PhD adventures in China

Rachel Moir

Adventures in china- 3 months research placement for two IBioIC PhD students

Two IBioIC students, Annemette Kjeldsen and Marcus Price, headed off to the Tianjin Institute of Biotechnology (TIB) for a research exchange this summer.

Preparing to travel: Annemette's story
"It is over a year ago since Rachel Moir, IBioIC Skills Programme Manager first contacted us about the opportunity for IBioIC PhD students to undertake a placement at the Tianjin Institute of Industrial Biotechnology (TIB) in China. My colleague, Marcus Price, and I were obviously keen to learn more about this exciting chance to do something extraordinary within our PhDs, so we started looking into it. It turned out that we both really wanted to go, and so, a year and a lot of paperwork later, we are both on our way! Marcus is actually already there, but I am leaving this week and currently procrastinating about packing by writing this blog post instead.

I thought I would talk a bit about the application process itself, as this was a learning curve for me.
Firstly, I had to be sure that a group at the institute had research interests that overlapped with mine. Going to China for a couple of months is all very exciting, but it also adds a bit of pressure to the PhD timeline. So, while it’s a great personal development opportunity, I wanted to make sure I’d get results that would add value to my work and thesis as well.

As it turned out, there is a group at TIB working with anaerobic processes towards high value chemicals – which just so happens to be right up my science-street, so to speak. I contacted Professors Changhao and Zhang to ask if they were interested in a collaboration using their production strains and my anaerobic fluorescent protein iLOV to develop in vivo biosensors. As you might have guessed, they were! I also had to be sure that both my supervisor and the team at Ingenza, my industry partner, thought my going to China for three months was a good idea.

Fortunately, they were relatively easy to convince, so the hard part now was to apply for the funding. This was done through the Newton Fund’s PhD placement programme that aims to promote the research capacity of PhD students, and promote UK-China institutional exchanges and collaborations that benefit future students by strengthening UK-China links in research and innovation.

I had never written a grant application before, but thankfully, with support and proof-reading from my supervisors, it all went well. In January both Marcus and I were awarded funding for travel and accommodation for three months, and funds were also awarded towards a visit from our supervisors as well (Thanks Newton Fund!).

So now, after a fair bit of paperwork to organise visas and registration, and a lot of project planning, I am almost ready to go. I have spent the last few weeks making sure all my experimental work is in order for me to leave it for a few months, and sent the plasmids I might need to the lab in China. As I mentioned, Marcus is already there. He is working on developing CRISPR based systems within the Bacillus species for bulk chemical biosynthesis, so his work is a little bit different from mine. We will be working in the same lab though, which has been helpful for sending materials out there. I think I owe him a bottle of whiskey as he has also sorted out our accommodation, which was a bit of a hassle, and he is sending me lots of good advice on how to get to Tianjin from Beijing!"

The experience: Marcus's story
Marcus reported back on his China placement at the 2019 IBioIC conference and it sounded like the experience of a lifetime! Marcus headed out to Tianjin to work with the team at TIB (Prof. Changhao Bi; Dongdong Zhao and Dr. Siwei Li) on CRISPR tools for Bacillus subtilis. Marcus’s motivations for undertaking the trip were to have the opportunity to live in Tianjin for 3 months; collaborate with a lab also developing novel CRISPR tools and learn from a new working environment. Not only did the placement directly compliment his previous PhD, it was also a highly beneficial trip from a personal point of view with new connections made and a great opportunity to travel

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