Last year, I was nearing the end of my PhD and therefore on the lookout for opportunities. A single email sent by the then Research School coordinator Liv Falkenberg got my attention. Here, she invited all Digital Life Research School members for a matchmaking process, which set out to connect finishing PhDs to possible across-border collaborations and so support members to apply for the RCN three-year international mobility grant.
Not only could I apply for the matchmaking process, but there were also four projects between labs in Norway and Sweden that only awaited a suitable candidate. One project stood out to me; phenotypic drug screening to support personalized medicine. Here, I reasoned that I could use my experience with immunostaining, image-analysis, and various types of microscopes and apply it in a meaningful way, within the topic of colorectal cancer. Along the way, I would get to work in high-tech automated labs, and learn to use exciting machine learning algorithms to support the experiments. I quickly decided to send an email with my CV.
My email was well-received and soon after I met the four engaged scientists over zoom. At NTNU in Trondheim, Åsmund Flobak is an oncologist leading the Digital Life Druglogics and PRESORT projects, where also Astrid Lægreid, a professor in functional genomics, is involved. At SciLifeLab in Uppsala, Jordi Carreras-Puigvert is a lecturer and expert in image-based phenotypic drug screens. Finally, Ola Spjuth is a group leader in pharmaceutical bioinformatics. We decided to work on the application together. I would take the lead on the writing process while receiving their expert feedback, feedback that was rooted in their diverse and complementary backgrounds. I brought in my imaging experience, so initiating this collaboration between the different labs in Norway and Sweden.
The grant deadline of February 10th was approaching quickly. It was December, and the new project was not within my field. However, I received a lot of material from both labs for me to work with: a list of important papers, written abstracts, and previously granted example applications. So, I got to work and dug into all the material. Even though the field of colon cancer was rather new to me, I think it was good to start drafting the application myself and get acquainted with the topic. In January, we had regular online meetings to answer my many questions and cycle through the different versions of the application. Luckily, the application portal of the RCN is comprehensive. At the time of handing in the application, we had already worked together intensively to write a project that really combines the expertise of all people involved. I hope it sets the stage for the rest of our collaboration.
In the end, I am very glad to have had this opportunity of writing the grant together and grateful to have it awarded by the Research Council of Norway. I could not have predicted this outcome last year. Especially, without the first email of Digital Life, I would not have realized that I could study phenotypic drug screening applied to colorectal cancer cells and I would have not met the right people to do so. Apparently, you cannot always plan for the future, and good opportunities come from unexpected directions. I am looking forward to working on the project in the coming three years and seeing where it will bring me next.