It was difficult to believe that we had finally reached this point of the TRAIN journey, our last training workshop, but checking the calendar it is October 2019, the 38th month of the TRAIN programme and this had been scheduled from the outset. Seeing is believing, we were all together once again, this time in Porto, Portugal ready for another few days of working together.
Porto had not been the original choice of venue for this workshop but it was fitting to come to Portugal as the University of Beira Interior has played a small but important part in the work of the consortium, with PI /ESR team of Silvia Socorro and Ziyanda Shologu providing the definitive link between Tribbles research and prostate cancer that lies at the core of the project. The workshop venue was actually decided back in 2018 when TRAIN Coordinator Endre Kiss-Toth met Hing Leung, the Coordinator from the TRANSPOT ITN programme at the 2018 ESUR conference and both realised there was quite a bit of overlap between the ESR projects that was worth exploring together. It was agreed that it would be a very productive exercise to hold a joint workshop alongside the ESUR2019 Conference in Porto in October 2019.
After months of coordinated organisation between the TRAIN and TRANSPOT Programme Managers everything was finally put into place for 3 days of workshop activities before the conference, the final day being given over to a selection of joint activities between the two sets of ESRs. We were all very grateful to the hosts of the conference, the Portuguese Oncology Institute of Porto (IPO Porto) for allowing us to use their meeting facilities free of charge and helping us with the logistics related to transportation and catering.
Seeing as the workshop was occurring at the point at which many of the ESR projects were generating credible results and this was the last opportunity for the consortium to meet before several of our ESRs start the writing-up phase of their PhDs, the focus of the workshop for TRAIN was
very much on reporting and discussing progress and outcomes from each project.
So, for a day and a half we presented and discussed, questioned and comprehensively reviewed. By now though, the ESRs are all accomplised scientists and so though the sessions were challenging all of them were able to take the pressure and in fact much of the questioning was from peer to peer. It was great to see the maturity and confidence showing through in all of the ESRs, a testament to the hard work and lessons they have learned and the excellent supervisory input from the PIs.
At the end of Day 2, with all of the reviews completed it was time to relax together and after a mystery tour through the back streets of Porto the whole group gathered at a charming local family restaurant for some traditional Portuguese cuisine. Though this was, in effect, our last formal meal together it didn’t really feel like that because the friendships are so strong and, well, there is still plenty of work to be done. The ESRs did however, show their appreciation for the work of Endre and Graham in navigating the hurdles, organising the workshops and secondments and most importantly encouraging the whole consortium to keep going by having a whip round and buying two wonderful personal gifts. Thanks guys.
On Day 3 it was time for the ESRs and Pis from both TRAIN and TRANSPOT to come together and share the (very packed) workshop agenda. To prepare for the first session we had asked every ESR from both groups two write an abstract of ther research project and submit it to the other group for review. A “selection committee” within each group selected three abstracts that they were most interested in or were most relevant cross-over projects, During the session the ESRs who’s projects had been selected gave a brief presentation on the background and main outcomes to date to the whole group. This was very successful, the ESRs showed great professionalism and the session stimulated some good questions from the rest of the audience.
The second session of the morning was designed to give the ESRs an insight into how they might use their PhD in a future career. Dr. Eric Schiffer – Numares, Prof. Carmen Jerónimo – IPO Porto and Dr. Helen Rippon – Worldwide Cancer Charity presented short “life stories” about how they made the career choices that had got them to their current positions. Altogether very inspiring and thought provoking.
The afternoon sessions started off with two very interesting talks from Dr Hayley Luxton and Dr Chris Armstrong from Prostate Cancer UK followed by a special guest appearance by Prof Catherine Muller from the University of Toulouse talking about her research into the “Role of periprostatic adipose tissue in prostate cancer progression”. All of the talks in this session perfectly bridged the focus of the two research programmes of TRAIN and TRANSPOT.
The final session of the afternoon was given over to a special topic that the TRAIN ESRs had requested some months earlier and had helped to structure the content for. After her very successful session on unconscious bias at the Sheffield workshop in March, Lesley Aicheson from Cerulean Training had kindly agreed to put together a long session on Mental Health and in particular the causes of stress and how to manage it. As we had previously discovered, Lesley’s entertaining and thoughtful approach made for a fascinating three hours and everyone was extremely relaxed at the end.
To round off the day and the workshop, the evening had been set up as an informal poster session where every ESR was able to publicise and discuss their work with ESRs and PIs from the opposite programme. This was conducted over an excellent buffet meal with plenty of wine to help the conversations flow. The energy in the room was certainly indicative of a stimulating experience for everyone. Everyone from TRAIN would like to express their thanks to their counterparts in TRANSPOT for a very different and interesting day.