Why do researchers go for an international career?

18 October 2021• NEWSITEM

The curiosity and enthusiasm about a specific topic can drive scientists halfway across the world. Joana Brás Gomes Nunes' interest in cell metabolism brought her via Portugal and the United States to Leiden. And she is certainly not the only one: at the LUMC, researchers from 70 different countries are employed. What drives them, and what is the advantage of such an international career?

Joana Brás Gomes Nunes is originally from Portugal and has been researching cellular energy management and metabolism for more than ten years. In those years, she has lived and worked in three different countries. Her international ambitions were already fueled during her studies, when she left for Spain. “There I realized how much I loved going abroad, broaden my horizon and to get to know new realities.” 

International environment

And she is certainly not the only one. “Research groups are becoming more and more international. As an example, I’ve worked in a lab that consisted of researchers from 14 different countries.” Brás Gomes Nunes thinks that one important reason for this is that valuable collaborations are crucial for impactful research, and that is what pushes researchers to move. In addition, an international environment has many advantages. "In international research groups, there is a higher diversity in ways of thinking and skills which result in discussion and exchange of knowledge, and that is what drives science. On the other hand, it is also a good way to improve your English, not to mention that it is a lot of fun!" 

Eliminate cancer cells

After her studies, Brás Gomes Nunes moved to the United States to do her PhD project which focused on understanding the metabolism of cancer cells that enable them to become more aggressive. "After completing my PhD, I was keen to return to Europe. I wanted to further explore the research environment and expand my network." Besides, she was interested in carrying out her own research project. "I wanted to combine cell metabolism with immunity and find out what the optimal conditions for culturing immune cells are, so that they can effectively eliminate cancer cells in the body." This is very important for so-called adoptive cell transfer, which is a promising immunotherapy for certain types of cancer.   

Major setback

This ambition brought her to Leiden. However, the only thing missing was funding. She therefore applied for the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Individual Fellowships of the European Commission, one of the grants that stimulate internationalisation of science. It was a major setback when she didn’t receive the grant, but fortunately the LUMC had decided to reward researchers that scored very well on the application and provide them with the corresponding funds. "That was really great news", says Brás Gomes Nunes. This LUMC regulation, which ran from 2019 to 2020, awarded a total of 6 postdocs from different countries. As a result, Brás Gomes Nunes is now conducting her own desired research project in the Department of Pathology, under the supervision of Noel de Miranda. 

The next step?

After her current research project, Brás Gomes Nunes would like to continue working in translational research. Her goal is to become an independent researcher. The funding she received from the LUMC has given her the tools to take steps towards this ambition. "It allows me to develop myself in areas both within and outside the academy.” Besides, she doesn’t exclude the option to broaden her horizon even further. “I like it in the Netherlands but I also see myself continuing my career somewhere else in Europe, or going back to Portugal.” 

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