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Dive into the Insights of Ruben van Boxtel with Akshaya Krishnamoorthy & Martina Jovancheva!

Each quarter, the Máxima Butterfly selects a PI among many inspirational PIs, shining a spotlight on their contributions and achievements. We’re excited to announce that Dr. Ruben van Boxtel, a leader in the Máxima Butterfly and Princess Máxima Center groups and an Oncode investigator, has been chosen as the spotlighted PI for this quarter.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START YOUR OWN RESEARCH GROUP?

Even as a child, Ruben harbored a fascination for biology and aspired to become a scientist. Before becoming a PI, six and a half years ago, Ruben was working as a Postdoctoral researcher in the UMC Utrecht, trying to understand the dynamics of how stem cells accumulate mutations with age. Sharing his groups’ research focus, he states: “When I was offered to start my group in the Princess Máxima Center in 2017, I was faced with a big paradox; how and why children, untouched by time or age succumb to the same wrath of cancer as aged adults, who have had a lifetime to acquire thousands of genetic mutations? This paradox became the catalyst for my group’s initial journey, inspiring us to dive into understanding the mysteries of cancer initiation.”

 

 

AS A GROUP LEADER HOW DO YOU MANAGE MULTIPLE PROJECTS IN YOUR GROUP?

“I like to think I promote a working environment where the projects are flexible, allowing the students the freedom to explore while I ensure their ideas align with the lab’s goals. As a group leader I delegate tasks to students and give them the space to make mistakes and learn from them. This is essential for growth,” Ruben explained. “Although it might be scary to not have a fully written out PhD project with a step-by-step plan, it is precisely through these challenges and uncertainties that true learning occurs, and great discoveries can be made,” he added. We believe this approach of management emphasizes his leadership qualities as well as his deep commitment to his team.

 

CAN YOU SHARE A MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE WITH US THAT MADE AN IMPACT ON YOU AND ONE OF YOUR STUDENTS?

Ruben fondly recalled a moment when his first PhD student was offered a position in a prestigious international group. He stated, “I was, and still am very proud for both of us, it made a significant impact on me. I have learned that I find great joy in mentoring students to become better scientists.” This not only highlights the spawn of talent emerging from his group but also reflects his genuine enjoyment in mentoring students.

 

YOU WERE AWARDED A VICI GRANT THIS YEAR. TO WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE YOUR SUCCESS?

“I was deeply honored to receive a Vici grant earlier this year.” This prestigious grant for advanced research has been awarded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO). Ruben humbly expressed his gratitude for this recognition, stressing on the importance of it being an achievement of the entire group, representing the culmination of years of work on the late effects of the treatment of cancer. He stated: “Everybody congratulated me. However, it should be a recognition to the entire group not only to me! I don’t think it is completely fair when group leaders end up getting all the credits for an acquired grant, when in reality it is a group effort,” underscoring his modesty and recognition of the collective effort behind the achievement.

 

WHAT WERE THE CHALLENGES (IF ANY) YOU FACED IN YOUR CAREER?

“My leadership journey, like many others, hasn’t always been smooth,” Ruben states. “The challenges posed by the pandemic in particular required a significant amount of reflection and adaptation.” Embracing the principles of deep democracy and meta-communication, the group fostered a safe space for critical discussions. Setting up initiatives such as defining a TOA (Team Operating Agreement), where the expectations from the team members for how they work and interact with each other are expressed clearly and enabled them to recognize the potential weaknesses and prospective ways of dealing with them. He mentioned that “While it can be challenging to receive criticism on how you act as a group leader, it has created an open environment within the group, providing a safe space to address the problems.”

 

DO YOU THINK INTERNATIONAL DIVERSITY IS IMPORTANT IN A RESEARCH GROUP?

“I am always driving for recruitment of international talent in my group. Having an international group is fun and in research it helps bring out different perspectives which I believe it to be essential for delving deeper into complex issues.” Reflecting on his journey, Ruben candidly shared his regret of having stayed rooted in the Netherlands throughout his career. He expressed a longing for the chance to immerse himself in international experiences and learn from different cultures. Actively seeking international opportunities like the Butterfly program, he enriched the team’s dynamics with global insights, highlighting his commitment to fostering a globally inclusive lab environment.

We would finally like to say, Ruben, we find you to be a true inspiration. From dreaming of becoming a scientist during childhood to now attaining the role of a group leader managing a large team, science has been your lifelong passion and calling. The Butterflies were thrilled to shine the spotlight on you this quarter!