RESCUE Cofund PhDs are finishing up

In 2019, 31 young researchers from 17 different countries started their PhD journey at the Regenerative Medicine Centre in Utrecht. Now, they are all finishing up and defending their theses, so it was time for a closing event. On November 16, the participants were celebrated with a symposium and dinner. 

The 30+ PhD projects reflected the breadth of regenerative medicine, ranging from multi-organ-on-a-chip models to test therapies for kidney regeneration to combining natural and synthetic materials with bio-fabrication techniques for cartilage regeneration. The RESCUE training program was funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme through the Marie S. Curie COFUND grant agreement, aiming to stimulate researchers' international mobility. 

The Netherlands' largest COFUND initiative to date was initiated with short-term goals aimed at strengthening the local RMU network and training young scientists. As well as longer term goals of establishing a strong, long-lasting, and coherent Regenerative medicine network and increase the international profile of Utrecht in Regenerative Medicine.  

According to scientific director Paul Coffer these goals were met, and what developed beyond this was much more. At the event, the students reflected on a time of community, cultural adaptation, hard work and the expectations and realities of navigating a PhD.  

RESCUE students at the symposium during a panel, with moderator Stephan van Duin.

In the panel discussions the students discussed the topics of expectations vs realities of a PhD, cultural differences, mental health, and future perspectives. Coming from all over the world, the cultural differences presented a big challenge. One student from Malaysia, a country with more pronounced hierarchal structures in the workplace explained: ‘In my first few weeks I would look around where to sit for lunch and see the table with my supervisors and think, I definitely cannot sit there. Instead, I sat down with other RESCUE students that I knew. After a few weeks my supervisors approached me and asked if I do not like them and why I do not eat with them at lunch.’  A common theme throughout the entire conversation was the sense of community that RESCUE provided and how much it assisted the students in getting through tough times, particularly in light of the covid pandemic. 

The group could also rely on each other in overcoming cultural differences, the battle against Dutch bureaucracy and starting a project as big as PhD. As one student remarked:  ‘We were all new to the Dutch system and research and the struggles of a PhD, so you always had a safety net. We shared the struggles, especially bureaucracy and paperwork. We really helped each other out with that.’ 

The students' experiences from these past years have been collected in a booklet. In it, they share a brief summary of their research, reflect on their time as PhD students, and give advice to both other (future) PhD students and supervisors. You can find an online version of the booklet here


This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie COFUND grant agreement No 801540.