I am (still) interested in the role of the immune system as the poisonous environment in which ageing and neurodegenerative diseases (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease) develop. Thus, to me it was very important to do a PhD in the field of Neuroimmunology. There are a few places in the world where this field thrives, and I had excluded outside Europe (the daily live seems to be quite different from here) and South Europe (don’t like the weather). Scandinavia is too dark in winter, and I am a person that tends to see the world through darker glasses anyway. Central Europe comes as solution.

But I refused to work one more day for free (did that for 10 months) or for a stipend: I wanted to pay taxes! Paying taxes makes me believe I have a proper job, a job that will secure my retirement, my illnesses and even my maternity leave. This is only possible in a few countries: Switzerland is one of them.

There’s a hub for neuroimmunology in Zurich, so I applied here.

When I came for the interview I did not ask

  • How many PhD/master students are you supervising?
  • What do you expect from me in the next 4 years?
  • What do you expect from this project for the next 4 years?
  • How big do you expect the lab to become?
  • What techniques can I learn that will distinguish me from the competition when applying for a new job?
  • What can I bring to this lab, from all the things I have learned?
  • Who is my “go-to” person in case I have questions with data analysis?
  • How reliable is this model? How appropriate is this model to study this condition?

I just read the project description. I talked to the Professor, the 2 junior PIs, and the PhD student that I would replace. I was very happy with what I heard and I had a very positive feeling that our way to go about life matched. I chose the lab because it was quite small (but it tripled in 2 years) and because the project was pretty solid (actually, the model was not working), and just needed some molecular characterisation that I could do (still haven’t done it) and eventually I could starting exploring other angles and putting together bits and pieces.

For some of those questions I got to see/experience the answers in real life and the others I have eventually asked. Other important questions are not to be asked, but to be answered by the PhD candidate:

  • What do you want from your PhD?
  • Do you want to supervise a master student?
  • What do you want to learn that will make you a suitable candidate in your next job? This could be a super-fancy technique, a coding language, or organizational skills.
  • What do you have in your portfolio that you are confident with, and can use as a “reliable, always working method”?

In my case, I wanted to learn immunology, specially about the immune system. This is difficult on a daily basis because the project tends to be way more narrow than the general knowledge in immunology I would like to acquire. I don’t mind supervising master students, but I do not have a structured project they can pursue on their own. I would like to acquire good knowledge of FACS and CyTOF and my go to method is qPCR. It always works.

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