A PhD life for me!

A PhD life for me!

It has been already more than a year since I started my PhD program in Len Stephens and Phil Hawkins lab as one of the ITN (Innovative Training Network) fellows. Along with Christina Couregges and 13 other students from all over the Europe as well as from India and Mexico, we are ESRs (Early Stage Researchers) within the Marie Curie Actions funded program called PI3k in health and disease (rather confusingly abbreviated to the Phd program). The program is designated for young, ambitious scientists and aims to train new generation of PI3K experts. PI3K (phosphoinositide 3-kinase) enzymes are highly evolutionary, conserved from yeast to mammals, and play key roles in regulation of a wide range of biological processes, like metabolism, growth, survival, migration, or apoptosis. PI3K signalling pathway is also involved in a great number of different diseases, like diabetes, inflammation or cancer. Alterations in PI3K pathway are presents in around 80% of human cancers. Molecular understanding of PI3K signalling and functions is still very early stage and lots of work is left unexplored.

All the ESRs are grouped in 5 different work packages: omics, imaging PI3Ks and their lipid products, physiological functions, disease context and molecular medicine. I am part of "Omics" package and Christina is part of "Imaging PI3K and their phospholipids" work package.  The two complement each other well in terms of building BI's knowledge across this broad area of research.  As a part of the program we are going to spend from 2 to 6 months in one of the 8 collaborative institutions (academic or industrial) to gain new skills and pursue further our projects. 

Our Laboratory had already a chance to host a student from the PhD consortium. Piotr Kobialka, PhD student from Mariona Graupera lab in IDIBELL (Institut d’Investigació Biomèdica de Bellvitge) in Barcelona, spent one month in Babraham Institute learning specialist techniques. The final KEC blog in this series will tell us more. We are also about to welcome our second visiting student- Mònica Sánchez-Guixé from Violetta Serra lab in VHIO (Vall d'Hebron Institut d'Oncologia), Barcelona.  These visits are extremely important for Babraham Institute, as our group gets the opportunity to share ideas and exchange knowledge in this specialist area.

During our 3 year PhD program we are also encouraged to consider the impact of our research and play an active role in our research community.  We take part in outreach and communication initiatives and represent our consortium as Marie Curie Actions Ambassadors in schools, where we can explain our projects and raise interest in science in younger generations. In addition, Marie Curie Actions also generously provides travel funding for international workshops, meetings, and symposia so that we can engage widely to advance our research knowledge.  These meetings, such as the 2nd European School for Advanced Mouse Phenogenomics – PHENOMIN, held in June in Strasbourg, allows our network to meet with experts and gain knowledge of new methods and approaches.   We had a chance to listen to lectures given by top European experts in genetics, which gave us an opportunity to understand in details of gene-targeting technologies (including Cripsr/Cas9 and TALENs) which are commonly used by scientists. I was pleased to discuss my research with delegates from Industry and academia and I now have new knowledge of concepts and innovative methods that I was previously unfamiliar with.

One of the other key elements of the Phd network are the annual meetings and workshops. These meetings enable us to present our projects, attend workshops on the latest advances on PI3Ks and participate in complementary skills training sessions; including bioethics and scientific presentations. It’s a steep learning curve but the opportunities are there for us all.  Next scientific meeting is going to take place in Berlin, in April 2018. I am already looking forward to meeting our PI3K family again and finding out how far our science has progressed!

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