The “Marie Curie Initial Training
Network VacTrain” title already contains what I consider one of the most
important tools, if not the most, that allows performing good research:
NETWORK. This pre-built network of high quality researchers, sharing the same
interests, helps in defining productive working relationships that you would
struggle in establishing from scratch during your PhD. This is beneficial not
only for the PhD project itself but also for ones future career. Indeed, you
get to learn new techniques and different ways of working outside your home
institute and your comfort zone as well as thinking outside the box. What is
more, this network of people will last after the end of the PhD program regardless
the position you are going to apply for. Just invest some time in maintaining
this network.

I have chosen to do part of my secondment in
Berlin, at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in order to learn how
to perform and analyse Next Generation Sequence data using Illumina HiSeq
platform. Vaccine development might be quite challenging when little is known
about specific virus-host interactions and how this influences the process of
discovering correlates of protection. Additionally, things get more complicated
when infants are the protagonists, e.g. when infections get transmitted during
pregnancy. As you might understand, this raises all kinds of Ethical issues
that make this field of research even more demanding. Finally, to make things
even more challenging the lack of a proper animal model that can resemble the
human situation plays a crucial role. Therefore, performing deep sequencing on
easily accessible samples from infants might help in defining at least the
appropriate direction to find the reasons why some patients manage to control
the disease and others do not. This will be essential in defining correlates of
protection for the future vaccine development for what might be one of the likely
target population, toddlers. You never know what to expect when you start
sequencing, like opening Pandora’s Box. Nevertheless be cautious, because “as we acquire more knowledge, things do not
become more comprehensible but more complex and mysterious
”, Albert
Schweitzer (1875-1965).

But
let’s not forget what these exchanges entail in addition to the improvement of
your scientific skills. First of all, you have the opportunity to discover beautiful
cities full of history that you would not have the chance otherwise. The interminable
hours spent in the lab and in front of the computer analysing data as a conditio sine qua non of being a PhD
student does not exactly help simplifying what is commonly needed in terms of
social relationships and trips! Finally, and outstandingly, if you are lucky
enough you might find that rare connection with some other PhD students that
soon enough become friends.

Roberta