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Interview with the WCMM Research School Representatives 2023

Abigail Altman (left), Emma Gustafsson (middle), Sara Palo (right)
Abigail Altman (left), Emma Gustafsson (middle), Sara Palo (right)

A new WCMM research school year is completed and the students together with the PIs could celebrate the success of another engaging year at a well-planned and well-deserved retreat. The WCMM research school retreat always offers a good balance between stimulating scientific programs including external speakers or fellow WCMM researchers and social events. This year we heard great talks by invited guest speakers Tariq Enver, stem cell biologist and director at the University College London Cancer Institute, Silvia Remeseiro, WCMM PI at Umeå University and Andreas Toft Sørensen, PI at University of Copenhagen. Behind the whole organization of this year’s WCMM research school retreat 2023 in Ängelholm were three engaged PhD students, Abigail Altman, Sara Palo and Emma Gustafsson. We wanted to know more from them and invited them for an interview to hear more about the WCMM research school, their role as student representatives, retreat organizers and coordinators.

Emma, Sara and Abby, why did you want to become a student representative of the WCMM research school?

A: I volunteered to become a research school student representative to be able to act as a bridge between the students and coordinators, so everyone felt represented. Additionally, I wanted to practice valuable skills like introducing speakers, moderating discussion, and networking.

S: I was most interested in organizing the retreat, since I enjoy this type of work. I also thought it would be a good opportunity to get to know other researchers both from WCMM, BMC and also outside of our organizations.

E: Although I haven't had prior experience organizing retreats, conferences, or similar events, I believed thiswould be a valuable chance for me to learn and grow. I also saw it as an excellent opportunity to meet researchers from other groups.


I see you took this opportunity well to grow your skills, establish new relations but also mediate between PIs and students. Can you tell me if you had also a personal goal to achieve with organizing the WCMM research school retreat?

A: When it was time to leave Ängelholm and return to BMC, I wanted everyone to feel like they became more comfortable with someone new. This way we can expand our networks and grow closer as a center.

S: As an organizer my main goal was for the attendees to feel that everything was running smoothly, and that there was a good mix of scientific and non-science related sessions. I think we succeeded in this!

E: My goal was to organize a retreat that combined engaging lectures from speakers and former students with a more relaxed environment. I wanted to create an atmosphere where participants could get to know each other better and potentially foster new collaborations for the future.


As a participant of the retreat I can confirm, you did succeed in generating a comfortable, relaxed but still very stimulating environment! Perfect to foster new collaborations, which is generally one of the strengths and focus points of the WCMM research school. Was there a favorite activity you planned for this retreat?

A: With the retreat I was hoping to strike a balance between an academic and social program. While all three invited speakers were fantastic and prompted great discussion, it was fun to see everyone relax and get quite competitive when it came to the pub quiz.

S: I felt very inspired by the talks of our three invited speakers. Also, I had a lot of fun hosting the pub quiz!

E: One of my personal highlights was listening to our invited speakers as they shared their inspiring journeys to their current positions in their respective careers. We made a conscious effort to invite speakers with diverse backgrounds and research focuses, providing us access to a wide range of stories and career paths.


Listening to the paths of others can inspire and raise awareness of potential challenges facing us in our career paths. Speaking of challenges, which were the biggest you encountered during the organization of the retreat?

A: I think the biggest challenge was and will always be timing. Everyone is quite busy at the end of the academic year and so to bring together all the WCMM PIs, two cohorts of research school students, and the guest speakers was a logistical feat.

S: Keeping track of all the details; there are so many little things that you don’t really think about when attending a retreat, but which require planning for in advance.

E: The biggest challenge in organizing the retreat was ensuring that all participants' schedules aligned and finding a suitable date that accommodated everyone's availability.


I see a common challenge that all of you encountered, aligning schedules and the timing. Organizing scientific events brings a lot of challenges from which we can learn. What has been the biggest lesson you learned from attending the WCMM research school?

A: What was most valuable for me was the “Meet the PI” sessions and career talks we had with the guest lecturers. You really learned that everyone had a different journey to get to where they are and there is no “right way” to do it. On top of that, how you measure success can be different than for someone else and this is okay too.

S: That everyone’s career path is different. What works for one person isn’t necessarily what will work for someone else. Even the most successful researchers have had their ups and downs and periods of time where they didn’t know how to proceed, but the important thing is to not give up when this happens.

E: The WCMM research school provided me with a really good opportunity to learn more about and testvarious methods in the "method workshop."


This sounds to me as you have been able to take away many positive lessons from the WCMM research school. Do you want to share a message for future students who are interested in attending the WCMM research school?

A: When it comes to the research school—like most things in life—you get out of it what you put into it. You can see the hard work it takes from the coordinators to arrange such a nice curriculum. I would really encourage all future students to dedicate time and effort to the research school. There is so much to gain here!

S: I would absolutely recommend it! I learned a lot of new things, got to know people from different research fields, and I had a lot of fun.

E: I highly recommend seizing the opportunity to attend the WCMM research school. It offers a great platform for connecting with colleagues and PIs. You'll have the chance to explore the techniques and expertise available within the facility, as well as gain practical experience in important areas outside of the lab, such as presenting and grant writing.

Thank you so much for your answers. Your WCMM research school colleagues do appreciate the time and effort you have separated out for the organization of the retreat and to represent them. Stay in touch as WCMM research school alumni!