If you would have asked me some years ago as a Master student, to picture my PhD, I certainly wouldn’t have imagined that I would be tackling a full-on immunology project, but I certainly would have known that it will be international…
During my PhD I worked on two chemokines, molecules important for the migration of specific immune cells. I investigated these molecules in the context of a Salmonella infection focusing on vaccine development. Even though I couldn´t see me doing a PhD in immunology when I was a younger Master student, it ended up being the right decision. I choose to do a PhD in immunology with a focus on infection biology because I think it is super fascinating how infectious agents invade the human body and how on the other hand the human body is capable of fighting back. It somehow resamples a dance: the pathogen acting, the body reacting; then the body acting and the pathogen reacting. My project ended up being a true fusion between two excellent professors, laboratories, departments and universities; resulting in a great PhD journey around the scientific and real world. It also was important to me, that my PhD had an international aspect since great science is international and only in an international setting you will get the best training. A joint PhD program between Germany and Australia was just the perfect fit for me, as I know the excellent scientific community Australia has from my Masters, as well as the excellent reputation Bonn has in the area of immunology. My main location was in Bonn, but due to the requirements of my PhD project, I did not only get to stay for one year in Melbourne but also got the opportunity to travel and work for a few shorter stays at the Peter Doherty Institute in Melbourne.
I could have done an international PhD by itself, but I choose to be part of an international PhD program, the Bonn & Melbourne Research and Graduate School. A graduate school makes you part of a big community: in this case of an international, scientifically well-respected network of professors, scientists, laboratories, departments and institutes. This allows you to get the best training, education as well as contacts possible for your future career independent of the decision if you stay or leave academia after your PhD. Those who are part of this network can also become your friends, and this for me is the most valuable aspect of this international PhD program. Doing a joint PhD was a great experience and has certainly allowed me to grow as a scientist and person, but it also has been very challenging. A PhD will always be a challenge, but an international joint PhD has additional aspects you have to think of: moving to a country you may not know can be scary, starting twice all over in a lab can be tricky, organizing everything you may need in your other lab can be difficult, getting to know many more new people can be intimidating, working in two different systems can be hard and complying with all the regulations and expectations can be though. However, in the end, it is all worth the trouble, since for me there weren´t more problems I had to deal with but rather more experience I gained and more fun I had during my PhD.
This joint PhD program has been a great challenge but also a great opportunity since I have learned all the important soft skills you need in every interesting job: excellent communication, organizational and problem-solving skills, fast and analytical thinking, but the very unique aspect this PhD program provides is the international and intercultural experiences you make. In a global world, where you are born in one place, study in a different country and live and work in another, international and intercultural competences are key. And this is also the direction I want to take in my future career. I want to work in the area of international science management or as part of an international Biotec company.
My joint PhD at the Bonn & Melbourne Research and Graduate School has been an adventure I would never like to miss.
Anna Belen Erazo
“Role of the chemokines CCL17 and CCL22 in the immune defence against Salmonella infection”