In summer 2017, Laura Tasca was one of 21 participants of the VBC Summer School. Then a 3rd year biotechnology student at Turin University in Italy, she pursued her summer research project in Jan-Michael Peters’ lab at the IMP. We talked to Laura about her experience – and asked about recommendations for prospective applicants.
"I learnt of the VBC Summer School via the mailing list of my laboratory, through which a professor sent the poster.
I have the impression that the VBC Summer School is quite popular in Italy, and I think especially in Rome, since I got to know from the other summer students about many Roman participants.
My course in Turin is called ‘Biotechnology’, and it is essentially biology with a molecular focus, including related aspects such as bioinformatics.
The course requires you to do 225 hours of mandatory lab-work by your third year, but I started working in lab during the second academic year of my bachelor. I worked at the Molecular Biotechnology Center (MBC) in Turin and at the Neuroscience Institute Cavalieri Ottolenghi (NICO) in Orbassano. Since the group I worked with transferred during my stay, I split my time between both institutions. However, this is the first time I am working abroad.
Research project and lab life at the IMP
For my project, I work in the lab of Jan-Michael Peters on a protein called Condensin II. My task is to first clone the protein complex (composed by five subunits), then express it in insect cells and, finally, I should purify the protein. It feels like a good mix of learning a method and contributing something meaningful to the research group.
On a typical day, I come to the lab between 8 and 9 am. I work until around 8 pm, although sometimes longer – but this is always my choice, often my supervisor tells me that I can go home, but I like to go only after I have achieved something or completed a task, so it can get quite late at times and I also come in some weekends for a few hours or more.
A summer of opportunities
There are definitely more opportunities here than what I experienced before, Turin is smaller than Vienna and, unfortunately, research there is less generously funded, so here I get exposed to many more methods and facilities. For example, here at the IMP it’s quite easy do next generation sequencing, or you can use some very sophisticated (and expensive) confocal microscopes.
I really like how international the atmosphere here is. In my lab in Turin there are some international students, but they are quite few. Here, however, it seems that the vast majority of the people is not from Austria.
I think I am really lucky to be here also for the other summer students, because they are all very nice and we do a lot of things together and go along with each other very well. Even though we all spend long hours in the labs, we often go out together. All students of this year seem very happy about being here. We all live in accommodation nearby, in Simmeringer Hauptstraße, in a green and calm area well-connected to the Vienna BioCenter. The tram stop is right in front of our door and so you can commute very easily even at late hours.
Networking and social life
The Social Hour [a weekly get-together for all staff of IMP, IMBA and GMI] is a great way to meet and socialize, to connect to people of the other labs and departments that otherwise you would hardly meet. The VBC Summer School also organized some group-activities on two weekends, a Dragon Boat race and a Bowling competition, a fun and useful way to get to know each other better.
The VBC Summer School creates a great opportunity for you to learn something new, because you start a project from zero, so you don’t just work on something new but you will also learn how to set up a plan. Moreover, at the end of these two months you will have to present your work in a VBC symposium, and that is very good training for the future (even if it’s quite scary). Being here it is also good for networking and for getting in touch with new and different people that have great experience and that can give you precious advice.
I think the VBC PhD Programme is very attractive. I know it is not easy getting accepted, but I do consider applying.
I like Vienna. I have been here as a tourist on a school trip before, but now I can experience the city in a deeper way. It is a very historic place, which I like. It is very green and I appreciate the many activities you can do – there are food fairs, festivals and so on, there is always something you can do.
I strongly recommend this experience to anyone, it’s exciting and challenging but at the same time everyone here is very friendly, supportive and kind with us summer students, so it’s the perfect experience even if it’s your first time abroad. Give it a try, I am really happy that I have tried."
Interview conducted in August 2017.