Travel broadens the mind

My name is Donagh Egan, and I am a PhD student in Systems Biology Ireland. My research focuses on understanding how tumors evade the immune system, and exploring the use of drugs to enhance the immune system's ability to combat cancer. Recently, I had the opportunity to conduct research at The Francis Crick Institute in London, England, supported by an EACR Travel Fellowship and funding from my principal investigator. In this blog post, I wanted share my experience to highlight the importance of providing early career researchers with the opportunity and financial support to undertake research placements in different labs with diverse research backgrounds.

I applied for the EACR Travel Fellowship to collaborate with researchers whose expertise would complement my own. Engaging with researchers from diverse fields provides fresh perspectives that can guide new methods and insights for addressing research questions. Samra Turajlic’s lab at The Francis Crick Institute offered an ideal environment for this purpose. However, the high costs associated with opportunities in London can be prohibitive for early-stage researchers. The funding I received eliminated this barrier, enabling me to cultivate scientific collaborations and establish networks with esteemed scientists.

During my placement in Samra Turajlic’s lab, I collaborated closely with Dr. Irene Lobon, a postdoctoral fellow in Samra Turjalic’s group. Irene’s research is different to my own, focusing on how cancer evolves under the selective pressure of the immune system. Irene's expertise in this area provided a unique perspective to my own research questions, leading to answers and findings that neither of us could have resolved working independently. I also worked closely with a medical oncologist, Ben Shum. A key aspect of my analyses was understanding the clinical characteristics of patient data. Ben ensured that the data was correctly interpreted, which provided confidence that my own findings were grounded in correct assumptions.

The visit granted me access to novel data and the expertise to navigate it using innovative bioinformatic approaches. In doing so, I greatly improved my computational skills, helping me to uncover novel insights that will benefit my research going forward. Joining a new laboratory required learning and adapting to new processes and methods of communicating. As a results, my communication skills have seen benefited, and I now feel more at ease expressing my ideas and incorporating feedback into my research. I hold these skills in high regard, and recognize their applicability to my future professional endeavors.

Overall, I have gained invaluable skills that are essential for scientific research, which will undoubtedly elevate the quality of my work moving forward. This experience has opened my eyes to the importance of providing researchers with similar opportunities to advance scientific discoveries that will ultimately translate into better treatment options for patients in the clinic.


About the Author: Donagh Egan is a PhD researcher under supervision of Prof. Walter Kolch and Prof. Donal Brennan. You can read more about Donagh's research here