News / 9 May 2023

EMBL Australia travel grants are assisting dozens of students to expand their research horizons by travelling to inspiring and informative European conferences and courses every year.

Bec Degnan, a PhD student from the University of Queensland and a recipient of a short-term travel grant in 2022 highlights her experience and the funds allowed her to achieve.

What was the purpose of your travel?

As I plan to apply for a postdoctoral fellowship at EMBL following the completion of my PhD, my main objective was to meet with several labs of interest to learn about their work and their future directions. I also wanted to see how these labs operate in person, and to experience some of EMBL’s onsite facilities, such as the imaging and sequencing facilities.

Did you get to meet with these labs? Tell us about a few!

My initial objectives (and more) were met, and the visit exceeded my expectations.

Photobooth picture of some of the Australian travel grant awardees at the EMBL PhD Symposium at EMBL Heidelberg – we are now all working together on the EMBL Australia PhD Symposium organising committee!

The main outcomes were as follows:

  • I met with group leaders of several labs, including Detlev Arendt, Aissam Ikmi, and Justin Crocker. In these meetings, I was able to learn about the current and future directions of these labs of interest, meet other members of the lab over meals or during lab tours and establish new professional relationships. I discussed applying for a postdoc with the Arendt group in the future, and the steps I would take to do this, including returning to EMBL in 2024 to present my current research and for an informal interview with the lab, before beginning the formal application process. This was a highlight, and fulfilled one of the main objectives of my visit!
  • I completed a course on RNAi experiment, and siRNA design, which is highly applicable to my own area of research.
  • I also attended a multiday seminar on Electron Microscopy (EM) available at EMBL, and how to design experiments with EM.
  • Lastly, I finished my trip at the EMBL PhD Symposium, where I presented a poster and a gave a talk on my current research, and was awarded the 1st place poster prize.

“At the symposium, I connected with scientists in my field (and beyond) from around the world, as well as young researchers from Australia, which also kick-started my involvement in the EMBL Australia PhD Symposium organising committee.”


This sounds action-packed. Did these meetings take you in new research directions, or did you receive any specific feedback that you would consider beneficial to your study?

Before my visit to EMBL, I already had considered that I would like to move in a new direction with molecular biology after my PhD. My visit gave me further clarity on what I would like this new research direction to be, and deeply inspired me to work towards this. After visiting several groups, I confirmed that I have a deep interest in Evo-Devo biology, and am particularly passionate about working with non-conventional or emerging model organisms.

I received some very supportive feedback from one of my lab visits that – although my current field of research in Molecular Plant Pathology has significant differences from this future direction – the skills I am learning and techniques I am developing now working in a non-model system will translate well, and will allow me to develop the kind of innovative thinking that will be necessary to work in these fields in the future.

Bonnie Werner, a PhD student at UNSW (on left in main image), also travelled to the EMBL Postgraduate Symposium in 2022, and had this to say about the experience:

“I had the opportunity to present my research as a poster to peers with interest in the field or techniques I work in, as well as with people with no background in my research area. This gave me the opportunity to practice tailoring my interactions based on different levels of understanding/reason for interest. As a personal objective of my PhD training is to develop my skills in science communication, this was an invaluable opportunity. The positive feedback that I obtained from presentation of my research as a poster has helped to provide confidence in my research objectives, which I am currently developing further, with the aim to release the outcomes as a publication this year.”

Apply now for travel in late 2023!

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