‘Your work-life balance is so much better’

‘Your work-life balance is so much better’

Yermanas A. Basnard F.

What’s it like to move to the Netherlands from abroad and start a research position at UMC Utrecht? Alex Yermanos (US) and Fanny Boisnard (France), both employed at the CTI department, got to talk about the international differences in academics, culture shocks and why brings her own lunch to work. 

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Science is a considerably international field of work – and it’s no different at UMC Utrecht. Just walk around during lunch break, and you may just stumble upon a group of colleagues from CTI (Center of Translational Immunology) discussing the lunch habits from their respective countries, compared to the Dutch way. Who wins? “Your food… I don’t even know where to start describing it“, contemplates Fanny Boisnard, research analyst at CTI and born and raised in Bordeaux, France. “Just cold bread with ‘boter en kaas’, every day?” Thankfully, she loves her job here at the UMC Utrecht, working and living in the Netherlands. And regarding the food – well, let’s say she doesn’t mind bringing her own lunch. 

Great gut feeling 

We meet up with Alex Yermanos, who holds office just down the hall, as an assistant professor in Computational Immunology at CTI. The 31-year old is originally from the United States, but moved to Utrecht 1.5 years ago from Switzerland, where he’s still partly affiliated at the university ETH Zurich. “I wasn’t considering leaving Switzerland at all, but I saw the job opening on LinkedIn and applied pretty much on a whim”, he recalls. 

It wasn’t totally out of the blue, though: “A previous roommate already moved to Utrecht, and I really liked it here when I visited him.” The appreciation grew when he stayed over again for his in-person meetings at UMC Utrecht. “Part of the interview was a walk & lunch – never done that before, I was still holding my sandwich when we said goodbye, I’d been talking so much. The Utrecht Pride festival was happening which was pretty awesome, and my second interview was coupled with a drinks & dance event at CTI.” It might explain the ‘great gut feeling’ about this position. 

The Dutch talk a lot 

But the job itself is pretty great, too. “My research integrates experimental and computational methodologies to understand, predict and engineer adaptive immune responses. This involves software development, but also uses bioinformatics and AI to design novel therapeutics and profile immune responses.” While his research in Switzerland was more fundamental and less patient focused, at UMC Utrecht, he really feels the potential to bring his work into the clinic. “I enjoy the challenge of integrating fundamental and translational research and the direct relevance to patient care and clinical outcomes.” Also, it was a step up as an assistant professor, he concludes. 

Surely, there is downside, somewhere? “The number of meetings here seems much higher than I was used to. And the ‘weekstarts’ were a bit getting used to, like, do we have to this every week? But apparently, all teams at UMC Utrecht do it. And I get the point of it by now.” Dutch people really like to discuss things a lot, was Fanny’s takeaway, too. “Meetings took up many hours of my week. That doesn’t fit well with my work as a technician: I can’t plan my experiments around meetings.” 

Please, take a holiday 

Thankfully, her manager helped her finding out which ones were most important, and which ones to skip. It’s just one example of the way of working here she appreciates. “In France, I didn’t get the number of responsibilities I have now. Initially, I wasn’t sure what to do after my master. But I didn’t like the academics and working environment in France, how people interact and judge each other.” It’s different here, she says: “I’m much more independent. I can take the lead in my projects, be in charge, have open discussions with my colleagues.” Alex adds: “The work-life balance is very good in the Netherlands and I find it a relatively relaxed working environment. You’re not expected to check your phone after work. And taking your holidays is encouraged, which is especially nice compared to the US work culture.” 
Fanny found her way to UMC Utrecht by working as an au pair in the Hague, with kids who spoke four languages. “I knew I wanted to live abroad after having spent a semester in Sweden. And I really liked the Netherlands.” She met a fellow researcher through an international meet-ups at city hall, learned more about the Dutch research environment, and decided academics might be the place for her after all. Now, she spends her time researching the development of fusion proteins for chronic pain treatment and assessing immune cells function in the context of Q fever, ME/CFS and post covid. “And I love the international environment, which is also different from France. I’m very happy to have colleagues from so many different countries and learn about their cultures.” 


So, it wasn’t that much of a culture shock, for both of them. Alex’s found his way around pretty easily, picking up biking (he bought his own bike on his first day), padel, building a social circle and is already conversing in Dutch. “I’m definitely considering staying here for the long run. I’m building up my research group on a tenure-track position and I’m already experiencing the potential for professional and personal growth at UMC Utrecht.” 

The same goes for Fanny, who recently got a permanent contract, and certainly has ambitions to make the most of her newfound Dutch life. “I’m super comfortable with my colleagues, and I look forward to take on more challenges, moving out of my comfort zone. I can totally see myself still living here in ten years’ time.” So, looks like the food maybe the only thing she won’t get used to … 

Join us! 

Are you interested in working at UMC Utrecht? Expect an interesting work environment where we combine care, education and research. Research means contributing to an important fundament with the aim to provide the best, innovative and complex care for our patients.  

Working at UMC Utrecht





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