Sampurna Mukherjee and Emma Colliver.

Science date: the Crick meets EMBL

Last week, PhD students from the Crick visited EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute near Cambridge to mark the launch of our new collaboration. Over the afternoon coffee break, we matched Crick PhD student, Emma Colliver, with EMBL PhD student, Sampurna Mukherjee, for our latest scientific blind date.

What are science dates?

Making connections is at the heart of the Crick, but in a building of 1500 people it's impossible to meet everyone.

In our scientific 'blind dates' series, we bring together two Crick researchers who probably wouldn't have otherwise crossed paths. After learning about each other's work over a coffee, they speak to us afterwards to share how it went. In this edition, we go slightly further afield and hold the date at the launch event of the Crick's partnership with EMBL.

Emma Colliver is a PhD student in Charlie Swanton's Cancer Evolution and Genome Instability Lab at the Crick.

Sampurna Mukherjee is a PhD student in Andrew Leach's computational modelling and informatics for drug discovery group at EMBL-EBI.

Science date

Emma Colliver

Emma Colliver.

What did you expect from the science date?

I was looking forward to the date. It's always interesting to hear from someone working in a different scientific discipline and institute - you never know what might turn out to be relevant to your own research and what ideas it might inspire! I think it's important to remove yourself from your immediate field from time to time.

What did you know about Sampurna's research beforehand?

I was fortunate enough to hear Sampurna present her research at the conference just before our date, so I definitely had the advantage there! Sampurna's work in HLA peptidomics was of relevance given our own lab's interest in the role of HLA in immune evasion in lung cancer. I knew that Sampurna was also a bioinformatician, so looked forward to hearing about her experience of pursuing a computational PhD. 

What did you talk about?

The conversation was free-flowing and wide-ranging. We talked about overlaps in our labs' research priorities, highs and lows of PhD life, and our journeys into doctoral study. We were clearly both passionate about our research topics and about the questions out there to answer.

Any surprises?

Like me, Sampurna had an unusual background prior to embarking on her PhD, having originally trained as a zoologist. It was fascinating hearing about her work researching the population dynamics of an endangered tiger in her native India, and her desire to introduce more rigorous statistics into that field.

Did you pick up any tips?

We both agreed on the importance of well-written documentation in bioinformatics. Ensuring good coding practice, setting up structured folders, and rigorously documenting which analyses have been undertaken are all key as large-scale bioinformatics projects grow organically. 

Did anything get lost in translation?

Not really! I think we spoke a similar language. I know I'd be fascinated to sit down again and hear more about Sampurna's work as it progresses.

Can you imagine collaborating in the future?

I'm not sure about any immediate collaborations but I'll certainly be keeping up to date with any publications from Sampurna. We also agreed another trip back to EMBL campus in Hinxton would be great to put in the diary.
 

Sampurna Mukherjee

Sampurna Mukherjee

What did you expect from the science date?

I expected it to be an interesting experience – and it was! Also, I had no idea if it would be somebody who primarily does “wet lab” work, or a computational biologist like me, so I had geared up for a stimulating chat either way.

What did you know about Emma’s research beforehand?

We hit the jackpot on this. My work on HLA immunology is very closely linked to cancer and Emma’s interest in tumour microenvironments, which ties up with the whole theme of immunology/immunotherapy.

What did you talk about?

I would say we had a lovely, animated and spontaneous discussion. We touched on life as a PhD student, on why we do science and how we do it, our lives prior to starting a PhD and everything in between.

Any surprises?

Emma is a trained physicist and she worked in charity fundraising before starting a PhD. It was heartening to have met another peer with an unusual background in biology. We also discussed how having worked for another field before starting a PhD gives you more insight into your mind. I wish it were advocated more in academia, with scientists like Emma as an example.

Did you pick up any tips?

As we are both bioinformaticians, we spoke about good coding practices to ensure reproducible research, as we have both faced difficulties working with poorly documented code.  It is a topic that I speak about frequently, and it was great to see that we concur.

Did anything get lost in translation?

Definitely not. I think our interests and goals are aligned and we see science, especially the realm of bioinformatics, through the same viewfinder.

Can you imagine collaborating in the future?

We will probably not have an immediate collaboration, but I can see it happening a few years down the line. Now we’re both aware of each other’s labs, I think we’ll keep an eye on what comes up in future.
 

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