UAntwerp Honours College: dive into research and develop your talents

Astrid Van den Branden

Hello, my name is Astrid Van den Branden and I’m doing the Master of Biomedical Sciences at UAntwerp. I have always been interested in understanding the complex biomolecular processes in the human body and learning about what happens when these processes go wrong and diseases occur. My Master at UAntwerp is specifically focused on Clinical Scientific Research, which perfectly fits my interests. I’m also enrolled in the UAntwerp Honours College program. I had the opportunity to participate in this prestigious program after my first Bachelor year. 

“But what exactly is the Honours College program?”, I hear you thinking. This program, which starts during the 2nd and 3rd Bachelor years, offers students the opportunity to further develop their talents and to gain more experience with scientific research. Students in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical, Biomedical and Veterinary Sciences that meet certain criteria, i.e. obtain an average grade of 70% and obtained all credits in their first Bachelor year, are invited to submit an application letter and to attend an interview. If you are ambitious, willing to take on some extra workload during your degree course and want to broaden your scientific horizons, then don’t hesitate to join the Honours College! 

I wasn’t very familiar with the UAntwerp Honours College and wasn’t sure exactly what this program would entail, but I decided to apply. I am always looking for opportunities to expand my knowledge and I’m really happy that I got the opportunity to join the UAntwerp Honours College. It has been quite an adventure so far!  

I visited the labs of several research groups, shadowed PhD students for a day and attended interdisciplinary lectures. But, for me the most interesting part of this program was the summer internship. Based on my research interests, I joined the Laboratory of Pathophysiology where Prof. Patrick D’Haese and Prof. Anja Verhulst offered me the opportunity to assist a PhD student for three weeks with her research. Two years later, I again did a three-week summer internship in this lab as I had also enrolled in the follow-up Honours College program during the Master years, which was being organized for the first time. Not only did I gain lab experience, I also learned what daily life in a laboratory looks like and I learnt more about the various research topics in this lab in depth.

When we needed to look for a place to do our Master’s dissertation, I immediately knew that I wanted to do this in the Laboratory of Pathophysiology. Although many other laboratories also have interesting research topics, my heart keeps bringing me back to this laboratory. I had great experiences in this lab and I’m really interested in their research topics, especially vascular calcification. For my Erasmus placement, this lab had organized for me to go to Cordoba in Spain to do a research internship in a collaborator’s lab. Unfortunately, COVID-19 thwarted my plans and I needed to stay in Belgium. However, I soon saw this as an advantage as I already knew the lab and all the lab members, and I could further build upon the research topic that I had worked on during my last summer internship. 

I am still learning lots of new skills and I’m eager to further dive into the world of vascular calcification and discover novel mechanisms contributing to this pathology. Also, the fact that I had the opportunity to assist PhD students with their research during my internships and discuss what a PhD means for them was very helpful for me. For my next career step, I would like to continue my research in this lab and do a PhD, so I have applied for an FWO scholarship. Via the Honours College program, I also participated in the UAntwerp Dive-into-PhD course to optimally prepare myself to apply for this fellowship.

I am still very happy that I am one of the Honours College students and feel that it has brought me advantages and opened many doors. My message to you is that you should always try to look for opportunities in life and grab these with both hands, be ambitious, work hard to achieve your goals, and do not forget: always believe in yourself! 

If you are interested in reading more about the Honours College program, how to apply and what it entails then make sure to take a look here: Honours College | Farmaceutische, Biomedische en Dier­geneeskundige Wetenschappen | Universiteit Antwerpen (

Article written by Astrid Van den Branden. Editor: Dr. Bronwen Martin.