Having a good European network including both academic and industrial connections is important, say Sviatlana Shashkova and Niek Welkenhuysen. Since 2012, they have both worked as doctoral students within the Isolate project.
Sviatlana Shashkova says that researchers used to be able to stay within their own subject. Now they have to be multidisciplinary in order to carry out successful research.
“Today, all the sciences are mixed together,” says Sviatlana. “For example, I work with physicists which means that I have to explain how biology works while also listening to them. Sometimes I have to adapt my way of thinking. Physicists also explain to me how tools work so that I can understand and use them myself.”
Her colleague Niek Welkenhuysen agrees:
“Within physics things are more black or white, whereas within biology there are more grey areas. I work together with mathematicians, which I feel enriches my postgraduate studies. It also forces me to step outside my own comfort zone.”
THE AIM OF THE PROJECT is that researchers should receive training on single cell analysis while also developing the tools they use. Single cell analysis is used to study the complexity and heterogeneity of biological cells. Many of today’s research techniques require large quantities of cells, but the properties of the cells within a cell population can vary.
“Studying cells at population level can mean that certain properties or reactions are hidden,” continues Niek. “With single cell analysis, the properties of each individual cell are highlighted, and a number of significant biological issues and problems can therefore be resolved in the long term.”
Single cell analysis can be used in contexts such as cancer research, where the effect of a drug can vary considerably from cell to cell.
Researchers use ordinary yeast cells, which act as a model system for human organisms.
“These are single-celled organisms, but they are also an entire organism, which is practical,” adds Sviatlana. “I hadn’t worked with yeast cells before – it was completely new to me. So I had to do a lot of background reading.”
She knew that she wanted to be researcher from the age of just 16. She chose to specialise in biology at upper secondary school, and received a personal invitation to carry out her undergraduate studies in biotechnology at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. She found her doctoral position via an EU portal online.
For Niek, the choice was less obvious. During his undergraduate studies he never took part in an international exchange, which he subsequently regretted. That’s why he applied abroad for his postgraduate studies.
“It wasn’t until the final year of my master’s studies that I noticed I was surrounded by lots of fascinating people, and that inspired me. One of the tasks in a test involved describing how a research trial should be carried out. After the test had been graded, my teacher said that my conclusions weren’t what they expected, but that my ideas were very good so I received full marks. That encouraged me to begin my doctoral studies.”
ISOLATE is an initial training network that aims to give new researchers the opportunity to improve their research skills, take part in established research teams and enhance their career opportunities. The network is financed by the Marie Curie programme within the EU’s seventh framework programme. The network includes nine doctoral students and two postdoctoral students.
Find out more: isolate.gu.se
Sviatlana & Niek
Comes from Minsk in Belarus
Master’s degree in bioengineering, Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland
Began her postgraduate studies in biology at the University of Gothenburg in June 2012.
Hobbies: Plays squash
Comes from Bruges in Belgium
Master’s degree in bioengineering and biochemistry, KU Leuven in Leuven, Belgium
Began his postgraduate studies in biology at the University of Gothenburg in August 2012.
Hobbies: Enjoys outdoor life and running. His goal is to run the Stockholm Marathon.