Meet the Trainer – María del Mar Vivanco

PHOTO: María del Mar Vivanco

Meet María del Mar Vivanco, Team Leader at CIC bioGUNE in Bilbao, Spain. Maria is one of the organisers of the EMBO Practical Course: Techniques for Mammary Gland Research (1 – 6 March 2020).

What is your research focus?

I am interested in cancer heterogeneity, why some cells respond to therapy while others do not, thus contributing to development of resistance and metastasis. In particular, I am intrigued about the complex effects of transcription factors, which are required for normal physiology of the mammary gland and are also implicated in tumorigenesis and development of resistance to therapy in breast cancer.

Why did you choose to become a scientist?

When I was young I had a variety of interests – psychology, physics, art, biology… However, I was intrigued by science and anything related to DNA and its regulation. Then I did my PhD at EMBL Heidelberg (Gene Expression Programme) and discovered the opportunities in research for identifying problems, looking for solutions and the thrill of finding some of the answers…and I was hooked!

Where do you see this field heading in the future?

Despite significant progress in cancer research and clinical advances, breast cancer still is the most commonly diagnosed cancer – one in eight women will develop this disease during their lifetime – and it claims the lives of more women than any other cancer, plus men can also get breast cancer. This highlights the unmet clinical need for improved strategies for prevention, early detection and more efficient and specific treatments in order to accelerate progress and help more patients survive the disease.

One of the features that characterises breast cancer is its heterogeneity, both among patients and within each patient tumor. This heterogeneity is found at molecular, phenotypic and functional levels, complicating diagnosis and challenging approaches to therapy. Currently, huge efforts are dedicated to understanding this heterogeneity at all levels, including at single-cell resolution, which is anticipated to open new possibilities for more efficient and specific anti-cancer therapies.

How has training influenced your career? 

Doing my PhD at EMBL marked the way I envision science, and this vision was reinforced and developed further at UCSF. Science can – and SHOULD – be fun. Later on, funding struggles and the current publishing madness have somehow taken a toll on the fun element, so I just have to remind myself sometimes that science is still exciting!

If you weren’t a scientist, what would you be?

An artist.

You are one of the organisers of the EMBO Practical Course: Techniques for Mammary Gland Research (1 – 6 March 2020). What is the greatest benefit of the course for the scientific community and what could the techniques in this course be used for in the bigger picture?

Some of the techniques practiced at this course are specific for the mammary gland and thus it provides a solid base for researchers starting in this field. In addition, there is a significant emphasis on imaging and comparison of mouse and human studies, the two major systems for looking at normal physiology and cancer research that, when combined, offer great insights into this heterogeneous disease. In addition, having the opportunity to work alongside other trainees contributes to the establishment of a network that may be helpful in the future. Cancer is a very complex problem, and having collaborators with different views and expertise will be very useful in your career.

Interested in this course? Submit your application by 8 December!

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10 ways to get your scientific course application accepted

 

Rejection.

We have all experienced it in one way or another. Scientists perhaps more than others – rejected papers, job applications, fellowships, grants or training applications. But what can we do when it happens again and again and again?

In the EMBL Course and Conference Office we see it all – our scientific courses are way oversubscribed, and competition is tough! We’ve taken a look at the most common mistakes that will lead to your application being rejected. These 10 tips will help you to be among the minority of successful course applicants, and while we can’t promise that every application you submit will be accepted, following these tips will ensure that you stay towards the top of the pile!

  1. Apply on time!

It sounds simple, but we have so many requests from late applicants to submit after the deadline. Newsflash – you won’t be considered! The application deadlines are part of a well-planned process, and we stick to it. So plan in advance and don’t leave things until the last minute!

  1. Complete ALL questions directly and clearly

Again – sounds simple, right? It’s amazing how many applicants think some questions are optional. Organisers have to select participants from a highly qualified pool of applicants, and if they have no comparison, you will be put straight on the “no” pile.

  1. Submit all requested documentation

Take the time to collate all requested documentation before submitting your application. If you make it past the first round, these will be vital in securing your spot in the final selection.

  1. Read the guidelines…and follow them!

Generally course guidelines will be provided. Take the time to read through them and make sure you follow them – they are there for a reason!

  1. Be sure that it is the right course for you

Make sure the course WILL actually be of benefit to you. Check that you have the required pre-requisites, and that the learning outcomes are the same as your learning desires.

  1. The motivation LETTER – not the motivation THESIS

Most likely you will be provided with a word limit. Stick to it. If you don’t have a word limit, don’t take this to mean you can write a thesis. The scientific organisers have a lot of applications to go through and limited time to do it. Yours needs to catch their eye from the onset, so make sure the important stuff stands out! 

  1. The motivation letter – the important stuff!

This is perhaps the most important part of your course application, so take it seriously! There is a lot of competition, so show that you have put some effort into it. Things that you should definitely include:

  • Why would you like to attend?
  • What do you expect to learn?
  • How will you benefit from what you learn?
  • How and when will you use the skills learned on the course?
  • A brief description of your current research and future plans
  • Any relevant skills, experience and qualifications
  • Your scientific career and training
  • Relevance in the lab – is the knowledge lacking and can you pass it on?
  1. Show academic curiosity

Make it clear that you have done your research and are actually interested in the topic. If it is clear that you are only applying for the course because your PI told you to, chances that you’ll be considered are slim.

  1. Make sure you can spare the time and, if necessary, get a visa on time

If you have other commitments or think it won’t be possible to get a visa on time to enter the country where the course is taking place, please reconsider and apply for a course taking place at a later date. Otherwise you will take the spot of someone else who would be able to attend.

  1. Show your application to your supervisor

Ask your supervisor to check over your application before submitting. They will have much more experience in submitting successful applications and can give you advice on what to change and adapt to increase your chances of getting accepted.

 

So it’s over to you now! And if you’re not sure where to start looking for your next scientific training course, take a look at our upcoming events under www.embl.org/events.

Check out our video for some more tips on successfully applying for practical courses!

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Meet the Trainer – Estefanía Lozano-Andrés

Meet Estefanía Lozano-Andrés, a Marie Sklodowska-Curie PhD Candidate at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. We first met Estefanía in 2016 when she was a participant at the EMBL Course “Extracellular Vesicles: from Biology to Biomedical Applications” and she is back as a trainer at this year’s course.

What is your research focus, and what challenges is the field facing?

My main research interest is the study of Extracellular Vesicles (EVs), which are nano-sized membrane-enclosed particles released by cells. EVs contain selected proteins, lipids and nucleic acids that reflect the status and origin of cells, making them very attractive for biomarker profiling. However, their small size hampers robust detection of single EVs, so more sensitive technology needs to be developed to truly exploit the potential of EVs. Particularly, I am interested in the use of flow cytometry to analyse EVs in a high-throughput and multiparametric manner, but there are quite some challenges to overcome like the optimisation of EV-labelling strategies, the development of reference materials and the standardisation of measurements.

You attended the EMBL Course on Extracellular Vesicles 3 years ago and now you are one of the trainers in this year’s course. How has the course influenced your career?

The course had a great impact on my scientific career. When I was selected to attend the course, I was at an early stage of my PhD and it helped me to develop as a scientist and to have a more critical eye. Thanks to the course I met many leading researchers in the field and it’s probably one of the reasons why I am currently a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Early Stage Researcher within the TRAIN-EV Consortium, which brings together leading European scientists working on EVs (grant agreement No 722148). I was thrilled to know that this year I could attend the course as a trainer to help all the participants during the practical sessions and to shed some light on the use of flow cytometry for EV analysis.

What is your number one tip for people looking for scientific training?

Don’t be afraid to engage with people, it can really help you to find out about great training opportunities that could further improve your career. And always try to make the most out of any given moment.

If you weren’t a scientist, what would you be?

A multifaceted artist, I love creating things. Painting, writing and photography make me very happy. Fun fact: when I was a child I wanted to be a professional gift wrapper.

If you were a superhero what power would you have?

Teleportation, I would really enjoy to travel across space (and time).

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