Harvard Retreat 2010: Lorette Noiret

Lisa Willis and I visited the Harvard System Biology Department from the 14th to the 19th of May. The visit was extremely fruitful, and I am really thankful to Matt Wakelin for organizing it and to CoMPLEX for allowing us to go.

This visit could be split in two parts: during the first three days, Lisa and I attended the departmental retreat in Sebasco Harbor Resort, and during the last days we visited some laboratories and met researchers and students at Harvard medical campus.

The retreat was organized as a series of talks performed by the departmental group leaders, and two series of poster session presented by the PhD students. The aim was to provide an overview of the research performed in the department, the latest results of each lab and their directions of work. It was a fantastic opportunity to discover about a wide variety of biological areas and to develop a general idea about the System Biology Department as a whole. Regarding my research project, I was particularly impressed by some of the teams working on energy metabolism, and this informal context allowed me to discuss with these top researchers. It was also interesting/informative to see the place allocated to mathematical/physical modelling, and to realise that it is still limited to some specialized teams.

The poster session was an opportunity to present my research project and to explain what CoMPLEX is.

After the retreat, Lisa and I spent a few days in Boston. We took this opportunity to visit some laboratories. I met Dr Higgins who develops mathematical models in a medical context, Dr Thomas Maiwald, whose work focus on estimating parameter values from experimental data, and Prof Mitchison, who work focused on cytoskeleton. The discussions were really interesting, and I specially enjoyed having the views of these researches on the place of mathematics in biological sciences. Dr Maiwald developed a software to help estimating/optimizing unobservable parameters which combine mathematical modelling and experimental data, which I found particularly useful. (Note: if several CoMPLEX students are interested, Dr Maiwald agreed to present his approach / software during a 1-day workshop at the end of the year as he will be in Europe during this period). Finally I met the departmental administrator who provided useful information on how to apply and to find a funding to join the System Biology Department.

Overall, I am extremely pleased I went to this retreat. Apart from the research perspective, I thought visiting the labs and discovering the culture/people of such a prestigious institution was extremely fruitful.

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