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The first VAGABOND summer school for ESR students, supervisors and partners

30 November 2021

Beginning September, VAGABOND hosted its first summer school for ESR students, supervisors and partners. After almost one year of online communication and meetings, it was finally time to meet each other in person.

Saturday evening the students and summer school organization came together at a beautiful estate near Utrecht to recover from travels all over Europe to the Netherlands while enjoying the sunny weather. With lots of talks and laugh while having drinks, “bitterballen” and diner, it was a perfect evening to get to know each other.

The next day, Ingrid Valks (Power of Time Off) launched the official start of the summer school program. She urged the students to identify and explore their destiny, their purpose, their passion in life. Ingrid invited a guest speaker who encouraged the students to think big and that it is possible to turn an almost impossible goal into reality by telling them about his own experiences. Besides that, Ingrid learned the students some techniques to relief stress with yin in a yang world, which will result in inner peace and improved focus and concentration. Personal stories were brought up throughout the day, whereby the students bonded from the very first day. The group was ready to start the scientific part of the program!

On Monday and Tuesday September 6-7, the supervisors and a few partners joined us in Utrecht. The central theme of the scientific part of the summerschool is ‘target identification’ the first step in the PoC pipeline in pre-clinical drug development. Prof. Dr. Hubert Caron (from Partner Organization Roche) co-chaired the meeting together with Prof. Dr. Jan Molenaar. This resulted in interesting discussions highlighting the different viewpoints from pharma and academia.

Monday started with a very impressive talk of pediatric oncologist Dr. Lieve Tytgat who interviewed the mother of a neuroblastoma patient. The dialogue gave insight in the point of view of parents and patients: the impact and changes on their lives from the moment of the first symptoms to the diagnosis, therapies and still nowadays.  The personal story of this family made a great impression on the audience, which made us realize what is happening at the bedside while we are focusing on research work at the bench side.

The day continued with short lectures of all supervisors to give all attendees an overview of their research group and projects involved in the consortium.  The ESR students gave a rapid-fire presentation to introduce their project and poster. The posters were presented during two days in the Princess Maxima Centre. The day ended with a diner in the center of Utrecht.

On Tuesday the ESRs participated in multiple specialized workshops. Dr. Gudrun Schleiermacher (PI Institute Curie and pediatric oncologist) and Dr. Olivier Ayrault (PI Institute Curie) gave an advanced course in liquid biopsies and a tumor specific course on medulloblastoma focusing on the pathway from development biology to cancer. During these 2 workshops the students got an overview of strategies/techniques involved in medulloblastoma studies and learned in detail about biomarker studies using liquid biopsies.

Hubert Caron provided the students with a workshop on target identification. He discussed different techniques to prioritize cancer drugs in pediatric oncology. During an interactive session/brainstorm preclinical PoC modules, target use in clinical drug development and immune Target Actionability Reviews were discussed in detail. This information inspired the students to think about their own research and think how they can implement this knowledge in their research projects.

On Wednesday the day started with the first ESR board meeting followed by the molecular tumor board simulation. Dr. Lieve Tytgat, Dr. Karin Langenberg and Prof. Dr. Jan Molenaar provided the students with an interactive session on precision medicine in pediatric oncology. During this workshop the clinical symptoms, imaging data and molecular analysis of 3 patients was discussed. The ESRs learned about the precision medicine program iTHER and used different tools to study the biology and actionability of the different events. In the afternoon, Gadeta B.V. and Partner Organisation HUB4organoids organized a company visit to give the students an impression of their research institutes.

On Thursday the students followed their first transferable course which was about interpersonal communication. Guest speaker Janneke Mundi addressed cultural differences on the level of basic values. Basic values determine how a person will see the world and considers to be important in life, which is already internalized before the age of seven. Janneke showed us that effective intercultural communication starts with knowing your own basic values, by having an insight in what you consider to be ‘normal behavior’ and learning that other people were raised with other basic values. In this way, you will not judge other people’s behavior, even if that behavior seems strange or unpleasant to you. Both theory and specific situations were discussed in the course. Personal anecdotes, shared by the specialized bicultural actor, made the session both fun and educational.

On Friday the students attended two other transferable courses: public engagement by Dr. Stephanie Helfferich and Responsible Conduct of Research Integrity by Prof. Dr. Marcel van der Heyden. During the public engagement course, the students learned about the importance of communicating their projects the broader public. During the course of Prof. Dr. Marcel van der Heyden the students studied 3 cases of scientific misconduct and discussed how they can tackle them.

Besides all the scientific work, there was also time for social activities. The students enjoyed canoeing in the beautiful canals of Utrecht and moved to a traditional Dutch bar for a pub-quiz on general knowledge, science (oops, still science work!) and music. The last day of the summer school we had a good-bye-lunch before heading back to home. We are very happy to look back at this amazing week with both interesting scientific projects and social bonding.