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From the newsroom to the medical clinic

After working as a journalist in Brazil and Europe, Christian Kieling switched to medicine and today researches depression in adolescents

Personal archiveFacing the same uncertainties so common to those beginning their academic careers, Christian Kieling chose to enroll in two different undergraduate courses in 1997. He applied to study law at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS) and journalism at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul (PUC-RS). “I was accepted onto both courses, and since one was taught in the mornings and the other was a night class, I enrolled in both,” he recalls.

Over time, Kieling became increasingly interested in journalism. “I requested a transfer to journalism at UFRGS in 1998,” he says. In 2000, a year before graduating, he began an internship at RBS, a media group based in Porto Alegre.

One day, while listening to the radio, he heard an announcement on a Catholic station for an internship at Vatican Radio. “I decided to apply, and they offered me the position,” he says. Kieling spent two months at the station’s Brazilian newsroom in Rome before returning to RBS. At 21, still uncertain about his decision to study journalism, he applied for a position at Radio France Internationale in Paris, where he stayed for a month.

During his time in France, Kieling read some books by English neurologist Oliver Sacks. “He presented a different perspective of neurology, with an anthropological bias,” he says. “That’s when I started getting interested in neuroscience.” Back in Brazil, he applied for another course, this time to study medicine at UFRGS. “I graduated from my journalism degree in the third week of medical school,” he recalls. Soon after, he began his undergraduate research in psychiatry, working as a research assistant on the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Program at Hospital de Clínicas de Porto Alegre (HCPA).

Because he was already a graduate, his supervisor encouraged him to do a master’s degree in psychiatry before even completing medical school. Kieling presented his dissertation in September 2007, three months before graduating. He completed medical residencies in the fields of childhood and adolescent psychiatry at the same time as studying for his doctorate. He then started a postdoctoral fellowship at the same institution, which he completed in 2015. It was during this time that he founded the Depression in Childhood and Adolescence Program (ProDIA) at HCPA.

Now a professor at UFRGS, Kieling coordinates a team of more than 20 scientists who are trying to understand sociodemographic and neurobiological aspects associated with the risk of developing depression during adolescence.

Most recently, his team was awarded a research grant of £1 million (approximately R$4.3 million) by British mental health organization MQ. The funding was awarded at a three-day conference in London, where Kieling and 30 other researchers from around the world formed groups and drafted mental health research proposals. At the end of the event, each group presented their ideas to a panel that chose the recipients of the funding.