Camilla Trang Vo did her second lab rotation in the Palner Group at the University of Southern Denmark. The group investigates the neural circuitries involved in or associated with mood disorders and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and how psychedelic drugs may alleviate symptoms of these disorders. Aside from the topic of mood disorders, which aligns with Camilla’s research interest, one of the main factors that led her to plan a rotation in the group was the lab’s expertise in preclinical PET scanning:
“The PET scanner is a powerful neuroimaging tool for investigating the state of the healthy brain, the brain during disease and the brain after treatment. Even if I do not end up doing my PhD in the Palner Group, I will definitely consider implementing PET scanning in my project,” Camilla says.
After spending a few weeks getting into the lab’s work and gaining hands-on experience with pre-clinical PET scanning in rats, Camilla transitioned into completing her own rotation project on psychedelics and neuroplasticity. She tested if LSD affected neuroplasticity in rats by monitoring FDG-PET uptake immediately after the drug had been administered and a week later to investigate whether there were any persistent changes in brain activity induced by the drug.
Translationality is key
Before starting in the NAD PhD programme, Camilla had limited experience with translational research. During her rotation in the Palner Group, Camilla has had the opportunity to strengthen her sense of what translationality entails:
“I was highly inspired by the way that the Palner Group approached each scientific question and experiment with a set of translational glasses. They continuously drew lines and connections from cellular phenomena to the disease, and I found this very exciting. It has become clear to me that I wish to shape my PhD project with aims and questions that do not solely address cellular mechanisms from a pure basic science point of view, but that are also driven by translational potential and relevance. It also made an enormous impression on me when I, as a part of my rotation, followed an experiment at a hospital where I worked among researchers, doctors and patients,” Camilla says.
Camilla thinks that the lab rotation programme has given her a unique opportunity to explore and gain a greater understanding of the translational perspectives within her field of interest:
“It has been so exciting to see what the research is actually leading towards. We are doing all this basic research not only to gain more knowledge, but most importantly to develop treatment options for patients,” Camilla says.
Considering the research environment
When Camilla entered the NAD programme, she was naturally occupied with planning a set of rotations that would prepare her optimally for carrying out an excellent PhD project by introducing her to new techniques, topics and approaches. However, during her rotations, Camilla has also had a chance to reflect on her preferences in regards to supervision style and work environment – insights that hold great value when deciding where she will carry out her PhD project for the next three years.
One of the key insights that Camilla has obtained is the different dynamics of large and small research groups. Being part of a smaller group means more responsibility, simply because there is no one else to do the work. It also means that you might have more of a say in what direction a project should go.
Being a part of a smaller research community like the one centered around the University of Southern Denmark also affects interactions and collaboration among researchers:
“It is a smaller community, and I think that leads to people interacting with each other in a very down-to-earth and human way. One thing that Mikael has said is that he values collaboration over competition, and I think that sums up the community in Odense well: people collaborate,” Camilla explains.