Isabel is a researcher at the Department of Experimental Hematology at the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG). She recently finished her Double Degree PhD program in collaboration with Universidade de São Paulo (USP) in Brazil. On 1 February 2023 she successfully completed her doctoral research with the defense of her thesis “Intrinsic and extrinsic factors driving leukaemogenesis”.
Both her supervisors, prof. dr. Jan-Jacob Schuringa at UMCG and prof. dr. Eduardo M. Rego of USP, as well as her family, attended the ceremony. Isabel’s research is about understanding how leukemia drives an immunosuppressive environment, which contributes to the progression of leukemia, with a special focus on macrophage biology.
Isabel did her master’s degree in Molecular Medicine at Trinity College, Dublin. She then was accepted for a workshop in hematology at USP. While there, she met with prof. Eduardo Rego who invited her to develop a PhD research project. After a successful application, she started her PhD at USP with a FAPESP (São Paulo State Research Foundation) scholarship. When a University of Groningen delegation visited USP when Isabel was about 1.5 years into her PhD, she had the opportunity to present her work. With the support of her supervisor prof. Rego and his newly found Groningen collaborator prof. Jan Jacob Schuringa, this resulted in the development of a Double Degree PhD project.
Isabel’s subsequent two years in Groningen - only interrupted by a three-month period in which she returned to USP for in vivo experiments - were funded both by FAPESP (BEPE scholarship) and the Abel Tasman Talent Program of the Graduate School of Medical Sciences at UG.
There is a difference between the structure and requirement for a thesis. Isabel indicates: ‘In the Netherlands you will have to write 3-4 chapters on related subjects whereas in Brazil, you have one big project. Although there is overlap, it did require some extra work.’ Fortunately Isabel perceived many more advantages than disadvantages: ‘It was very interesting to have two supervisors. My supervisor in Brazil, prof. Eduardo Rego, is a medical doctor and therefore oriented towards patient care and management; my supervisor at UG, prof. Jan Jacob Schuringa, is a biochemist with an increased focus on fundamental aspects regarding the biology of leukemia. Having two different perspectives was an incredible bonus.’
A double degree also provides an opportunity to take the best of both worlds and make you aware of different realities: ‘The lab environment is different in both countries. In Groningen all of the needed lab materials are there, or, if anything is lacking, it is delivered very fast. In Brazil there may be a shortage of materials, but you can take advantage of the animal facility and the vast amount of patient samples. Also there are differences in patient care; patients do not have the same access to treatment. Having experienced both realities is good. It makes you more critical.’
Isabel also describes what doing a double degree meant for her personally: ‘The more you learn about the world, the better. Every culture is different and interesting. A double degree is such a nice opportunity, it gives you a broader vision of the world. Everytime I go to a new place, I look forward to the friends I don’t know yet. It is always hard in the beginning, but you will always meet people who become your friends.’
In the meantime, the collaboration between the labs at UG and USP has been well-established and another Double Degree PhD student has enrolled. Another PhD student from USP visited for three months, supervised by Isabel. Upon finishing her PhD, Isabel continued as a post-doctoral researcher at UG. This also allows her to spend some time at King's College, London in the near future. Isabel plans to continue to reinforce her international network: ‘I want to keep up the collaboration with UG and USP. The more places I go to, the more collaborations I can establish.’
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