Class 2024: Congratulations to Ciara, Ellen and Rabia!

Massive congratulations on the official moulding of PhD and MSc by Research to our promising young scientists: Rabia Saleem, Dr Ciara Gallagher and Dr Ellen King! Great accomplishments!

Three different journeys, with two through the COVID-19 pandemic. The full range of ups and downs. Who said that the PhD is a straight line? It has never been. It is more like the Irish weather: some days are sunny and bright, and some have scattered showers, gale winds and stormy snow, with sunshine developing elsewhere. The journey was spiced up with publications, conferences, travels, days out and fundraising events with the team.

It is a proud moment for me as well. 🙂 Three PhD and one MSc by Research students graduated within the last 12 months.

Of note, Ellen was behind our Twitter activities in the past, making our team visible!

Wish you all the best of luck on your new adventure!

Olga Piskareva

New Orlean’s Red Beans & Rice

While completing my Master’s degree at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, I found the top-notch post-grad comfort food I’ve taken with me ever since. After a day of work, the last thing I want to do is come home and cook an entire meal. Luckily, red beans and rice can be adapted to a slow cooker. Allowing me to throw all my ingredients in and come home to an amazing-smelling apartment with the most satisfying warm bowl waiting for me.

There’s something to the name “The Big Easy” that describes New Orleans because the people and the food take life a bit slower and enjoy every savoury bit together. My favourite memory in New Orleans is when my friends and I prepped a massive stock of red beans and rice for the week of Mardi Gras. This is an entire week of festivities and parade floats where the city quite literally shuts down since everyone participates. It was so comforting every night (or early morning) to come back from the parades and dish out the prepped meal that would fill you up, stick to your bones, and help you fall sound asleep with more than enough energy for the next days of parades.

My first red beans and rice in New Orleans

Red beans and rice is a Cajun dish with Haitian influence and contains the “holy trinity” – bell pepper, onion, and celery. You can find this vegetable blend in the base of almost every Cajun meal, including etouffee, jambalaya, and gumbo. Red beans and rice are traditionally made with a stovetop pot set on a low boil all day. However, the ease of a slow cooker is made with the PhD student in mind as it also keeps well during the week. The most important piece is to get red beans and soak them for about 12 hours before cooking them. This will make the beans more digestible as well as more hearty. Andouille is a Cajun spiced sausage that might be at a speciality butcher shop. Another crucial ingredient, Slap Ya Mama (yes, you read that right), is only available in the U.S. Slap Ya Mama seasoning has its name because “every time a mama uses it, she receives a loving slap on the back and a kiss on the cheek for another great dish”. There are so many great memories I have from my time in New Orleans and I’m happy to share my favorite meal. I hope you are able to replicate this dish and taste the Southern Comfort that is very true for New Orleans.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Recipe:

Serves 6, Cook time is 4 –8 hours

  • 450 grams of dried red kidney beans (New Orleans Camelia brand recommended)
  • 450 grams Andouille sausage (or smoked), sliced ½ inch
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 4 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped and divided
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon Slap Ya Mama seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 3 bay leaves
  • Handful of fresh parsley, chopped

For serving:

  • Cooked long-grain white rice
  • Hot sauce

Instructions:

  1. Rinse beans and soak.
  2. Brown sausages in oil on both sides. Set aside.
  3. In the same pan, add garlic and onion, sauté for 2-3 minutes until transparent. Then add the bell pepper, celery, and half of the green onions. Sauté for 5 minutes.
  4. To the slow cooker, add your cooked vegetables. Then add the red beans, black pepper, Slap Ya Mama, dried thyme, oregano, and bay leaves.
  5. Add the water and chicken broth.
  6. Set the slow cooker to high setting for 4 hours or low for 8 hours.
  7. When beans are ready, take out 1 ½ cups to mash and put back in pot.
  8. Remove the bay leaves and add the sausage back in. Cook until sausage is hot.
  9. Serve over a bowl of hot white rice with hot sauce, green onions, and parsley for garnish.

Notes:

  • In New Orleans, they also add a split-faced grilled sausage to the top.
  • This can be adapted to an Instant Pot (Pressure Cooker) as well. Just set the pressure to high for 60 minutes with a 15-minute natural release.
  • If the beans seem too thick, add more water.
  • This is a great dish that can be stored for a week or frozen for two months.

Enjoy!!!

Written by Alysia Scott

Back to my roots – Biomolecular science careers and alumni event at TUD

Hi again, Ciara here!  Last week (May 2023), I was asked back to the college I completed my undergraduate degree at the technological university of Dublin (TUD). They held their first Bio-molecular Science Careers and Alumni event. This event entailed previous graduates returning to the college to enjoy an evening of talks from graduates of other years showing their journey since graduation.  I was lucky enough to be amongst the panel of speakers to hopefully inspire this year’s graduates about all the possibilities available after graduation. It was also great to be back and connecting with familiar faces of classmates, lecturers and TUD staff. I had a fantastic time reminiscing about my time in college. I was lucky to be one of the residents of the old DIT Kevin St (now located at TUD Grangegorman). My course was very hands-on, accumulating 30 hours of lab work a week along with lectures. Although it was intense, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in DIT (now TUD).

My presentation on the evening was aimed at students thinking about research as their next step. I told them all about my career journey since 2017, from graduating college, moving to industry and coming back to academia to complete my PhD.

So, for my blog post this week, I would like to leave you with my top tips I shared with them for starting out on a PhD journey.

  1. Pick a topic you have a genuine interest in – don’t just take an opportunity because you don’t think it will come around again.
  2. There will always be funding available. You have to look in the right places and be persistent in your search.
  3. Get to know your supervisor (PI) before starting; you spend 4 years building a relationship with them.
  4. Ask questions to current PhD students; you can never ask too many questions before beginning.
  5. Work as a research assistant (RA) with a research group while searching for funding and before committing to a full-time 4 year-PhD. It helps get a feel if research is the right place for you.
  6. Enjoy the extended college years!

Written by Ciara Gallagher

Hello everyone! I’m Federica!

Hello everyone! I’m Federica, the new PhD student who joined the group 😃

I’m amazed that it’s been almost a month since it happened, and I couldn’t be happier!

I was born and raised in Palermo, a beautiful city in Sicily (Italy), but I always felt that it was not my place. So, I tried to combine my passion for cancer biology and my desire to live abroad by exploring the Erasmus Mobility Programme. I was awarded this scholarship twice, but both times I couldn’t avail of this opportunity. In March 2022, I got my Master’s degree and said to myself, “It’s time; this is my chance to go and build the future that I want”. And here I am. 😄

New adventures

I moved to Dublin in June 2022 and loved this city’s vibes! I met wonderful people from all over the world with which I spent really fun and carefree moments. 

These are only a few of that magic moments:

– I saw a deer for the first time in my life – I was soooo happy!

Deers in the Phoenex park
New drink experience

– I tried the “mate”, a traditional South American caffeine-rich infused herbal drink. As you can guess, I didn’t like it 😂 (sorry, my Argentinian friends).

– I got used to the outstanding colours of Ireland.

Obviously, I also had hard days. My English is still not perfect, but it’s getting better every day!  I remember the first day I arrived in Dublin when I was looking for a cup, but I asked for a cupboard in three different supermarkets 😂. People looked at me, probably thinking: “Why is she looking for furniture in a grocery store? Should I say something to her?” I realized that I had asked for the wrong thing only during the night, when I was in bed, thinking about that first crazy day. 

New colours

To be honest, I had a lot of really hard days, days when I felt that I wouldn’t be able to deal with other problems. But I never thought of giving up and returning to Italy. Every difficulty, every good or bad thing, is part of this wonderful experience, and I’m so excited and proud of myself for all the improvement I’ve been making, step by step.

I couldn’t make a better choice because I found my place in this super nice and great team in the Bioengineering Group 🙃

 I look forward to better knowing all my new teammates and sharing with them my journey as PhD student!

Written by Federica Cottone

Hey there, this is Alysia!

Hey there, this is Alysia! I recently joined the Cancer Bioengineering team as a first-year PhD student. At the beginning of 2022, I was selected as a Fulbright-RCSI StAR Programme student. I spent the summer in anticipation of what to expect from my new home. I had never travelled outside of America before! However, moving to Dublin has been a great new adventure with tons of amazing experiences and new friendships. One of the first things I did when I got here was going to cafes all over town to get to know the area. Also, to indulge in the foodie scene of Dublin. I also did some great walking tours, joined a tag rugby team, got cosy with the pub culture, and found some unique thrifting shops. Dublin has a lot of charm and hidden gems wedged in between the cobblestone streets. As an American in Dublin, I thought I would have a really hard time adjusting. However, everyone has been so friendly and helpful! I’ve been able to catch on to some of the local dialogue and sometimes catch myself about to say, “it’ll be grand!”

Feeling lucky!

One of my favourite things I’ve done since being in Dublin is exploring the surrounding area through hiking. I’m from Colorado in the U.S., so the mountains here are quite a bit different. However, I can greatly appreciate the hiking culture that everyone seems to enjoy. I’ve been able to go on hikes with colleagues and friends alike in new stunning locations. My first introduction to Irish hiking was along the Howth cliff walk. Not only was the wind strong enough to fly me back to America, but the rain was “lashing”, and the temperature was absolutely, “Baltic”. I was soaked to the bone but could not be happier about getting outside and finding a social hobby that would help me adjust to my new home.

Hiking along the Howth cliff walk, 2023

It’s only been a few months into my four-year journey in Ireland, but I’m looking forward to so many opportunities. Being so close to the rest of Europe, I’ve already travelled to Paris, London, and Barcelona. I was even in Brussels and Luxembourg for a Fulbright Seminar visiting the EU and NATO! I plan on travelling around Europe some more, exploring the coasts of Ireland, and of course, sampling all the new cuisine! I really lucked out with a great team here in the Bioengineering Group. We have conferences here in Ireland as well as internationally, which helps me explore. I can’t believe I’m here in Dublin doing cancer research. Being selected for Fulbright is an incredible opportunity for me to fall in love with Dublin while doing a PhD program.

Alysia, Ronja and Lin, Barcelona, February 2023

Written by Alysia Scott

Ronja’s Travel to Vilnius University and the National Pathology Centre

Ronja received a 3 months EACR Travel Fellowship to travel and learn new skills from RCSI Ireland to Vilnius University and the National Pathology Centre, Lithuania, between July and October 2022.

She reflected on her personal and professional experience in the EACR Cancer Researcher blog. Enjoy the reading!

Ronja PhD is supported by the Irish Research Council and the Conor Foley Neuroblastoma Cancer Research Foundation.

Not quite all back to in-person – the EFEM student Symposium 2022

Despite our last blog post celebrating the regained opportunity to meet with other researchers in person and all the benefits that come with it I just had the pleasure of presenting at the first European Federation for Experimental Morphology (EFEM) Student Symposium online.

While it would have been easy for me to attend in person, as the event was hosted and organised here at RCSI, not many others would have had it quite so easy. As the name suggests, researchers from all across Europe attended. Every EFEM associated anatomical society across Europe and RCSI, as the host institution, had the opportunity to select two members to present. I was honoured to be chosen to represent RCSI. Overall, 15 different countries were represented in the student talks which made for a diverse mix that was particularly nice for the bit of organized fun at the end of the first day which encouraged networking.

Especially, because having only begun my PhD this past year I felt the category Preliminary Results and Outlook aimed at Undergrads, Masters and early-stage PhD students perfectly suited the stage of my project. This was also a brilliant way to see what other students at my level were doing in the field of anatomical research all across Europe. Having this chance to see research in progress was refreshing and uplifting contrasted with the usually more rounded later stage presentations. Having studied anatomy in my undergraduate degree I was also delighted to simply engage with more conventional anatomical research than I currently do myself.

Ronja Struck, 1Yr PhD student at the EFEM Student Symposium 2022

A wonderful opportunity to gain insights into, for example, the implicit knowledge of academia was the career development part of the conference. Talks about academia, industry and publishing offered a chance to get an inside view of those career paths at different positions within them. Especially the typical day in a research journal’s editor provided a new perspective on what is important when writing papers and will have lasting benefits for me and my scientific writing.

But by far the reason why I’ll remember this conference for the longest time is that being awarded runner up in the category Preliminary Results and Outlook reassured me that I am on the right track and that there is purpose in what I do. Despite the online format of the conference, I had the honour of receiving my prize in person, because Prof. Fabio Quondamatteo, the organiser of the event is based at RCSI.

Overall, the two days were an important step in consolidating my faith in my work and the career path that I have chosen.

Written by Ronja Struck, the IRC-CFNCRF funded PhD student

Research Summer School Skills Workshop 2021

Yep, we are living in challenging and extraordinary times. The COVID19 changes and dictates rules, but training of future health professionals is going on.

Within a fantastic RCSI summer training programme for medical students, our team ran essential practicals on the isolation of genetic material and the use of polymerase chain reaction, known as PCR, to detect differences in normal and modified genomic DNA.

Polymerase Chain Reaction, or simply PCR, was conceived and validated by biochemist Kary Mullis in 1983. This discovery revolutionised many scientific fields that dealt with genetic material and was awarded a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1993. PCR allows rapid generation of small identical fragments of DNA. The fragments can be visualised, their size and number can be calculated. It has become a standard procedure in molecular biology and pathobiology screening. The COVID19 PCR test is actually an advanced modification of Mullis’ invention.

All students successfully set up individual PCRs to our great satisfaction, and the results are presented at the right bottom corner.

One Day of the Life as a Researcher: PhD student

If I was to write this 6 months ago, my life as a researcher would be very different. 

Here is a little snippet of my ‘new normal’ day getting back into the lab as a 2nd year PhD student in the Cancer Bio-Engineering group post-lockdown. 

Although, in general the day-to-day life as a scientist can vary massively. So I would like to say I already had a flexible schedule pre-pandemic. This made adapting to the world of our ‘new normal’ a little easier. 

I commute to RCSI by Luas. I spend the morning carrying out my essential lab work in our new environment of 2-metre social distancing and face masks. Lunch is a little lonely these days with single tables in the previous busy 1784 restaurant. Although, RCSI’s campus is in the heart of Stephens green making it a fantastic location to stroll to the park for a coffee in between experimental incubation times. Great for catching the last of the summer sunshine! When all lab work is finished I come home to my new makeshift WFH office where I have a new furry work colleague to help me get through the evening data analysis and reading. 

The research consists of days of highs and lows. Behind all the failures come successes making the hard work all worthwhile! 

Ciara Gallagher, the IRC funded PhD student

Does Research Lab Experience Differ?

Each student is different. The best way to learn something is to experience it. Two months is a very short span as some experiments run for 3-6 months. But it gives a good taste on what research actually is. How different it is from CSI or Criminal Minds.

“Over the past two months, I had the privilege to work under my PI, Dr. Olga Piskareva and supervisor, Dr. John Nolan in the cancer genetics lab as a summer research student. My project was about gene expression of apoptotic genes as well as detecting apoptosis via flow cytometry in melanoma cell lines treated with chemotherapy agents and microRNAs. I had previous experiences in other research labs, but I have never learnt as much as I did in a span of two months! After this experience, I gained a better understanding of how cancer cells behave in different environments and also learnt to appreciate the difficulty of running a good experiment. Ever since my grandmother passed away due to cancer, I vowed to become a cancer researcher. This summer I have achieved this dream and hopefully continue to pursue my career as a physician-scientist!” Martin Liu

Martin Liu