• Hour glass icon12 minutes : 6 minutes reading | 6 minutes video

Prof Alberto Bardelli

Current position
Director of Laboratory Molecular Genetics at the Institute for Cancer Research and Treatment at Candiolo (Torino) and Professor in the Dept. of Oncology, Medical School, University of Turin

Details of PhD
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, University College London, 1996

Year became PI

Years spent as a postdoc

Total number of postdocs managed during career

Case study conducted
August 2020

How has your research group maintained a sense of community while working apart? 

Italy was hit first, at least in Europe and my lab one was one of the first to shut down. The most – it was, it was a complicated period, it cannot be explained differently. A lot of my postdocs come from – are not Italian, for example, and so part of the job that translated into being in touch with all of them, helping them through the health situation, making sure they understood the regulations that were in place, making sure that, you know, Italy went into a very strict lockdown. 

But it was fun in many ways as well. We had, we had virtual aperitifs on Fridays, that became real once the lockdown ended. Because we still couldn't meet in the lab, so we had a couple of walks in a park that is very close to the lab immediately after that. That was fun. And we, in general, invited a lot of former lab members to give, to join these, these Friday night parties. That was a lot of fun. So that time was also spent in reunion of the larger group.  

In general, I also had to support one person in my group became positive and was hospitalized. So, you know, it was, it was challenging. He was a PhD student. He's doing brilliantly now but we had to help him in many ways. And, you know, the reality is many postdocs are often away from their families, of course they are away from them, but maybe living in a small apartments, which was very challenging during the lockdown. 

How are you working together now lockdown has ended? 

Right now the situation is we are back in the lab since the beginning of May in two shifts 7.00am to 1:30pm, 2pm-9pm, so the lab doesn't meet altogether. So we have the lab meeting at 7:30am and but they also support these because they then can have more time to work. And so I suspect that some of these aspects will continue. The bioinformatics team that is four members plus two students is not, is still working entirely virtually except for some of them sometimes retrieve data from the servers, and I suspect that this will have profound impact anyway in the future for how we organize ourselves. 

During this time we use a lot of computational power and a lot of the time to retrain some of the postdocs actually they retrain themselves into by informatics. So what I suggested at the beginning of lockdown is that everybody use the time to, you know, become more proficient in being able to analyse data, which is something that in the future many postdocs in these, in these fields will need to do anyway. And so it was pleasing to see that some of them became proficient in learning to programme in R or other, you know, programs: BASIC. I have an American postdoc that became very good at that. And I suspect this will help her in the future. Yeah, so things are far from normal, and will be far from normal for a long time. 

What advice would you give PIs supporting their postdocs remotely? 

In many ways, these very difficult times offer opportunities. One with a few we mentioned, you know, more time to discuss, more time to reflect and more time to analyse data. More time to stay at home and spend time in the lab, paradoxically. I used to travel possibly four or five times a month, like many other PIs, right? You know, we used to, to be constantly on planes and going to meetings. This has ended. I don't think in the next two years, this will go back to normal. So, you know, use the use the time to, you know, to refocus your activities. This was very helpful for me. I was able to, you know, really think to what are the most important and challenging questions in my field. And I also had the privilege to be able to spend more time, you know, with my team than I, than I used to have – it seems strange, but that's what happened. 

Science is done by ideas and, and I’ve tried to, you know, keep up the, the spirit of some of the postdocs. Obviously, this is a very challenging time for a postdoc – for a PI, for everybody – but you know you need to find your career. CRUK, that I often help reviewing for, has already announced – and for, in which I have grants funded by – has announced cuts. You are aware of this. 

But, you know, we should think positively. During this time two people they left for industry in a positive way. And so, you know, look for other opportunities, industry being one. The biotechnical biomedical sector is doing well, because of course it is impacted by this. And you know just, just be confident that science is, will be at the centre stage even more in the future, I think. 

Refine image Refine Cross
Filter by: Unsure what to search for? Click here
130 minutes
Flash badge View notice(s)