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“Learn how to develop your own research style!” Terence Lee, intern at the Institut Pasteur in Paris

Terence Lee is a PhD candidate at the University of Hong Kong School of Biomedical Sciences. His current research project focuses on autophagy and more specifically LC3, a marker of autophagosomes. He is a laureate of the HKU-Pasteur Research Pole Fellowship 2021 and is currently an intern at the Membrane Biochemistry and Transport Laboratory, directed by Dr Thomas Wollert at the Institut Pasteur in Paris.

He shared with us his first feedbacks on pursuing his research project for 3 months at the Institut Pasteur in Paris!

What is your training background?

I received scientific training from Prof. Dong-Yan Jin who is a seasoned virologist. The laboratory focuses on studying the molecular pathology of viral diseases. Viruses have evolved strategies to bypass host immune response in order to establish an efficient infection, studying the molecular mechanism viruses employ to circumvent immune response would provide clues to restore immune response in infection. The ultimate aim of the laboratory is to identify host factors that could serve as therapeutic targets to reduce the severity of viral diseases.

In my project, I am studying a viral protein called PB1-F2 from Influenza A virus. My research aims to characterize the role of an Influenza A virus protein PB1-F2 in Influenza A virus infection and its interaction with host.

Why did you choose the Institut Pasteur Membrane Biochemistry and Transport Laboratory with Dr Thomas Wollert for this research internship?

I am interested in understanding how does autophagy work and the consequence of autophagic failure. Thomas is an expert in autophagy, so I would be able to learn advanced techniques in his laboratory as well as analytical skills on microscopic work. Autophagy is an evolutionary conserved process that targets cellular components for degradation. It is vital to the homeostasis of our body as it functions to remove cytotoxic materials and recycle cellular components to serve as energy or build blocks of macromolecules. Autophagic failure has been implicated in many human diseases like cancers, neurodegenerative diseases etc. Since my work in Hong Kong is focused on pathogen biology, Thomas’s way of thinking as a molecular biologist would provide new insights for me to think through a problem.

Can you tell us a little bit more about what you are doing on a daily basis at the laboratory?

My project here focuses on LC3, a marker of autophagosomes. I have generated LC3 mutants and I currently perform confocal microscopy to identify determinants of selective and non-selective autophagy.

How this new research environment can contribute to developing your ongoing research project?

Before arriving in Paris, I was usually more triggered by the fear of making a mistake or failing an experiment, which was sometimes refraining me from being more creative . Here the lab encourages us to embrace mistakes, the trusting environment allows me to review steps that may have gone wrong and revise accordingly. In Hong Kong, I was used to arranging a tight schedule in order to deliver the project as soon as possible according to deadlines. This left myself little time to review my data and prioritize important experiments. The new research culture encourages us to take break for the body to recover physically and for the mind to refresh mentally to stay creative and efficient. So I think the new research environment here allows me to understand that change takes time and I have to be patient and more forgiving to my mistakes. After all I am not a superhero, a little step back would probably go a long way!

What has the most surprised you about this internship so far?

Coffee breaks and work life balance! Everyday after lunch, the group would have a coffee break at the balcony before going back to work. We will have a moment to talk about whatever we want such as our frustrations in failed experiments. Coffee breaks provide a nice opportunity for team bonding as well as get to know every member personally!

It is no surprise that France places a heavy emphasis on work life balance. We all know it is good to have a break from time to time, but what is the reason behind that? The time here in Institut Pasteur has taught me that rests can keep us creative and attain efficiency. Make use of your free time! Have a look at the city, do some exercise, talk with family and friends and come back as a better researcher. French certainly knows better!

Is there any upcoming step / event in the research internship you are looking forward to?

I have received scientific training on a very different field to cell biology. Even I have kept myself updated to advancements in autophagy through reading research articles, I am still unfamiliar to the approach, techniques and statistical analysis in this new field. To test by hypothesis of the project, I would perform confocal imaging and statistical analysis of data. I am thrilled to learn the routinary and essential procedures in confocal microscopy, the training would come in handy when I continue my ongoing project in HKU as well as pursue a career in cell biology in future.

I am always amazed with how cell biologists come up with ideas to discover unknown secrets in cells. By working in Institut Pasteur, I would have the privilege to sit down and listen to stories and ideas told by Thomas and my colleagues, I am sure the experience would inspire me to develop my own research interest and style in the future!

HKU-Pasteur Fellowship Call for Application 2022 is now open: apply before December 20th!

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