13. Aug. 2021

The Centre for International Cooperation at Masaryk University has been organizing the Research Lab Internship in life sciences for foreign students since 2017, and this year, for the first time, in collaboration with CEITEC MU. The university aims to share knowledge and open up its research facilities to foreign undergraduate and graduate students for intensive summer research internships. Masaryk University and CEITEC hosted this year talented bachelor students from three top universities in Europe: Martina Conti from the UK based University of Essex, Selina Camenisch from the Swiss based ETH Zurich, and Caroline Sophie Jassen from prestigious Aarhus University from Denmark. The incoming students came with a clear mission – to have their first real laboratory experience in another country. The students participated in various scientific projects, addressing major societal challenges, alongside experienced scientists and had the opportunity to utilize the state-of-the-art equipment that CEITEC offers. Although the students described the experience as challenging, none of them regretted this intensive learning experience and all the students rated their summer in Brno very positively.

“This year was rather unusual, as we were met with relatively high interest. We had more than twenty serious applications, but students were not able to finalize their applications as they were concerned with the unsure pandemic times, and most of them who actually did so would eventually withdraw them last minute due to the current travel restrictions. We also postponed the start of the program by two weeks and shrank its length by a week from its usual eight-week concept to just seven weeks to make sure students were able to arrive. The three students who finally came had a great experience and that is what matters,“ explained Martin Glogar from the Centre for International Cooperation.

“It is more and more challenging for research group leaders to attract talented students to their teams. This is just one of the many advantages of this project, that it enables us to tap the talents from the top foreign universities early.  Incoming students are learning new skills and exploring career in science within a particular research group. Based on the great experience made during the internship, the young talents might one day come back as potential applicants of the CEITEC PhD School. Here it is a win-win situation for both sides, as they already know each other and the scope of the research. Furthermore, all research group members including postdoctoral researchers and PhD students, benefit from the incoming student as well, as they gain the experience with leading a student, enrich the international spirit in the lab, and get a chance to promote their research topic, as well as CEITEC and Masaryk University,“ explains Katerina Ornerova, Head of Research and Innovations Support Department at CEITEC.

Participating students were supervised and supported by local faculty members and stayed in Brno for seven weeks. They were required to work on their research project for four full-time working days during each week, leaving three days remaining for exploration and leisure. The students were solving concrete scientific projects, such as analysing data from plant phenotyping with advanced bioinformatics tools, testing effectiveness of anticancer drugs in laboratory settings, and exploring 3D models for chronic liver toxicity assessment.  In addition to performing scientific experiments, the students took part in accompanying cultural programme introducing the Czech Republic and the peculiarity of the hosting city Brno.

After their arrival, students were welcomed at the opening reception and introduced to students participating at other summer programs. Incoming students received 24/7 on-site assistance, local student assistant at the residence, as well as access to the local libraries, cafeterias, PC labs, and available gym facilities for the whole duration of the program. The Summer Lab Internship program consisted of lectures and seminars, movie screening, concerts, shows, museum and historical sites visit, as well as in-town and out-of-town excursions. During their stay, students visited four stunning regional cities: Prague, Vienna, Krakow and Budapest and had a chance to explore and understand the Central European context of the Czech identity. All trips were organized by Masaryk University, and included transportation and 2-nights accommodation, as well as city tours and cultural program.

The Research Lab Internship was really focused on getting hands on experiences in the lab as well as learning about modern methodologies how you can investigate and analyse human HepG2 liver cells. That was for me a really important point, as during the lectures in my University you mainly learn about the theoretical basics, and a daily workday in the life of a scientist can vary significantly from what you would expect. Especially, seeing the entire processes and hard work in behind all the results we gathered, was really impressive. One of my favourite moments was the analysis of our 76h time lapse, where you can see how initially the single HepG2 cells start crawling towards each other and over time they form a sphere-like assembly which is a so-called spheroid. The spheroid generation was a basic procedure of my project, but seeing it happening for the first time was very memorable”, said Selina Camenisch, one of the participating students from ETH Zurich.

Not only the students benefited from the internship. According to the head of Plant Science Core Facility Marketa Pernisova, it was a new and beneficial experience with student from another country and culture. “As a postdoctoral researcher, I can say that the Research Lab Internship was an extraordinary experience. I had the chance to share my knowledge in biostatistics with a bright young student like Caroline and develop my teaching, managing and leadership skills in a very efficient way. In addition, supervising a trainee in the Plant Sciences Core Facility during the summer was very helpful, as the assistance she provided was very useful in advancing our research projects. Conclusively, Ι think that this was an important step in my career and it will help me a lot in the future. From my side, I highly recommend participation in the Research Lab Internships to everyone in CEITEC and be sure that I will participate next year as well,” concluded Ioannis Spyroglou, supervisor of Caroline Jassen.

This year´s incoming students from England, Switzerland and Denmark, who participated in the Research Lab Internship, enjoyed their stay very much and commended primarily their learning experience. Most students were particularly grateful that they could try out their first real wet lab experience and received the needed support when they faced challenges. The research lab internship at Masaryk University represents a great opportunity for a sneak peek into the fascinating world of science and opens up new opportunities to students who are considering to start their professional career in science.

What is so cool about Brno anyway?

Brno is well known as the capital of Czech science and technology and it is also the very same place where J.G. Mendel once laid down the foundation of modern genetics. The spirit of curiosity remained in the city until today. Brno is a small but vibrant city, where one fifth of its inhabitants are students, who are keen to learn and study at one of the 11 universities and colleges in the city. 62 000 students are spread over three main campuses, with one being the largest university construction project in Central Europe. Students can chill out in one of many parks, organize cozy picnics, visit urban forest for jogging or romantic dates, or enjoy fantastic but affordable dining in the charming atmosphere of the historical downtown. No wonder that Brno is the 6th most popular student city in the world!

Youth, vitality, love and life! This city is bursting with life! Plenty of people stroll around the city centre, day or night and its perfect size mean you’ll usually meet someone you know anywhere you go. Education in Brno is provided at a high quality and cost of living is among the lowest in the EU. Students can easily afford to study at a prestigious university, live in the city centre and still have enough money to spend on leisure. The beautiful and easily accessible surroundings offer plenty of opportunities to explore the amazing landscapes around Brno. One can enjoy swimming or boat rides at the nearby water Reservoir or admire the unique cave system of Moravian Karst. All this and much more puts Brno at the top of many young people’s favourite places to live.

 

Interview with Caroline Sophie Jessen: Danish student who learned how to master advanced machine learning techniques in one summer

Caroline Sophie Jessen joined the Research Lab Internship with the goal to analyse plant phenotyping data with the help of advanced bioinformatics tools. Caroline came to CEITEC from the prestigious Danish Aarhus University. When she joined the multidisciplinary team at the Plant Science Core Facility, as a 4th semester bachelor student of biology, she had just basic programming skills in Python and basic understanding of statistics. Her main task was to work in a multidisciplinary team with plant scientists and bioinformaticians and to perform complex statistical analysis of various types of data, to produce scientific outcomes and to interpret prediction models. As a big fan of nature, climate change and genetics, she joined many other scientists who are actively participating in the Second Green Revolution and exploit innovative approaches to foster change in agricultural production to sustainably feed the growing population on Earth.

What motivated you to devote one entire summer to science? Why did you apply for the research lab internship?

Last year all my summer plans got cancelled due to COVID so this year I was determined to get the most of it and I considered multiple options such as volunteering, travelling, or working. Out of pure curiosity I was looking around the internet for internships outside of Denmark but without much hope of it being a possibility. As I came across the internships offered by Masaryk university I was instantly impressed with the variety of interesting opportunities. I was especially intrigued by an internship in biostatistics and bioinformatics as I had taken introductory courses in statistics in R this past semester. I wanted to improve my abilities in statistics and R since these are important and in high demand within the field of biology.

This internship was also a great opportunity to do something other than just science during my time in Brno as it offered a great cultural program and the opportunity to explore some of Central Europe’s most interesting cities.

What was the most important skill (or skills) you acquired during this internship?

It is hard to choose just one as I have acquired several useful skills during my time in Brno. As a biology major, I have gained very advantageous skills in statistical analysis of data and by working as part of a team in a busy lab and research setting, I now understand the dynamics within a research group. Through weekly presentations of data and results on group meetings I have gained experience that will greatly benefit me in my future education and expand my career options.

What was the most challenging part of the internship?

The most challenging part of my experience as an intern was believing in my own abilities. From my very first day I have been analysing real data which was a bit intimidating, as many of the techniques and methods I was using were my first time doing it. I always had great help and guidance whenever I needed it, and with time I have grown more confident in my abilities.

Did you feel well supported by your supervisors and colleagues in the lab?

Without a doubt. I was warmly welcomed by all in the lab and was always able to get help or guidance during my time there. My supervisor Ioannis Spyroglou gave me a thorough introduction to various statistical methods through several well-prepared lectures and was always available to answer any questions I had.

I felt very included in the social and collegial life in the office. During my time there I was invited to join the annual lab trip where we went to Podyjí national park, and I enjoyed a day in nature with all my colleagues from the lab. I also had the opportunity to visit the local company PSI along with my supervisor and the head of the research group Markéta Pernisová.

What was the most enriching part of the internship?

One of the most enriching parts of the internship was working with real data and not just with textbook examples. Even though this also added pressure it was exciting to be a part of the data analysis of new and revolutionary experiments, and to be able to help researchers draw biological conclusions based on my work.

I also enjoyed being able to study and explore a new country and culture at the same time. During the weekend trips to major Central European capitals, I got to visit new places and met likeminded, interesting, and motivated people from across the world. This internship experience was truly the perfect combination of everything.

How did you like Brno and the Czech Republic? 

I quickly fell in love with Brno because I instantly felt welcomed by everyone I met. The city center is small and charming, and the public transport system works marvelously which made exploring very easy. Even though some activities were restricted I never felt limited, because the city and country has so much to offer. I enjoyed the travelling on the weekends and the exploration of the city and local sites after work.

I loved forming new friendships and to explore all these new places with my friends. It was a unique experience to travel during a pandemic, but I always felt safe, and it was interesting to explore very touristy places with very few tourists.

How did this internship influence her career plans? Do you still consider career in science? Which direction will you be heading after your graduate?

Yes, most definitely! I have always been very passionate about nature, biological sciences, and the environment so I will continue down this path. However, I have discovered the importance of statistics and being able to apply this within every field of science so I will most likely shift my focus slightly away from solely biology to also include statistics and bio- or ecoinformatics. After finishing my bachelor’s degree next summer, I will continue studying to get my master’s degree. I have always had a dream of going abroad for university, and after this experience I will absolutely be considering the opportunities that Masaryk University or other Central European universities have to offer.

Are you a bachelor or master student and would you like to participate in this Research Lab Internship next summer? Read the programme conditions and apply at the Centre of International Cooperation website latest by mid-April 2022.

 

About CEITEC

CEITEC (Central European Institute of Technology) is a young and dynamic interdisciplinary research centre that is focused on life sciences, advanced materials, and nanotechnologies. Its success can be attributed not only to its modern, efficiently managed state-of-the-art laboratories, but also to its people. The centre employs excellent researchers from all over the world, who are committed to fulfilling CEITEC’s mission of improving quality of life and human health. CEITEC strives to provide a supportive and stimulating environment, with many opportunities to discuss and develop ideas, as well as a culture of open communication and equal opportunities.

Since its foundation in 2011, the centre has quickly grown to a considerable size and has made an immediate impact. The research centre attracts top EU grants and has managed to develop its reputation as a centre of excellence. CEITEC performs among the best science institutes in the Czech Republic, and is above average on the European level. The institute employs excellent scientists from all over the world and is raising a new generation of researchers in its international PhD School.  To maintain the high international standards of quality in research, CEITEC is regularly evaluated by the International Scientific Advisory Board (ISAB).

With an annual budget of nearly 30 million euros and investments that exceed 200 million euros, the institution has been successful in its aim of being an integral part of the top scientific networks in its related fields. CEITEC is located in the city of Brno, in the heart of Europe, where Gregor Mendel once laid down the foundation of modern genetics, and is surrounded by top educational institutions, including Masaryk University, Brno University of Technology, and Mendel University, with access to over 60,000 students. CEITEC actively collaborates with leading international universities, research institutes, private companies, and public organisations.

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