Seeking new collaborations

Scientific research is international and researchers take it for granted that work takes place across national borders. Mobility is a plus and is an integral part of being a researcher in most fields. What does moving through the international world of research involve?

Eleonore von Castelmur

“Just pack and go”

Stefan Koch doing cell culture workStefan Koch enjoys life as a researcher abroad. "It's the best experience you can have." Photo credit: Anna Nilsen“When you’re actually working in the laboratory, the difference is not so great. There are, of course, differences between countries about such matters as regulations governing certain types of experiment, but working at a lab bench is pretty much the same, wherever you happen to be,” says Stefan Koch.

Stefan Koch studied biology and took his doctor’s degree at Münster in Germany, then travelled as a postdoc to Atlanta in the US, and to Heidelberg in Germany. He has now ended up in Sweden and Linköping, working at the Wallenberg Centre for Molecular Medicine (WCCM).

He conducts basic research within inflammatory bowel diseases, looking at how cells in the intestinal wall signal to each other and the surroundings. His work covers both disease conditions, and what happens as the intestine recovers from damage.

Stefan Koch didn’t hesitate when he was faced with moving to a new country.

“The chance to participate in forming the research at the university and to be part of a larger network with like-minded individuals was extremely attractive. I have been given the opportunity to build something from scratch. If you compare the start-up package I received from Linköping University with what other major institutions of higher education were offering, it was extremely favourable for me to become a WCMM Fellow,” says Stefan Koch.

He sees it as an advantage to be involved at an early stage and to form the network into a well-functioning unit, spanning not only departmental boundaries, but also boundaries between universities. When it’s a matter of mobility within the research world and moving outside of your comfort zone, Stefan Koch is convinced about one thing: It’s the best experience you can have.

“It gives you the opportunity to learn more about yourself and about other cultures. I’m convinced that everyone should do it at least once in their life. You can always return if it doesn’t work out, or travel on to somewhere else. Just pack and go!”

 

“Good coffee is important everywhere!”

Eleonore von Castelmur at her labEleonore von Castelmur has worked in Switzerland, Great Britain, the Netherlands - and since the start of 2017 in Sweden. Photo credit: Anna Nilsen“I’m extremely interested in what proteins look like at the atomic level. In order to understand how they work in the body, you have to know their structure,” says Eleonore von Castelmur.

She has studied the atomic structures of both muscle proteins and proteins that are involved in cancer.

“Many researchers devote their life to one particular disease, but I’m more interested in understanding at the molecular level how changes in the sequence and structure of proteins affect the way they act both in health and in disease.”

Eleonore von Castelmur has worked in research for 13 years, and has moved between countries several times during her career. She grew up in Switzerland, and has worked at the University of Basel and the University of Liverpool. Her most recent post was at the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam.

“I find it exciting to live and work in different countries, because it gives you the chance to get to know different cultures both inside and outside the laboratory. If you haven’t seen several ways of doing things, it’s difficult to know whether your way is the best way.”

Some things are constant, though.

“Good coffee is important everywhere.”

Eleonore von Castelmur’s mother is Swedish, so she could already speak the language when she arrived, and this helped to solve many practical problems when preparing to move here at the beginning of 2017. But speaking Swedish turned out to be something of a double-edged sword.

“Of course, lots of things are easier because I can speak Swedish, but I’ve never lived here before. Some people think that because I can speak Swedish I know how everything works, but that’s not the case.”

She heard about the Wallenberg Centre for Molecular Medicine from a friend who thought that one of the positions here would suit her. The WCMM fellows at LiU are employed at different departments on three of the campuses.

“This is a major investment into young researchers, and seems to have gathered an interesting group of researchers with a wide range of expertise. I’m sure we can gain excellent synergy effects, and will be able to collaborate in project efficiently, even though we are more geographically dispersed than the other WCMM centres.”

 

Good advice when moving abroad

Stefan Koch:

  • Don’t take everything with you. You’ll soon learn what is truly important for you,
    and this can usually fit into a single suitcase
  • Use the move as springboard to start something new
  • Be open to new experiences!
     

Eleonore von Castelmur:

  • If you can, learn the language!
  • Find a hobby outside of work, so you can meet other people
  • Ask colleagues for help and advice, particularly if they are also from another country.
    They have often faced the same practical questions, such as how to open a bank
    account, and can be able to give useful advice
 

 

Translation: George Farrants

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