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The statutory group picture ouside the workshop venue

Thirteen of our newly recruited ESRs and their supervisors gathered together in Sheffield on 27th March 2017 for four days of lectures, workshops and other activities designed to kick start the scientific projects that each ESR will be pursuing over the next 36 months. For most, it was the first time that they had met their fellow students and the supervisors but at the end of the four days the group had developed into  a close knit team with an exciting set of closely coordinated projects to look forward to.

Arrival, 26th March

All ESRs and supervisors attending  the workshop met for the very first time at a reception meal in the center of Sheffield hosted by the University of Sheffield coordination team. It was a great way to get to know each other in a friendly and informal environment. For those who had not yet started at their host institution it was the first time they had met their supervisors so excitement tinged with nervousness was the mood of the evening.

Day 1, 27th March

dsc01937After grappling with the early morning Sheffield bus timetables the ESRs arrived at the Halifax Hall Hotel ready to start the first day of training. All attendees at the meeting were formally welcomed to Sheffield and TRAIN by Professor Kiss Toth, the Programme Coordinator, before launching into the first activity, and icebreaker game where everyone had to try to identify each other from clues that related to a little known fact about them or a “claim to fame”. This provided  an energising first 30 minutes and talking points that lasted throughout the day and into the evening.

The rest of the morning was taken up with a general introduction to the TRAIN Programme and the Tribbles protein family, outlining some general facts and the overall hypothesis upon which the work of the ESR projects was based. Additionally, the role of immune cells in bone marrow and adipose tissue, including a cell and isoform – specific expression of Trib was covered.

After lunch, the sessions focussed upon the individual ESR projects that made up the immumne focus of the TRAIN programme with presentations from Sheffield (ESRs 3 &13), London (ESRs 11 & 12), Szeged (ESR 10), Barcelona (ESR 15), Utrecht (ESRs 1&4) and Nantes (ESR 2).  After a long day of absorbing information everyone made the short walk to Eccelsall Road and relaxed with a superb banquet at Patoo Thai restaurant.

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Day 2, 28th March

Whilst the Supervisory Board held their operational meeting in the morning the ESRs attended a very interesting seminar in “Communicating Science”,  given by Stephanie Heifferich from the University of Utrecht. Back to the science in the afternoon with a return to the individual ESR projects, this time focusing on those related to prostate cancer; Bilbao (ESR 6), Munich (ESRs 5 & 7), Covilha (ESR 9) and Madrid (ESRs 8 &14). A long day was finished off with presentations and discussions on  logistics, sharing of resources and various other practicalities related to coordination of activities between the projects. After a quick breather it was time to head off to the countryside  for a quick walk to admire the views over Sheffield and some traditional country pub fare at the  evening dinner venue, The Norfolk Arms.

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Day 3, 29th March

One of the key administrative goals of the TRAIN programme was to utilise an Electronic Laboratory Notebook (ELN) system for documenting the students’ work in the laboratory as well as creating shared inventories of samples, reagents etc. The system we chose to use was the Lab Collector LIMS from Agile Bio and because it was a new system for almost everyone we were very pleased to host Sarah Rodrigues from Agile Bio’s French office who came to describe the Lab Collector features and functionality in a live tutorial session.

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The afternoon was taken up with more practicalities, with presentations from Graham Hughes (TRAIN Programme Manager) on Horizon 2020, Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions and the requirements of the Grant Agreement; Endre Kiss-Toth (TRAIN Coordinator) on sharing resources vs maintaining independent outcomes; and Claire Hutchinson (Laboratory  Manager at QMUL) on Good Scientific Practice and Ethics. After this the students were split into randomised groups and given a task to complete before the morning that drew on the full scope of the presentations they had absorbed over the previous three days. Tasks completed the students enjoyed themselves with some free time exploring the center of the city.

Day 4, 30th March

After a later than planned start, the first item of the morning was for the students to present the outcomes of their tasks to show how much they had understood the various mouse models that will be required across the projects. All came up with very professional presentations considering the short time they had been given to complete them.

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Then it was straight into the last training session of the week, a fully interactive workshop on experimental design and statistics, which had been specially prepared by Tim Heaton, Amy Spencer and Sara Hilditch from  the University of Sheffield’s School of Mathematics and Statistics  The energetic presentation style and focus on real life experimental design challenges the students will face made it a very stimulating and practical few hours.

After a quick lunch it was time to relax and everyone jumped aboard two mini-vans for a  tour of some of the scenic highlights of the Peak District, guided by Graham Hughes and Endre Kiss-Toth. Highlights included a subterranean boat trip down a flooded mine, sampling beers in a Castleton pub and a short walk along the very scenic Monsal Trail before a final group dinner at the Monsal Head Hotel.

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