Ever since commencing my MSc I knew that a PhD with a strong focus in immunology would be the right choice for my future academic career. When I came across the PhD project in the lab of Dr Zeinab Abdullah at the Institute of Experimental Immunology in Bonn I was immediately interested. Especially due to the fact that the project was integrated into an international graduate research school that offered the chance to carry out some of my research at a partner laboratory (La Gruta laboratory) in Melbourne.
During my PhD I investigated how chronic inflammation of the liver impairs the anti-viral response against the lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) in mice. In particular we wanted to know how this affects the immune response lead by virus-specific CD4 and CD8 T cells and found them to be severely impaired in their function.
After two years working in Bonn, it was time for me to join the La Gruta lab at Monash University; our collaborators in Melbourne. I packed my bags in anticipation and arrived in Melbourne with high hopes to continue my research project as smoothly as I had set out to be when I first departed Bonn. However, it didn’t take long for me to encounter the first problems associated with my research project. Whilst initially frustrating, I was also able to learn that this forms part of the PhD journey and that I probably learned the most valuable lessons during my time in Melbourne. When deciding to commence a PhD students should anticipate that there is much more than just producing data and making great discoveries worthy of publishing. The journey is not a straight line, it is about learning to adapt, sometimes also how to improvise and to be resilient and tackle problems as best as you can, without letting them set you back or taking them personally.
In hindsight I am grateful that my studies did not always run as smoothly as anticipated. After all this is what science is all about, you have to anticipate the odd bump along the way, and being unable to continue my “home project” instead allowed me to dive into an entirely new immunological project. As a result I acquired a much broader set of skills, including different experimental techniques that I would have otherwise not been exposed to. I strongly believe that this experience made me the scientist I am today and better equipped me for my future career.
Conducting a PhD in two different labs and countries is by no means easy but you can be sure it will lead you on a journey of personal growth, friendships of a lifetime and scientific discovery that will stay with you forever. As part of the IRTG I benefited from a vast group of colleagues, many of whom became good friends, and thereby also provide me with a great scientific network that I will benefit me for my future career.
Lisa Mareike Assmus
"Impact of chronic liver inflammation on adaptive immune responses to viral infection"