November 19, 2021

Collaborations are a sine qua non for science

Author: Maaike Suuring


INsTRuCT, as you may know, is a program in which 15 different research groups all over Europe have one common goal: to advance innovative solutions towards the development of myeloid regulatory cell (MRC)-based therapies. However, every group within this network focuses on different parts of the field, has expertise in novel techniques and holds specific scientific knowledge. In order to reach our full potential, we as one consortium share our knowledge and are willing to train our fellow researchers in techniques that will help them advance their projects. The advantage of this collaborative culture is that every researcher receives the opportunity to collaborate with other industrial and academic partners.

When I was searching for a PhD, three aspects were particularly important to me. First, I wanted to find a PhD that allowed me to continue studying immunology and clinical science. Second, I wanted to be in an international environment with the chance to collaborate with other groups. Last, from my years spent in the lab, I have noticed that you can achieve so much more by exchanging knowledge and ideas with fellow researchers. This can happen during international conferences or through agreed collaborations. After searching for many months, I found the PhD program at the University of Nantes united all of the aspects that are dear to me. This program focused on developing practical and social skills, by arranging collaborations and by participating in international conferences.

I consider myself very lucky to have started my PhD program in the beautiful and cultural city of Nantes. This great job opportunity came with two additional collaborations in Milan and Marseille, with connections to both industrial and academic fields. After many COVID lockdowns and cancellations of my trip to Milan, I was happy to finally set foot on Italian ground. After finishing my first year of my PhD in Nantes, I finally had the opportunity to start my project in a new lab and a new country.

From the beginning onwards I was super excited about the trip to Italy. Since I was young, I have travelled many times to Italy. I have seen Rome, Pisa, Florence, Venice, Murano, Burano, Trieste, Siena and the rest of Tuscany, but I have never been to Milan. While I was packing my luggage for my trip, it felt like going on a holiday. Still, the difference this time was all the lab equipment stuffed SAFELY in between my clothes. On the first day of my journey, I arrived late in the evening. It was dark, and I walked through the city while all the beautiful historic Italian buildings were lit up. I fell immediately in love with the city. It felt like a dream come true after the challenging times from last year due to COVID.

Last week I started my project in the lab of Silvia Gregori in Ospedale San Raffaele, and I will be learning new techniques that I can use to achieve my project in Nantes. Due to their expertise in regulatory T cells, I will optimize the protocols that were developed in Nantes. Next, I will receive training on generating their well-known subset of tolerogenic DC, termed DC-10, to perform metabolomic analysis on both our DCs to better understand the similarities and differences between different generated tolerogenic DCs. Besides developing new practical skills, I am happy to experience a new environment and connecting with fellow researchers. The Italian culture is very welcoming and open. I am particularly enjoying the team-spirited espresso culture and the Italian food lifestyle. Nowadays, after a day in the laboratory, you will find me in an Italian restaurant enjoying bruschetta, buffalo mozzarella or pizza, compared to a few weeks ago when I was enjoying a "planche" filled with oysters, humous and French cheese.

Concluding from my experience as a PhD student, I can assert that it is worthwile to widen one’s own horizon and experience a new environment. Stay open-minded and choose a PhD that allows you to follow and ultimately accomplish your goals. Continue to be curious and keep asking questions during your PhD and you will enjoy your time even more during all the new experiences that you will encounter.

Arrivederci from Milan.