My interest in the immune system aroused when I learned about the immune system's complexity and its wise strategies to overcome diseases. In my search for a future career, the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity draw my attention for their research and novel advances, leading one of Australia's most renowned centres for adaptive immunity research. But the joint Bonn and Melbourne Graduate Research program was decisive as they offered to study the relationship between the adaptive and innate immune systems. The idea of researching the interactions between these two immune cellular networks and molecular mechanisms that trigger immune responses was crucial to my final decision. Besides, learning from two independent laboratories, each holding expertise in one area with already built extensive collaborative projects formed the perfect environment to experience research and discover new possibilities as a researcher in this field.
I was particularly interested in the role of unconventional T cells in cancer and disease. I observed their healing potential and eventually decided this to be the focus of my PhD studies. Cell culture and flow cytometry became daily tasks, with weekly discussions about project advances and then learning about one or another technique that improved and narrowed our results into evident conclusions. Regular gatherings with colleges of this joint program consolidated an intimate and friendly environment. These helped to open our minds in solving diverse research projects and building new relationships with people sharing similar interests.
Specifically my project focused on human unconventional T cells that bear a recombined membrane gamma-delta T-cell receptor. This project identified a molecular mechanism that recognises small, phosphorylated antigens found in most bacteria and abundant in cancer cells. I started in the group of Prof Dale Godfrey, the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne. Later I worked within the group of Prof Dr Med Christian Kurts in the Institute of Experimental Immunology in Bonn where we expanded our findings and implemented them in a new framework taking advantage of the broad collaborative research environment that this program offers. Thanks to this research cluster I learnt additional trending immunology techniques such as sequencing single-cells in nano well-based arrays or growing air-liquid interface patient-derived organoid cultures. Without taking part in this joint program it would have been impossible to develop in the timeframe and resources of a standard doctorate program. For this reason, I would recommend future students to undertake collaborative projects over those being set in a single lab. That way there is a lot more flexibility if things take unexpected turns and offer the possibility of learning and developing new procedures as you gain expertise in the field.
Of course, a joint program with high aims is time-consuming, and somedays may become exhausting. But having regular meetings with people of the same program and sharing everyday experiences help overcome hard days and bureaucracy issues. This joint PhD program has dramatically improved my creative thinking, taught me about new laboratory techniques, and improved my skills, building upon my previous expertise and contributing to finding my next position in the field.
Now I feel much more prepared to face new research areas such as the search for a new cure against arising diseases like the SARS-CoV-2. I am currently looking forward to investigating unknown immune cell roles in fighting infections such as with COVID-19. Being part of the Bonn and Melbourne Graduate Research program extended my network of contacts and comfortably move within the research environment from a well-reputed position, and great institutional backup.