Dylan Noone, PhD candidate at the Department of Cell and Chemical Biology had a clear goal: he wanted to experience life in a different country and pursue interesting career goals, preferably somewhere in Europe, which would still be relatively close to home for him, home being the UK. At the LUMC, he seems to have found the perfect spot to realize this dream. “It immediately jumped out to me how the LUMC has research, education and healthcare all connected with each other.”
It’s because of this mix that people get to be part of a project from A to Z. They get to witness research as students and researchers, and hopefully get to see their research get translated into the clinic. “That’s the dream, right? Our lab has ideas for potential therapeutics that can be used clinically. Hopefully at the end of my PhD project, I get to see my work be part of that.” Dylan realizes all too well that getting to that stage requires hard work and a bit of luck. But that’s all part of the research game, and Dylan’s project is no different.
Studying the immune system
Specifically, Dylan’s project is aimed at using cryo electron microscopy to get the atomic structures of proteins. “We focus on two proteins that are part of the immune system and try to see how they work. The proteins we’re studying activate a certain part of the immune system, but they seem to change their behaviour around wounds. We’re trying to get structures of their condition in the wounds, so we can clearly determine the differences of these structures inside of a wound and in circulation. Ultimately, we hope this will inform translational scientists or doctors how to make medicine that can target these pathways or parts of the immune system.” So far, Dylan seems to be doing well, or at least, “that’s what my boss says to my face, so I’m guessing that’s a good sign”, Dylan says jokingly.
Coming to the LUMC
And it was his boss, Thom Sharp, that got Dylan excited for the LUMC in the first place. “My boss did his PhD at the university I was working for at the time. I had never heard of the LUMC before, but the mixture of collaborators in education, research, healthcare and the Leiden BioScience Park instantly drew my interest.” So after having studied biochemistry in Bristol and working for a biotech company in Oxford, genetically modifying insects, and continuing to do work as a researcher in Bristol, Dylan finally got to realize his wish to move abroad and work in the collaborative atmosphere he values so dearly. “Within the department I work, an interdisciplinary collaborative approach is what really gets emphasized in all our work. And I love that. It’s a big thing for me. It’s useful having all these different backgrounds and blending them together.”
Thus, Dylan has been enjoying his stay at the LUMC and in the Netherlands very much up to this point. “Everything in the Netherlands seems to be working well. The weather maybe not so much, but that’s the same for me at home”, Dylan says laughingly. “At the LUMC specifically, what really stood out to me was my boss’s work. He designs shapes out of DNA and uses them to activate parts of the immune system. At first, this was totally new for me and fascinated me.” But Dylan also mentions the favourable terms of employment at the LUMC. “As a PhD candidate at the LUMC, you earn a decent wage, which is very different from a lot of other countries, such as the UK. It might be trivial in the grander scheme of things, but it’s nevertheless a nice addition to an already interesting position.”
And for the time being, Dylan is perfectly happy with the years to come at the LUMC. “After my PhD, we’ll see what happens, meanwhile I’m just enjoying my time here.” What he would say to all those aspiring to move abroad is this: “It can be scary moving away, but after an initial month or two, you feel at ease again and the move will give you more skills and make you more resilient. I feel that it’s a good thing to get out of your comfort zone.”