The “Marie Curie Initial Training Network VacTrain” title already contains what I consider one of the most important tools, if not the most, that allows performing good research: NETWORK. This pre-built network of high quality researchers, sharing the same interests, helps in defining productive working relationships that you would struggle in establishing from scratch during your PhD. This is beneficial not only for the PhD project itself but also for ones future career. Indeed, you get to learn new techniques and different ways of working outside your home institute and your comfort zone as well as thinking outside the box. What is more, this network of people will last after the end of the PhD program regardless the position you are going to apply for. Just invest some time in maintaining this network.
I have chosen to do part of my secondment in Berlin, at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in order to learn how to perform and analyse Next Generation Sequence data using Illumina HiSeq platform. Vaccine development might be quite challenging when little is known about specific virus-host interactions and how this influences the process of discovering correlates of protection. Additionally, things get more complicated when infants are the protagonists, e.g. when infections get transmitted during pregnancy. As you might understand, this raises all kinds of Ethical issues that make this field of research even more demanding. Finally, to make things even more challenging the lack of a proper animal model that can resemble the human situation plays a crucial role. Therefore, performing deep sequencing on easily accessible samples from infants might help in defining at least the appropriate direction to find the reasons why some patients manage to control the disease and others do not. This will be essential in defining correlates of protection for the future vaccine development for what might be one of the likely target population, toddlers. You never know what to expect when you start sequencing, like opening Pandora’s Box. Nevertheless be cautious, because “as we acquire more knowledge, things do not become more comprehensible but more complex and mysterious”, Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965).
But let’s not forget what these exchanges entail in addition to the improvement of your scientific skills. First of all, you have the opportunity to discover beautiful cities full of history that you would not have the chance otherwise. The interminable hours spent in the lab and in front of the computer analysing data as a conditio sine qua non of being a PhD student does not exactly help simplifying what is commonly needed in terms of social relationships and trips! Finally, and outstandingly, if you are lucky enough you might find that rare connection with some other PhD students that soon enough become friends.