Location, Location, Location…...

Immunologe Charlotte Scott is als Schotse de vreemde eend onder de Eos Pipet laureaten. In deze blog legt ze uit waarom ze naar Gent kwam voor haar onderzoek. En ja, ze raadt elke jonge wetenschapper aan om naar het buitenland te trekken. (blog in het Engels)

As you will have noticed I am a little bit of ‘the odd one out’ amongst my fellow Eos Pipet nominees in that I am not Belgian. I moved here just over 5 years ago following completion of my PhD at the University of Glasgow in Scotland for the next stage of my career, my postdoctoral studies which I performed in the lab of Prof. Dr. Martin Guilliams at the VIB and UGent.

While I often get asked “why did you move?”, such a move is very common in science, especially in my field. Actually, I find it to be one of the great things about this career path, science truly is an international playground. There are labs all over the world doing top-class research, so why not go and experience them? There is so much to learn from moving lab, both scientifically, with new techniques, new models, new collaborations etc, but also personally, by experiencing different cultures. Even with a relatively small move (geographically), for example for me from Scotland to Belgium, you would be surprised by the cultural differences and what you can learn.

While moving is of course challenging and at times difficult, (it definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone), I can honestly say that moving to Belgium was a great decision for me. Being at the VIB and UGent, I have been able to push my research to the next level, by making use of the top-quality research infrastructure and state of the art technologies (Thanks to the VIB TechWatch team for the latter) and by working with motivated world-class scientists.

I also think that being away from home and your family and friends can be that extra motivator, you sometimes need. I know I told myself a couple of times, especially at the beginning to “get on and prove that moving here was the right decision”.  Life in Belgium outside of the lab has also been great, I have met some amazing people and everyone has been very welcoming and of course a land of beer and chocolate could not possibly be a bad thing!

All of these things together form part of the reason why now, after finishing up my postdoctoral studies, I chose to stay in Belgium for the next step in my career - setting up my independent lab. Ask anyone who knows me, when I first moved here I was sure I would be here for 4 years and would then move on to the next location or perhaps back home.

However, right now I honestly believe this is one of the best places for me to be, to carry out my research and elevate it to the next level. With the network I have built up here over the last 5 years, including links to the clinic to get access to patient samples and the tools that we have been developing, I am sure that Ghent is the right choice for me. 

Luckily for me, Ghent University and particularly the Science Faculty recently agreed with me, giving me a professorship position and so now up and running I am looking forward to the next challenge (and some extra time to practice my Flemish!). Serendipitously, alongside the current PhD student in my team, Anneleen Remmerie, who is Belgian, I have also recently hired two international postdocs, Ania Bujko and Christian Zwicker, who will be moving to Belgium from Norway and Switzerland respectively and are about to go through all the same experiences as I had 5 years ago when moving here. I can only hope they will love it here as much as I do!

To anyone who is thinking “Should I go abroad for an Erasmus, a PhD or a postdoc?”, I would say go for it! There is so much to gain and perhaps not so much to lose from going. Family and friends can visit and of course it does not need to be a permanent move! Crucially, such a move does not even have to be long term, for example during your PhD or Postdoc it is also possible to go somewhere for a couple of weeks/months learn something new and bring it back to your lab. For example, I went to Singapore during my postdoc to do some experiments using models that our collaborators (Dr Florent Ginhoux and his team) there had but we didn’t have in Ghent.

Although that was only for a short period, the experiments were successful and Singapore was great! If there is something to be gained for the lab from a visit abroad then why not? It is also how I ended up in Belgium for my Postdoc as during my PhD I came to Ghent to do some experiments, that we did not have the tools to do in Glasgow. Back then, I did not expect to be offered a job as a postdoc, and I certainly could not have predicted that I would be here now in 2019, nominated for the Eos Pipet prize and setting up my own lab. But, while I could not have predicted this destination, I sure have enjoyed the journey!