Made in Belfast, my INBIONET secondment

Feb ,13 2017

One of the milestones of INBIONET network is exchanging knowledge and eventually collaborating on scientific projects. Collaborations on projects, where two or more labs share the know‐how, funds and hands, should lead to easier and faster publishing, and perhaps give rise to new ideas and projects. To establish connections and facilitate possible collaborations, all fellow‐members of INBIONET were encouraged to undertake a secondment – a short‐term visit to another scientific group from the consortium, ideally one with a similar topic but different expertise.

We (me and my PI, Pavel Kovarik) were very lucky to establish a nice and stable collaboration with lab located at the Centre for Infection and Immunity at Queen's University Belfast (http://www.qub.ac.uk/) , led by Prof. José A. Bengoechea. My fellow‐colleague Filipe Lopes De Vasconcelos was one of the first students to do a secondment, and we had the pleasure to host him in our lab at Max F. Perutz Laboratories, Vienna, Austria. Before he arrived, we already had some ideas about what are we going to work at – we were teaching Filipe how to work with animals, and performed some of the initial experiments in our collaborative project. In turn, Filipe thought me a lot about microbiology as well as how to work with his, and now mine, favorite pathogen Klebsiella pneumoniae. As our experiments were successful, and we have initiated a new project, we have agreed to fully collaborate, and that next step would be my secondment in their lab in Belfast, where I would continue working with Filipe.

Coming from a lab that is mainly focused on how the host immune system deals with a pathogen, I was excited to visit a lab studying the “other side” of the interaction – looking at pathogen virulence mechanisms and how they use them to establish successful infection. I was certain that acquiring knowledge on different pathogens’ manipulative techniques would help me better understand the complex host‐pathogen relationship and provide me with an additional perspective to develop the project.

Belfast experience – science, friends, history, culture, food

I stayed in Belfast for 4 months, and during this period, I was immersed in a completely different world – far away from home, with new colleagues, new boss, new administrative rules, new culture and customs, and it was an amazing challenge, both professionally and privately.

All new and you have to get into the rhythm of the new environment fast ‐ I believe that short secondments like this are a great opportunity to test your own adaptive potential, and develop and improve soft‐skills, important for future collaborative work, in academia or industry. How often we read that someone needs a person that is quick in adapting and learning? I think this secondment experience really provided me with some additional soft‐skills. And I managed to obtain some promising results as well – even better!

I have to emphasize here how grateful I am to Bengoechea lab members that accompanied me on this short but exciting journey! Thanks to them, adjusting to the new lab was as painless as it can be, but they proved not just to be great colleagues, but also great friends that shared their private, outside‐lab time with me, taught me about hectic Belfast history, guided me through the city’s sights and cuisine and travelled with me around Northern Ireland.