeMM?
After leaving CeMM in summer 2020, I took parental leave of two months for our twins and moved to Salzburg, where I have since established my research group and teaching program. The COVID pandemic did not make this easy but doing purely computational work helped. The CeMM alumni mug has been my steady companion on my home office desk. Also, our third child was born last spring.​​​​​​​

6.    What book do you have on your night table at the moment?
None but I would like to read Greta Thunberg’s “The Climate Book” asap. Also, I read multiple children’s books every day - if that counts.​​​​​​​

7.    What is the last song you heard?
Do the evolution – Pearl Jam.

8.    Any message you would like to give to the CeMMies or a former colleague?
Substance over style!

Nikolaus Fortelny is a computational biologist. He obtained his PhD in 2016 from the University of British Columbia (UBC), Vancouver, where he developed the first computational models of protease networks. He then joined the group of Christoph Bock at CeMM to expand his protein-centric expertise to transcriptional and epigenetic regulation. Supported by an EMBO fellowship, he developed interpretable deep learning models that mirror biological signaling. Since September 2020, he is Assistant Professor at the University of Salzburg. In his research, he is interested in the regulation of biological systems, combining existing knowledge of regulatory processes with large molecular datasets using machine learning and network biology. ​​​​​​​