Lab Rotation Interview: Sofie Aarup Bach

NAD fellow Sofie Aarup Bach talks about her first lab rotation and about gaining insight in new techniques, learning more about what she needs to thrive in a research environment and the challenges of combining family life with a PhD programme requiring flexibility and mobility.

For her first lab rotation, Sofie Aarup Bach changed out the familiar streets of Copenhagen with those of Aarhus, working in the CNS Disease Modeling Group at Aarhus University led by Associate Professor Marina Romeo-Ramos. The group focuses on the neurodegenerative processes in Parkinson’s disease and the interplay with the immune system in this disease, mainly working with animal models and biosamples from patients.

New perspectives on existing knowledge

NAD fellows have a lot of freedom when choosing their rotation lab, and this means that they are also responsible for establishing contact and planning their rotation with their PI. Sofie took several things into account when choosing a lab for her first rotation, including scientific perspectives, work environment and supervision style:

“I looked into the techniques Marina was using and I could see that some of them overlapped with things I have done before, which made me think that I could both learn something new and contribute to the lab’s work. For me, it was also a priority when moving somewhere different that I would come to a place with structure and where things are under control, and that has also been my experience after coming here.”

As it is challenging to design a full project to be completed in just 10 weeks, especially when it involves working with animals, Sofie and her PI Marina agreed prior to the start of the rotation that Sofie should instead be involved in all the different projects in the lab:

“In the first week, I did animal behavior in the animal facility, and I have done immunostaining of mice and rat brains. I have also analysed blood samples from Parkinson’s patients. Lastly, I have been performing flow cytometry, which is a technique that allows us to separate different immune cells to see if there is a mismatch between immunity cells in Parkinson’s disease patients and other patients. I think it has been really good to get a sense of the entire lab.”

This first lab rotation has also shed new light on Sofie’s main research interests:

“I have previously worked with Parkinson’s disease with a more dopaminergic focus, thus the immune system as a contributing factor or even a driving factor in the disease has brought a new and interesting perspective to my already acquired knowledge. I would not mind pursuing this further or at the very least keep it in mind in my future research.”

A home away from home

Sofie, who is currently based in Copenhagen, stayed in Aarhus during the week for the duration of the 10-week rotation, going back to Copenhagen every weekend to spend time with her family. While she has sometimes found it challenging to combine working in another end of the country with family life, Sofie has also seized this opportunity to fully delve into life in the lab:

“Since I have moved away from most of the people I know, I was worried that there would not be enough things to fill out my day. I have been very positively surprised that I have always had something to do in the lab. I feel like I am actually contributing and not just sitting at my desk. (…) It has also been a good experience to be included in a social lab environment where I do not have to say no because I have to pick up my daughter at daycare. I can stay late in the lab, and I can always participate if someone decides to go out for pizza after work.”

Looking towards a PhD project

This first rotation has informed Sofie about her future PhD studies in more ways than one. Before starting her rotation, Sofie was hesitant about working with live animals, but after having a chance to try it out, she would like to include at least some in vivo work in her PhD project. She has also had a chance to reflect on her preferred supervision style:

“I think Marina seems like a very present supervisor who knows what the members of her lab are doing, and she knows the progress of their projects. Her door is always open for questions, and I have realized that I would also like a very involved supervisor who has time to answer questions and knows how it is going and the progress in a project. I think that a good aspect of this programme is that it is a great opportunity to get to know your own preferences in regards to supervision.”

Regardless of where Sofie chooses to do her PhD project, she has made lasting connections:

“I really like Marina and all the people in her lab, and I hope that we can collaborate in the future, even if I do not decide to come here for my PhD project.”

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