Virginias update on her PhD


Could you remind us briefly what your project is about?

Picture virginiaMy project revolves around the theoretical study of the crystallisation of membrane proteins. Instead of doing an experimental study on how membrane proteins crystallise, I will try to create computational models to understand the physics of the crystallisation of such complex biological systems. That means studying nucleation and the growth of crystals, in correlation with phenomena such as diffusion and flow, that play an important role in the crystallisation process.

The experimental ESRs will help me to achieve my goal, by providing experimental data that they collected during their experiments. Then by analysing their data, I will be able to find patterns and trends that will help to better understand how membrane proteins crystallise. Finally, my results will contribute to design rational and effective crystallisation techniques.

What important milestone have you reached until now?

It has been a busy first year, as expected, in which I learnt a lot of new things and manage to improve many skills. A few months ago, I returned from my first secondment in Grenoble, and I am currently preparing for my second secondment, at the beggining of December, in Maynooth.

In collaboration with Prof. Monika Budayova Spano (Université Grenoble  Alpes), we worked on mass transport experimental data, produced by Dr Niels Junius for his PhD thesis: “Instrumental developments for controlling crystallization by dialysis: microfluidic approach and X-ray analysis”, supervised by Prof. Spano. This study has led to some exciting results. I am currently working on a paper that will include these results and we are planning on submitting to a journal by the beginning of the upcoming year.

Did the ITN help you in the implementation of your project until now? If yes in what way?

So far, the ITN has provided me with many tools that other PhD programs probably wouldn’t. All the workshops organised by the network were very useful and helped me understand the project better, and most importantly they helped me understand the needs and the niches in the crystallisation of complex biological systems. Since I hadn’t worked with similar systems before, it was essential to my project to quickly catch up with the problems the experimentalists phase in order to be able to suggest probable solutions and approaches. The fact that I had a network of talented experimentalist, working in different projects, having different backgrounds and perspectives, helped me get a spherical idea of the stage of the research in this particular field.


Would you recommend other students to apply to a position within an MSCA network such as RAMP? What advice would you give them?

I will highly recommend to students that are currently searching for PhD opportunities to apply for a position within the MSCA network. So far I haven’t noticed any disadvantages within an MSCA PhD project in comparison to the projects that are not MSCA. In contrast, I have noticed many advances, such as many opportunities to take part to international workshops and conferences, chances to work to different environments, working experience with industry collaborators, and last but not least wide range of experts in the network willing to help.

My advice to a new student applying for an ITN position will be not to try something new. It might look overwhelming being part of a big network, but it is a good preparation for what they might phase later in academia and industry. It is difficult to find so many experts, working on the same project. Students should take advantage of their expertise and don’t be intimidated to reach out to them for help and advises.