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Fellows Symposium

Students in action: a report of the 1st TransCure Fellow Symposium

The newly formed fellows committee implements measures, and organises events beneficial to peers, thereby enriching the activity range of the NCCR TransCure. In this article, the committee gives an overview of the first symposium that they recently organised.    

Driven by the great ideas and wishes, which were expressed during the kick-off meeting at the annual retreat in Spiez, the TransCure Fellows Committee organized the first “TransCure fellow symposium” on October 21st, 2019 at the University of Bern. This full day event consisted of a morning session of talks from academic researchers, clinicians, and alumni of TransCure, and an afternoon excursion to the Felsenau Brewery. Around 25 participants were welcomed by Prof. Dr. Hugues Abriel, the director of the NCCR TransCure. The Fellows Committee intends to organize further events in the future and looks forward to getting active support from all the members of the TransCure community.

Science and career under the spotlight

The morning session started with a talk by Prof. Dr. Brunsveld, full professor of chemical biology at the Eindhoven University of Technology (Netherlands). Before he started with his presentation about protein-protein interactions, he gave a brief overview of his career. After being a postdoc and serving several years as a group leader in industry (Organon, Oss, Netherlands), he decided to pursue a career in academia, with special focus on the process leading from fundamental research to drug discovery and development. Due to family-related commitments, Prof. Brunsveld decided to stay in Germany and in the Netherlands rather than moving to the US. He has demonstrated that with hard work and passion, it is possible to have an outstanding career without moving too far from home. From his talk it was clear that only by combining the expertise acquired during his studies in chemical engineering, a pit stop in industry, and his academic career in chemical biology, was Prof. Brunsveld able to make his rich contributions in the fields of supramolecular chemistry, protein-protein interactions, and drug discovery.

The second speaker of the day was Dr. med. Jin Li who is currently an Ambizione group leader at the Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine at the University of Bern. “Ambizione” is a grant of the Swiss National Science Foundation for young scientists leading independent research projects in Switzerland. Dr. Li gave a very interesting presentation about her scientific results in the field of cardiac ion channels which enabled her to reach her current position. Interestingly, she also started her career in Germany. At the end of the talk, the participants discussed the differences between Germany and Switzerland regarding the start of an academic career and the options for young scientists provided by these two countries. 

The symposium continued with the presentation of PD Dr. med. Martin Müller, obstetrician in the department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University Hospital Bern. Dr. Müller’s talk showed that a better understanding of fetal programming in pregnancy can give clinicians the opportunity to diagnose diseases before they become symptomatic and devastating for the developing child. Only few people in the audience knew that some peptides, such as the endogenously produced Pre-Implantations Factor (PIF), are present only during pregnancy and that their synthetic versions could be used as tools for an early diagnosis or even for a treatment of several diseases. During the final discussion, possibilities to improve the collaboration between physicians and pre-clinical researchers were debated. 

To conclude the morning session, Dr. Matthias Rölli gave an authentic and incisive presentation on how to start a career in industry. He completed his PhD studies at the Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine at the University of Bern and is currently working as a clinical project manager at the Swiss Paediatric Oncology Group (SPOG). He outlined goals, ambitions, and thoughts throughout his time as a student and how these changed during the years. Young as well as senior scientists appreciated his open and critical reflection about the education and mentoring of PhD students, and his helpful advices. The audience engaged in a lively discussion at the end of the talk.

Cheers!

After lunch, informal discussions animated the bus ride towards the Felsenau brewery. Participants were fuelled by the morning talks about science, by their own career dreams, and by the professional paths of the more experienced guests. The Felsenau district offered a splendid  view over the meandering Aare river and after a rather steep descent, the group was welcomed to the by the brewery guides offering beer. The highlight was the brewery tour, guided by one of the brew masters who, while standing next to the enormous copper lauter tun and brew kettle, gave an introduction to the basics of brewing. He described how well-balanced quantities of barley and hops together with Bernese spring water are used to brew typical lager (Junker), slightly hopped (Bärner Müntschi), or darker beers - without giving away the secrets of their recipes. Continuing with the brewing process itself, he explained what follows the boiling of the ingredients. Starting with the separation from the trub, the hot wort is quickly cooled, before the actual fermentation begins by inoculation with yeast. After maturation in a cellar at 0 °C for several weeks and optional filtration, a highly automated process delivers the bottled beer. The brewery tour came to an end with a final social gathering, and tasting of the various Felsenau beers.

From fellows for fellows

Thanks to a variegated selection of topics, and to the interesting talks of the speakers, who were at different career levels, the event was an excellent opportunity to learn about scientific advances, and to gain valuable input on career development, in academia as well as in other sectors. In the future, the fellows committee may organise similar events, putting special emphasis on attracting a larger audience, and on targeting PhD students as potential participants. 

The committee is currently brainstorming about new initiatives. To this end, interested fellows are warmly encouraged to register in a dedicated Slack group, to share ideas for the next TransCure Fellow event and discuss scientific or career topics (to join the Slack group, click here - link valid 30 days!).

Finally, the committee would like to thank all the speakers and symposium participants, and looks forward to the next event! 

 

Jennifer Müller, PhD student group Altmann
Barbara Preti, PhD student group Lochner
Saurab Suvedi, PhD student group Charles
Jonas Zaugg, PhD student group Albrecht