Sziastok! from Budapest - Philosophizing about alternative careers and the meaningfulness of stays abroad - by ESR8 Nina-Louisa Efrém
Saturday, 6 am. Berlin’s central station is deserted (apart from a few Oktoberfest aficionados on their way to Munich) when I board the train that would take me to Budapest. One year into my PhD, time has come to depart for my first secondment. After having moved to Berlin, struggled to find an apartment and settled in a new lab, the script repeats itself. Luckily, one gets more and more used to relocations over time. Packing and saying farewells become a routine and – let’s be honest – the 2.5 months that I will spend in Budapest are a foreseeable period of time. Based on my first impressions, Budapest is a bustling city, enchanting with its mixture of crumbling Art Nouveau buildings, modern skyscrapers and panel buildings (Panelház) that reflect its moved history. It seems to be a wonderful place to live, and probably most important for me right now, to do science! I was provided a very warm welcome by my host lab, the Medicinal Chemistry Research Group at the Research Center for Natural Sciences and am now looking forward to getting my chemistry running here.
When I was younger, I assumed that one would need to become a world-renowned music star or at least a diplomate to travel the world for work and live in different countries. Since I cannot sing and my French is rudimentary, I ruled out these career options early on. The thought that a career in science would get me there had never occurred to me. University studies, conferences, secondments – the list of occasions for travel and stays abroad as a scientist (as a chemist in my case) is long. The basic principles of chemistry and physics apply across borders; the stereoselectivity of an SN2 reaction is the same in Canada and Cameroon, and dichloromethane will form the lower layer in a liquid-liquid extraction with water anywhere around the globe. The language of chemical formulas and mathematical expressions is beautifully universal. Consequently, work in science is predestined for international exchange. I like to think of science as a connective link between people and cultures but of course, it is a valid question why this cross-country mobility is important and how society in general benefits from it.
Taking a broader view on the meaningfulness of cross-border scientific exchange, I am convinced that it does not only accelerate scientific progress but likewise enhances multilateral collaboration to tackle the most pressing challenges of our time. It makes us aware that people anywhere around the globe are asking the same scientific questions and work hard to answer them. Collaboration in science can open hearts and doors to initiate partnerships in entirely different fields. The experience abroad gives us the possibility and at the same time responsibility to advocate for intercultural communication and tolerance towards different viewpoints, promoting diversity in our communities.
On a personal level, I realize that each stay abroad confronts me with different opinions and ways of living, making me more approachable and understanding. I have become more resilient and self-confident by overcoming unanticipated challenges. Over time, I have learned most problems can actually be solved, often with the help of others. Moving to different countries has sensitized me for things that are not going well in places where I have lived before and, on the other hand, made me appreciate even more those things that were working out smoothly. Of course, personal development is one thing, but I am also convinced that each stay abroad makes me improve on a scientific level. During the current secondment in Budapest, for instance, I am re-learning lab-techniques that I am rarely using in Berlin (simply because I was not aware of their applicability to certain problems) but that might save me a lot of time during my daily work. I am also learning how to perform experiments, types of chemical reactions and work procedures that are entirely new to me but standard in my Hungarian host lab. Taking this knowledge back to Berlin and sharing it with my colleagues there, will benefit all of us. Finally, working and discussing with my new colleagues, who have different backgrounds and experiences, makes me see certain things, e.g. steps of a procedure, from a different perspective. This deepens my understanding of the respective processes and makes me question routine operations. Of course, I am very much hoping that this process of knowledge sharing is not one-way but mutual to make this experience most rewarding for everyone involved.
ALLODD in Researcher's Night
Researcher’s Night is a vibrant festival of research, technology and innovation that takes place every year on the last Friday of September in many cities across the European continent. In Athens, it is hosted by one of the oldest and most prominent university foundations of the country, the National and Technical University of Athens, and it attracts numerous professionals from the educational field -teachers, professors, officials from the Ministry of Education- and, mostly, school and university students: children, teenagers and young adults aged 4 to 25.
Given its non-specialized audience that mainly consists of younger individuals, the central concept of this particular event is for researchers to share their work in a more creative and original manner in order to give visitors the opportunity to gain a more hands-on perspective of their scientific activities.
ALLODD successfully participated in this year's Research's Night in Athens, giving the opportunity to more than 250 interested individuals of all ages to get to know ALLODD Network, its objectives and actions. Being the first ITN to explore the concept of allostery in drug discovery, ALLODD aims to train the next generation of young scientists to exploit this concept and set the foundation for the emergence of the field. Cournia Lab was there in Researcher's Night in Athens, to communicate the science behind ALLODD to the general public. Such actions are of great importance and a major goal of the network, in order for more people to get familiar with the role of allostery in drug discovery.
You can find the material of the event by clicking in the button below.
GPCRs are a large family of transmembrane proteins representing a renowned target in drug discovery. Classical GPCR drugs are simply developed by targeting their orthosteric binding sites, yielding compounds that either activate or inactivate the protein. The main problem with this approach is that these sites are highly conserved among GPCR subfamilies, and this causes poor selectivity and possible side effects.
For this reason, in recent times the development of allosteric drugs, targeting GPCRs at sites that are different from the orthosteric binding sites, is getting increasingly relevant. The existence of such drugs has opened up the way for new therapeutic approaches and enriched the possible ways to modulate the functions of GPCRs1.
Many studies have underlined the importance of allosterism in the context of GPCR dimerization or higher-order oligomerization in the control of the physiological responses they modulate. Indeed, for many years, GPCRs have been studied as single functional units (i.e., monomers)1. However, recent evidence suggests that GPCRs can also work as higher-order oligomers constituted by equal (homo) or different (hetero) monomers.
In the case of oligomers, allosterism has a dual nature. On the one hand, a ligand alters the conformation of one monomer which then binds and modulates the configuration of the interacting receptor. On the other, the monomer itself can be considered as the allosteric modulator altering the conformation of the associated receptor, modulating its downstream efficacy and ligand affinity.
Therefore, GPCR oligomers have the potential to markedly expand the diversity and specificity of G protein-coupled receptor signaling, particularly in neural cells, where a few key receptors have been implicated in many neurological and psychiatric disorders, including addiction.
Several approaches have been designed to develop new drugs specifically targeting GPCR dimers. One possible way is to design a so-called bivalent ligand 2, a molecule composed of two pharmacophores that span the length of the dimer allowing it to dock at both ligand binding sites simultaneously. An example of this was reported by Gmeiner et al. in 20163 with a study focused on targeting the D2R- NTS1R heteromer via three different bivalent ligands. In addition to this, it is also possible to develop bitopic ligands that bind the allosteric site of a monomer and simultaneously modulate the functions of the other associated functional unit. This is the case for instance of the SB269652 allosteric modulator of the Dopamine D2 dimer4.
I began my PhD project at the Charité Institute shortly after moving to Berlin in the end of April of this year. Unfortunately, I had what I would qualify as a bit of a rough start. I had moved to another country before a few years ago already and thus thought I had an understanding of what to expect, but I underestimated how much of a challenge not being fluent in the language was going to be, especially with regard to finding a place to live. Additionally, I had to learn to perform long and complicated experiments unlike anything I had done previously. This, combined with a host of administrative issues, meant that the first few months of my PhD project were more difficult than anticipated.
And although luckily these issues did end up slowly but surely resolving themselves, the ALLODD workshop in Barcelona was still fortuitously timed. The change of pace, the interesting lectures and especially the opportunity to finally meeting my fellow ESRs from the program in person for the first time (as well as a number of the PIs) as I was unfortunately unable to attend the first workshop meeting in Vienna physically. The setup also facilitated networking, which I can otherwise find a bit daunting.
I was especially reminded of how interesting the field of GPCRs can be, both in academia and in the industry, and this comforted me in my decision to do a PhD centering on the study of the GPCR MC3R was indeed the right choice for me.
Furthermore, MC3R in particular seems to be on the rise in terms of the interest accorded to it by the scientific community. Indeed, it has been considered in the past to have a redundant role to its relative MC4R due to both having loss of function mutations connected to obesity. However, as it turns out the phenotype of these mutations for MC3R, unlike MC4R, includes an increase of the fat mass compared to lean mass as well as the mice models having trouble putting weight back after a period of restricted feeding. Moreover, several studies have also shown that MC3R variants in both mice and human patients result in the late onset of puberty and abnormal menstrual cycles, as well as a lowered expression of several genes in the circadian rhythm. Despite these observations of how MC3R mutants affect organisms’ phenotype, information regarding the intracellular trafficking of MC3R is unfortunately lacking due to commercially available MC3R antibodies being non-specific in their binding.
This makes the study of MC3R, specifically of its structure and its ligand binding affinity, particularly fascinating as it could very well elucidate some of the mystery that still surround this protein’s function, and I hope I will be able to take steps towards doing so in the coming months. I look forward to continuing improving my skills and pursuing my career both at the Charité Institute and within the ALLODD program.
Perseverance, Hardwork, Deadlines
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” We all get this question several times on the way to becoming an adolescent. Every kid projects themselves in their dream occupation: doctor, engineer, teacher, you name it and you hear some saying “I want to save the world” in an assertive manner, quite heroic. Well, for some of them that bold statement remains as a childish spark and fades away but for others, it even gets stronger and turns into a driving force to make them strive for making the world a better place.
Oh, if you expected the story to go as “… and I was that kid” I must say you´d be quite wrong. I was an ordinary kid with decent dreams, if you had asked me that question at the time, probably you would have heard me saying “a teacher” or “a cook”, but I was always fascinated by the idea of contributing to scientific advancement that will make a remarkable change in people’s lives. This idea flourished as time went by and overpowered my childhood dreams. That’s how I found myself studying chemistry at the university, that’s why I got out of my comfort zone and moved to Belgium later on and last but not least, that's how the course of events made me distort my comfort zone once again, go for an adventure blindly and move to another country and voilà here I am, participating in the ALLODD program, doing a PhD in Spain.
When I first got out of my small world in Turkey, little did I know that it could be quite challenging. Though, what I was feeling was excitement, more than being afraid of the unknown. Not knowing how things are being handled, where to go for certain bureaucratic procedures, not to mention the language issues coming along with not knowing the local language (which is a major problem on its own and yeah English is not always enough to save the day) … When you move to a new country, these are all tough stuff you need to go through every day until you get to the point where you pretty much learn how to get your way.
After living in Belgium for 3 years, give or take, I reached a point where I felt comfortable living there. Though, Belgium still achieves to surprise me every now and then. When it was time to go back to Turkey after my master studies, I was at the point where I needed a fresh start and when I found this great opportunity in Spain, I told myself to go for it. Even though I had never been to Spain before, I was pretty confident that once again, going through all of these struggling & adapting steps of living in another country wouldn’t be scary at all. More challenges, bring ‘em on!
Though there was one ‘tiny’ detail that I didn’t anticipate at the time: the fact that I had forgotten how complicated the visa procedure might be for a non-European person. Although I showed up at the embassy with every possible document that could’ve been asked for (do not underestimate how messy it can get at this stage), it took me 4 months to finally obtain the visa and at the end I bought my ticket from Istanbul to Barcelona, but there was one more obstacle on the way. It was March and it was the coldest time of the last 50 years in Istanbul, snowing like hell. Yeap you guessed it right, I had to postpone my flight due to the unexpected weather conditions. Long story short, I managed to move to Barcelona in mid-March. Shortly after, two new languages were introduced to my brain: Spanish and Catalan and I found myself dealing with the Spanish real estate world and bureaucracy again. Meanwhile I was trying to have a grasp on my PhD project. Two days after the official starting date, I participated in the first ALLODD event in Vienna. I was still trying to make sense of everything since my life changed at a pace faster than I was able to get adapted to.
Though it didn’t stress me out, quite the opposite actually, I liked the feeling of a fresh start.
Fast-forward to June, I was only involved in the program for 2 months and there were 4 conferences awaiting me. There I was as a rookie PhD student preparing presentations and posters without having any results to show, taking part in organizing a conference, getting prepared to welcome all the ALLODD members in Barcelona, the city that I could call home already.
If I had to summarize that period with one word, I’d choose ‘deadlines’. Deadlines was the name of the game basically. It was extremely hectic, but also so satisfactory when I could cross one more item off the to-do list. At the end, after contributing to the organization of a successful event, attending to inspirational conferences where I got the chance to show my work (or let’s say what’s yet to be achieved with my project), meeting new people from all around the world, learning more about different fields, techniques, the feeling I had the most is euphoria.
Things never go as planned, some small tasks that are expected to be completed in a short period of time might fail even at the initial step, hence frustration is inevitable, but it is a part of the job, isn’t it? Nevertheless, the best thing to do is to sit tight and enjoy the ride (without getting too laid back, though).
I am really grateful for where I am now despite all the errors with my calculations, upcoming deadlines and such. I have no clue about what the future holds but whatever that is yet to come, I am impatiently waiting for it and ready to face it and embrace it (Hmm, I wonder if I spoke too soon, well time will tell, I suppose).
7 tips for my future self on how to organize a conference by ESR3 Varbina Ivanova
I have always enjoyed going to conferences - hearing about others' research, showing my work and participating in scientific discussions and networking events. Still, I didn't realize quite how much planning it takes to organize such an event until June this year when the ALLODD 1st Training School & Networking Meeting took place in Barcelona, Spain. As prof. Xavier Barril’s ALLODD ESR, I had the chance to be part of the organization of the Barcelona meeting events - the Allosterism & Drug Discovery Conference and the ALLODD Training School. Being on the organizational team, I learned all about the little details of scientific meetings and experienced a real organizational process - from having a well-planned program and interesting speakers to thinking about coffee breaks and networking events; from counting numbers and budgets to sending organizational emails to participants. After successfully going through the ups and downs of conference organization, I decided to prepare myself a list of important points on how to plan scientific events. Here are my 7 tips for future conference organization:
My PhD experience as part of the ALLODD network and project started some days before my official working day in late January 2022. Just a few days before, I came to explore the city and start adjusting myself to it. The beautiful and romantic atmosphere, the landscapes that the city of Budapest allows you to appreciate are overwhelming. I had never been in this city before, but I felt not so far from home, maybe this was also due to some companion of trip in the first days, but this is another story.
What I would like to focus on is my 6th month period spend here as a PhD student referring to how we perceive time, as someone once said “a year can be the longest or the shortest of your life” (even though we are talking about a half a year this time). The very first working day seems to be so far now but at the same time these full 6 months filled with tasks and events have passed so fast that it doesn’t really feel like half a year. I remember the first day to be caught by the beauty of the building I am currently working in, and the campus surrounding it: I was excited to start this new adventure. Having travelled for several Erasmus projects I took part in, I understood that just after colleagues and network for me the workplace contributes to appreciate what I do. Entering the lab for the first time I felt welcomed, one of my supervisors here introduced me to the group, and my meeting with lab colleagues was making me think glad and happy.
This first impression turned into something real the following days when starting to work. I can say that even though at the start can be a little shy talking with new people everyone showed to be welcoming and available anytime into answer you and dedicate you part of their time and this I really appreciate, and I thank them for it. The next day the work officially started: a project on HDAC8 inhibitors which revealed to be not as easy as predictable. The challenges I believe are those who shape us or shape our thoughts and if we can find a way of learning from that we maybe really could get to reach something good for our own personal and professional growth. Not just challenges but also having the chance to share and learn from more expert figures is something really important and which in my opinion can really drive the scientific progress. This is what I feel getting through the ALLODD network, to be driven somehow in what we do, which of course is not just internationally expressed but also related to the single labs. That said, so the ups and down of research already made their way toward me, but I liked it and I like the challenges, so I started giving myself to it in order to find solutions to the problems and I think several teachings came to my way.
As the first months passed by university events and responsibilities started to approach: exams courses and dates to establish, educational activities, the first meeting in Vienna for the ALLODD project together with some other small tasks, there was little time for stalling! I was thrilled at doing things, completing tasks and assuming responsibilities and meeting other ESRs like me extending our experiences and connections throughout national borders. From my point of view I could particularly appreciate the first ALLODD meeting cause it allowed us to introduce ourselves and while starting creating a network it give us the opportunity to get to know the people taking part in it, have some practical and also psychological training, lectures and experience whose lessons I will never forget and which I believe were really good to introduce as a start point in the first period of our PhD. I liked we had the chance to get to know more about the project, the scheduled events and exchange periods and other Professor and researcher of the ALLODD network, listen to their ideas and experiences, and of course it was also pretty nice to had a walking tour in the city!
Following this just other 3 months have passed filled with new deadlines, new project starting, webinars, reports, the journal clubs, and a new event from the ALLODD was already on the way: the Barcelona workshop. Two days of conference and three spent between presenting our work, training, and experiencing other scientists’ work and realities. Everything was well planned and organized, and we also had the chance to meet and live a little the city together with the other group members. It felt particularly intriguing even to get somehow in touch with other representatives and partners of the consortium through their intervenes and in break times and to deepen some concepts and approaches, and the contrast of previous and new research approach or strategies, all this especially well highlighted in the round tables.
So far, I am so glad to be part of this consortium I am happy I will have the chance to travel and exchange with the industrial world which I never experienced until now and have taken part to these events. It is nice to have the chance to get to know people from different background working together and share experiences and goals towards the common target which is allostery. I hope and I am sure our contribution in this will be important, and that the resources a network and in particular this network can bring will come up useful for understanding and exploring allostery. I am looking forward to other events and opportunity that this founded project will allow us to experience.
On February 2022, I officially joined the MSCA – ITN – ALLODD as an early-stage researcher (ESR) at Merck Healthcare KGaA (Darmstadt, Germany). MSCA – ITN program aims to promote international and interdisciplinary collaboration.
As part of this training program, we first met in Vienna in April; you can find some blogposts below. In today´s blogpost, I would like to talk about the 1st training school & Networking meeting which was held in Barcelona. As covid restrictions were slightly less important than in Vienna, this workshop was the opportunity for most of the consortium members to attend in-person.
The workshop started with a 2-day conference focusing on allostery in drug discovery with various speakers working both in industry and academia and sharing different perspectives of the topic. The first lecture was held by Dr. Jean-Pierre Changeux, the world-known scientist who described the concept of allostery in 1965. One of Jean-Pierre´s key message was serendipity: an unplanned fortunate discovery (like penicillin). Although, his advice was also to do not misinterpret data, for example receptor dimerization should always be taken in account. I hope I will be as quick-witted as he is at 86 years old !
The third day was dedicated to the presentation of our research project. I really enjoy having some more description and going a bit more into details and objectives of each PhD project. Although I am the only ESR working on new biological entities (NBE), the so-called antibodies-derived “nanobodies” gained attendees´ attention.
The industry vs academia perspectives monopolized once again our conversation as we also discussed about our career plan. As I always have been working in industry, become a Scientist in a pharmaceutical company is a natural move for me, I have never thought about changing my career plan. Nevertheless, during our PhD we are going to acquire several skills that will be useful and valuable for a broad range of career plans outside R&D (marketing, venture, …). Furthermore, the application area is neither blocked by our PhD project, Dr. J.P. Changeux studied marine biology and then dedicated all his life to neurobiology and enzymology. My advice will be: learn; read as much as you can, try to deeply understand the concept, do not hesitate to ask questions and share your knowledge.
During this workshop, we also had the opportunity to meet other PhD students working also on allostery. This was very valuable for me as I realized the power of the MSCA ITN program: “Connecting knowledge to grow a network− growing a network to explore/share knowledge” as we said in Vienna. Especially for me, being an industrial PhD student, having many interactions with the academic world and with people all over Europe working on the same topic will for sure empower my work. In addition, as an ESR I must perform three secondments that will not only allow me to adapt to a new country but also to learn new technics and participate to this collaborative project. This workshop was also an overview of the upcoming months as I will spend 3 months in beautiful Barcelona, working on FRET assays with Prof. Carles Curutchet.
To conclude, I am delighted to have joined such a collaborative network and I am looking forward to seeing every member of the ALLODD consortium. Next workshop will be co-organized by the University of Strasbourg and Merck Healthcare KGaA, stay tuned.
Starting a PhD, most students are technically well-prepared for conducting research. Freshly graduated from Master programs, we are used to quickly grasp the theoretical backgrounds of different fields, translate them into experiments, and prepare fancy slides for presentation. Yet, what happens in-between, and after reading papers, pipetting colorless liquids, or writing code is not very well covered by lectures and practical courses. Despite early insight into academic and industrial working environments through internships and lab rotations, many potential pitfalls, and strategies to deal with them are only encountered, when already knee-deep into a situation that requires certain experience to handle. Needless to say, we as PhD students of the ALLODD ITN are in an especially challenging and equally exciting position, as we are not only facing a behemoth of scientific work but also have to adapt to different countries, cultures, and working environments, within a variety of events and secondments. On top of that, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on most parts of our social and academic life, which was often substituted by virtual solutions, leaving many of us isolated. Of course, the possibility of online participation simplified many aspects, as for example not having to travel and doing other things in parallel while listening to talks. However, meeting someone through a monitor after repeatedly asking for visual and auditory functionality often left a weird, unnatural feeling, making fruitful networking even harder. Many would also describe the months of virtual meetings as mentally exhausting – a feeling that has also been coined ‘Zoom fatigue’ (Yes, that is a real thing. You can read more about ‘Zoom fatigue’ here).
In an attempt to escape the virtual void of Zoom and Microsoft Teams, almost all members of the ALLODD ITN gathered in person in Vienna for the first Workshop & PhD Induction Course. With its tight schedule of seminars spiked with coffee breaks, lunch, and dinner, the workshop left no space for ‘Zoom fatigue’. Apart from the networking and scientific exchange, the setting between original Viennese ‘Figlmüller Schnitzel’, a piece of breaded meat that is famous for being larger than the plate it is served on, and ‘Stiegl’ beer, allowed us to meet each other under natural, non-virtual circumstances. For me, this natural setting significantly simplified building connections; connections that most definitely facilitate collaboration and promote a comfortable working atmosphere, which in turn, is necessary when working together as closely as required within the ITN.
Connecting and networking aside, the workshop also featured seminars that provided tools for communicating and personally dealing with conflict and failure, which, as noted in the beginning of this blog, are often not part of common university curricula. Yet, these tools can be considered pivotal strategies for being professionally and personally successful along the way and after our PhD studies. The keywords that were central in one of the seminars that I would like to highlight here, are work-life balance and resilience. The point that struck me most, mainly because I never thought about it this way, is that a healthy work-life balance and resilience are not only impaired by external stress factors such as harsh deadlines and scientific drawbacks but rather by our own reaction to those factors. These reactions are often characterized as perpetuum mobile-like loops that are built up by negative thoughts that lead to emotions and physical sensations that we cope with by quick fixes or so called ‘band aids’, whose negative consequences in turn lead to new negative emotions. The important point here is that realizing what the drivers of those loops are, enables us to break them or even rewire them to create positive loops. Learning this at the very beginning of our PhD studies that are paved with potential stress factors, is undoubtedly a valuable lesson that I can only recommend spending time on as early as possible.
As the pandemic seems to calm down, at least for now, I am certain that we are lucky to escape the tiredness of staring into our monitors displaying windows of our favorite video conferencing software again and, are able to meet in person for the next consortium event in Barcelona in June. Until then, I hope you enjoyed this blog post and the event in Vienna as much as I did!
In October 2021, I embarked on the journey of pursuing a PhD as an early-stage researcher (ESR) in the ALLODD consortium at the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson (Belgium). As I suddenly find myself six months into this track, I would like to reflect on my experiences so far as a PhD student in industry, life in Belgium, and on being part of the consortium!
Pursuing a PhD degree in the modern day and age often goes paired with moving to a new country, and this was no different for me. After my graduate studies in Leiden (the Netherlands) and some project work at Uppsala University (Sweden) and the Technical University of Munich (Germany), I moved to Belgium to start the PhD at Janssen. That’s quite a few countries in the past few years I’ve lived in, and in fact there’s only more to come with several secondments planned for the PhD! Moving to a new country can always present some challenges, and, in my experience, the most impactful one is language. Living in a country where you cannot communicate easily in either English and/or the native language can quickly make you feel isolated from the community. Do not underestimate this. But, being a native Dutch speaker, this was no issue for me in Belgium. In fact, I have never been able to settle so quickly in a new country. Finding great housing options without exorbitant rent was never so easy, and the culture here is truly epicurean.
One of my first experiences with this culture of enjoying good food and drinks was an event organized by the PhD & Postdoc community at Janssen: the “Bierolade”. This is an amalgamation of the Dutch words for beer (bier) and chocolate (chocolade), and, as the name suggests, it involved a sitology expert teaching us the wonders of combining the taste of different beer styles with their perfectly complementing types of chocolate. A delightful experience that I would recommend anyone to try! My favorite combination was a bitter beer together with Sicilian pistachio chocolate, but I am sure there are still some fantastic other combinations to discover.
Returning to the equally wondrous world of doctoral studies, a common topic of discussion I hear among students in the pharmaceutical sciences is the question of whether to stay in academia or to pursue a position in industry, and how different industry and academia really are. While it is certainly too soon for me to fully analyze the differences between the two at this point, I would like to make this a recurring theme in future blogposts in the hopes that it might help anyone on this matter. For now, an interesting aspect I found in this regard is that I was encouraged to read, read, and read for the first few months of the PhD. Naturally, I cannot say if this is different from starting as a PhD in academia, and I am sure it will also depend on the supervisor(s), but I must say it is truly empowering to deeply study the ins and outs of current approaches and insights in the field before setting up your own experiments and methodologies.
It does, however, bring an interesting psychological aspect to the table as well, as not performing experiments for months might make you question whether you are “doing enough” to progress your PhD. In this respect, it is important to realize the implications of the alternative. That is, rushing to choose and setup a methodology without properly understanding its pros and cons will likely lead to scientifically unfounded decisions that you may not be able to justify down the road. However, by then you would be so deep into the chosen methodology that you would not want to abandon it all and start again. Or you do start again, but then you lose the gain of speed you decided to favor earlier. As such, I heartily recommend any starting PhD not to worry about producing results early on and instead focus on getting a good grasp on the current state of the field.
This subject of mental fitness actually provides a perfect segue into the last topic I would like to address in this blogpost: the first ALLODD meeting. Just this month, almost all students and professors in the consortium met in Vienna to get to know each other and enjoy several workshops. The highlight of this trip for me, besides meeting my wonderful colleagues of course, was a workshop on work-life balance. During this training, the instructor shared a powerful lesson that I will cherish for the rest of my PhD. Namely, they proposed the idea of seeing bad thoughts as bees. For instance, if there is an upcoming presentation or, say, you are writing a blog for the whole world to see and judge, you might find yourself questioning whether your work is “good enough” to share. If you interact with this thought too much, it could invoke a fear of how much you will embarrass yourself, and you might become stressed about the whole situation. So, let’s visualize this doubtful thought as a bee or a wasp. Indeed, if a bee is flying close to you, the best thing to do is to just ignore it, and it will be sure to fly away. Choosing to interact with it, however, and trying to hit or shoo it away will only result in the bee constantly coming back and possibly hurting you.
As an avid fan of the Beatles and annoying puns, I could not resist also taking this final lesson as the basis for the title of this blogpost. I hope you enjoyed the first of many more posts to come on my journey in the ALLODD consortium. And remember, if the title is too much on your mind, just don’t interact with it, and it will be sure to fly away!