Ever since I began studying I have wanted to spend some time abroad to gather new experience. For my doctoral degree I was able to conduct my experiments at the Max Planck Institute in Cologne. At the time, I realised that Cologne was both too different for me to feel completely at home and not different enough to experience the various differences as interesting and exciting, although the stay was very rewarding from the scientific point of view. Afterwards, people often told me that it had not been a truly international experience, since it was “only Germany, only Europe”. That is why I wanted to go to the USA for a research project.
The Erwin Schrödinger Fellowship is a wonderful opportunity for postdocs, and I wanted to benefit from it and learn new techniques abroad. The research conducted by Andrzej Wierzbicki at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor was the reason for my choice of host laboratory. It was my aim to learn certain techniques used here, such as RNA immunoprecipitation, a method involving the use of antibodies against a certain protein to isolate the associated RNA. This is something that that only a few laboratories on the planet can do.
Tornado at the lab
My colleagues are nice people, but as they keep personal life and work strictly apart, it was quite lonely for me at the beginning. At the laboratory itself you often find undergraduates working either for money or as volunteers, which gets them valuable laboratory exposure early on. A big difference to Europe is the fact that you find a great deal of information online or at the lab itself about both ordinary and very unusual subjects. For instance, there is a sign on the wall in our lab that tells you what to do in case of a tornado or of someone running amok on campus. You can also register with a system that sends you a text message to warn you about approaching tornadoes.
My research centres on long noncoding RNA (lncRNA) which has a regulatory function in the genome. I examine which proteins it interacts with so as to understand how it fulfils its function. We use a plant named Arabidopsis thaliana (thale or mouse-ear cress) for our studies at the lab, but the principles of how lncRNAs work are similar in plants and in humans. We also employ bioinformatics in order to evaluate experimental data, to establish new working hypotheses and test them. As this way of proceeding harbours great potential for new findings, it is a wonderful opportunity for me to learn this approach here at Ann Arbor.
Chipmunks as jogging partners
Ann Arbor is a small town with a lot of greenery offering many opportunities for sports in a recreational environment. In outdoor activities you will find yourself in the company of many animals such as deer, squirrels, gophers and chipmunks, which are particularly cute and my own personal favourites. With trees and shrubs resplendent in orange, deep reds and even pink, autumn unfolds a special beauty here. Sometimes the International Center will organise outings, for instance to Chicago, or charity events where you can become involved.
The Erwin Schrödinger Fellowship is a great opportunity to do research and gather new experience and will certainly contribute positively to one’s personal and professional development.