Q&A with Arash Veshkini

Why did you choose to apply to the MANNA?

The first time I saw the MANNA webpage, I was impressed by the sentence “we train the future research leader.” It became even more exciting when I found that my current MANNA Project (Number 10) is in line with my research background. I chose to apply to the MANNA to strengthen my knowledge in my favorite field, build my scientific network, and prepare myself for my future career.

Which are the most challenging parts of your project?

Considering that the MANNA programme’s primary focus is on applying OIMCs technologies, I think the most challenging part of my project would probably be dealing with big data in term of statistical and bioinformatics analysis in a short period.

How was the first impact in the new work-environment?

The first impression was great. I received a warm welcome from my colleagues, which made me to feel more comfortable and engaged. They invited me to a friendly meeting, and there we had a great conversation about their jobs and their responsibilities. Afterward, I talked about my previous experience and what my current project is about. Such a great experience that I didn’t expect.

Why did you decide to study (and then to work) on this kind of topics related to animal science and biotechnology?

I have previous work experiences in stem cell culture and transgenic animal production, where I got familiar with the concept and practical application of new technologies in animal science. These experiences have inspired me to study in this leading field and showed me a clear vision of future research directions in animal science. MANNA programme was an opportunity for me to gain practical experience in the rapidly developing OMICs technologies while exposing me to broader challenges in the field of molecular animal nutrition.

Classic question… Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I think that in order to reach long terms goals, it is more wise to break them down into smaller achievable targets. As a student, my short-term goal for the first three years is to finish my PhD and improve my soft and hard skills. In the next three years, I would like to get a company position and gain experience. As my 10 year plan, I would like to establish my own group to cooperate more, lead projects, and add value to them.

Which are the things that you like most of the country where you are living at the moment?

I started my project in Bonn, Germany, and these are what impressed me the most here:

  1. Deep culture
  2. Extraordinarily disciplined and diligent people in their careers
  3. High quality of education
  4. Well structured social services


Questions: Ruben Riosa


Q&A with Dr. McLaughlin

Dr. Mark McLaughlin is a lecturer in Veterinary Anatomy and Cell Science at the University of Glasgow.

In the MANNA project he is the co-Principal investigator for Glasgow University and with David Eckersall integrates the coordination team of the action in charge of the central funds as well as heading the Supervisory and Training Board and the Dissemination Board. He is also the co-supervisor of ESR 7.

Why is it important for a PhD student (or a student in general) to be in touch with more universities and companies?

Scientific research is composed of specialised groups that may focus on one or two aspect of a problem. With the rapid developments in communication technology, the geographical differences are no longer a limiting factor in forming networks to exchange ideas, expertise and observations with a common goal to solve a problem. It is, therefore, essential that students embrace the capacity to interact with other Universities and become part of such networks. The ability to translate research findings into a practical outcome will flourish with close interactions with industry to translate research findings into a viable and affordable product. Industrial partners are therefore essential for this process in order to identify key problems (in animal health and production) and have provide the experience in assessing financial feasibility.

How can MANNA enrich your personal career?

Personally, MANNA presents an opportunity to interact with my colleagues across Europe who have generated a vast wealth of knowledge related to farm animal and avian health. While my research does encompass various biomarker related research projects, through MANNA I will gain insight into a variety of animal studies from their initial conception, through to the generation of important ‘omics’ data to the interpretation and hopefully translational application. My personal career will benefit not only from the research aspect of MANNA but also from the administration, management and dissemination of information which are all equally important components of the MANNA programme. During this journey I will form many friendships as well a solid and long-lasting research collaborations.

Which advice would you like to give to an ESR for a brilliant career?

Aim to become an expert in your field.  However, serendipity is undoubtedly a factor in developing a successful scientific career; being in the right place at the right time and knowing the value of what you have found. Expect to work hard long hours but, most importantly, be organised and plan thoroughly the studies you are about to embark on. There is an old saying, rubbish in and rubbish out. Keep on top of the data and write up as you go along. Remember, it is your project and it is you that needs to generate a thesis of high standard to be awarded a PhD. Communication with supervisors, peers and industrial partners will be key to your success and be prepared to move outside your comfort zone.

If you could go back to yourself as a student, would you have liked to be involved in the MANNA as a PhD student?

Most certainly. It is a wonderful opportunity to visit other institutes and be exposed to a network of excellent scientists with a common goal and great enthusiasm. Given my research interest in neurological diseases throughout my career, I imagine that I would have discussed with my supervisor the potential value of investigating the innate immune system in the CNS in some of the models being developed in MANNA. This is just my personal bias, although, if I were starting out my career with MANNA, there is no doubt the application of omics to the nutritional, immunological and microbiome questions would have been enough to keep me very busy indeed.

What do you expect to obtain in terms of results from the MANNA projects?

Predicting results can always be difficult especially since I would not consider myself as an expert in animal nutrition, but the experimental design of each project and the scope of the programme is very exciting. I would certainly expect that for each species being examined a correlation between nutrition and health will be established with biomarkers being identified that reflect this association. To what extend the immune system, nutrition and microbiota interact to influence health and animal production will be the bigger challenge and hopefully MANNA will take strides towards dissecting these important and complex relationships.  One thing is certain; the data generated through MANNA will form a sound platform for subsequent investigations into parameters related to animal health


Questions: Ruben Riosa


Q&A with Jorge Peinado Izaguerri

Which are the most challenging parts of your project?
The whole project is extremely challenging. We have to cope with all of the tasks that a conventional PhD would have to, but in addition we have to be able to face several residency changes and trips, which involve careful planning. Specifically, about my project, I would say that developing the high bioinformatic knowledge that is required is a challenging task, but I’m pretty sure that I will enjoy the processand be well advised by my supervisors and industrial partners. Challenging usually means gratifying and enjoyable so I’m pretty happy to face such a challenging project.

Which are the most boring parts of your project? And the most interesting ones?
First answer is easy, administrative tasks. Is there anyone who enjoys them? As part of a European Project which involves a co-tutelle and several industrial partners we have to face a lot of administrative work, not only institutional but also related to our constantly changing daily life. Second question is much harder since I’m so excited because of my whole project. But I think that being able to work with animals and learn about their handling and welfare and the possibility to visit several countries and meet people from all over the world are extremely interesting.

How did you feel when you receive the confirmation to have been chosen as an ESR?
I couldn’t believe it! I received the confirmation while I was doing an internship in the Chilean Patagonia, facing a completely new experience for me. Knowing that it was just the beginning and that I was going to be able to meet high quality researchers from all over the World and to be part of such a reputable project was such a shock. I really didn’t believe it until a week passed and I accepted that I was going to live this unique opportunity.

Which are your greatest passions?
Out of science, I would say that my passions are sport (specially handball), reading (especially fantastic and historic literature) and videogames. Those activities have been part of my life since I was young, have helped to forge my personality and I think that without any of them I would be a completely different person.

Why did you decide to study (and then to work) on this kind of topics related to animal science and biotechnology?
I studied my Bachelor ́s degree in Biotechnology because Biology had always been my favourite subject through my educational path and the new possibilities that Biotechnology brings to the Biology field seemed too exciting for me. As a scientist I had done research projects in both animal science and plant science before
MANNA started. This preference for the agricultural field of knowledge rather than the human one (which is often the preferred for Biotechnologist) is due to a familiar background. I have grown up helping my father with his agricultural work so my affinity to that field of knowledge has always been obvious for me. It is nice that before doing plant/animal research I have actually worked with them.

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Honest, meticulous and trustable.

Questions: Ruben Riosa


Q&A with Prof. Baldi

Prof. Antonella Baldi is a full Professor in Animal Nutrition at the University of Milan (Department of Health, Animal Science and Food Safety). In particular, she gives lectures of Animal Nutrition in both Bachelor and Master degree programmes to animal sciences and veterinary biotechnologies students.

In MANNA project she is the Supervisor of the ESR 9.

What is the strength of the MANNA programme in your opinion?

The international and interdisciplinary perspectives that make it possible for the PhD students to address specific research topics in different research environments.

Why is it important for a PhD student (or a student in general) to be in touch with more universities and companies?

Open-minded approach, ability to work and interact with different environments,  problem-solving approach.

How can MANNA enrich your personal career?

Work with colleagues and students is always enriching. New ideas, new solutions spin off from such collaborations.

Which advices would you like to give to an ESR for a brilliant career?

Work in team at international level, be constructive and optimistic, even when an experiment does not work immediately. Learn from the previous experiences and add your new ideas to progress. Of course, it is important to study not only your specific topic but other related disciplines.

If you could go back to yourself as a student, would you have liked to be involved in the MANNA as a PhD student?

Absolutely yes!



Questions: Ruben Riosa

Q&A with Thi Xuan Nguyen

How much important is the support of the companies in your opinion?

I love the idea to involve companies in each ESR project. This support is very important during the implementation and especially, at the end of a project to make academic results become practical things. By this way, academic research will be more real and useful for society.


How did you feel when you receive the confirmation to have been chosen as one of the ESR?

I received the email asking whether I am still interested in ESR project 1 at 22:00 (Vietnam time) when I have just finished the scripts for an important conference that I had the day after. This is the email that I was looking for every day since the interview in mid-July. Needless to say, how I was excited and jumped around even though it was night in Vietnam. This is my most wishful and the best news of the whole year 2018.


Are you worried about all the travelling and secondments that you are going to deal with?

Having a chance to travel to many countries and Universities/Institutions around Europe is wonderful. I know that I will have to face some difficulties such as language, living environment, culture, etc… However, I believe that these will be valuable lessons for me to gain more experiences and be more mature.


How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Reliable, punctual and motivated.


Classic question… Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

A happy, mature, energetic and motivated woman in the animal science field.


Apart from the scientific importance of the project, which are the obstacles that you find in the every-day life in a foreign country?

Language, especially in Italy when doing the administration procedure. You should definitely know Italian or better to accompany an Italian with you.


Questions: Ruben Riosa

Q&A with Prof. Eckersall

Prof. David Eckersall is the Professor of Veterinary Biochemistry at the University of Glasgow.
In MANNA project he is the coordinator of the whole project.
How much difficult was to select the ESRs among lot of applications coming from all over the World?
The selection of the ESRs for MANNA was a difficult task to undertake especially with the high calibre of the applicants who came from countries all over the world and not just from Europe. In addition, with 6 universities from six countries involved, the process had to be aligned with the recruitment practises in each of the universities to ensure a fair process for all applicants. With an outline of each project on the MANNA website the applications were submitted and after careful perusal to ensure eligibility of each candidate short lists were prepared for each ESR position. Interviews were held with candidates using an advanced on-line system allowing the supervisors from both universities involved in a project to participate. The outcome of the selection process has been to produce a superb cohort of ESRs that are expected to complete the MANNA project in full.
How MANNA was born?
MANNA had a long and involved gestation covering interaction between the universities over a decade or more. Although there was contact between the PIs at the universities in the form of contact at international meetings the first major collaboration covering most participants was in the COST Action on Farm Animal Proteomics which lasted from 2011 to 2014. This EU funded project, which itself needed repeatedapplications over three annual submissions, allowed frequent contact between laboratories and as well as holding annual meetings, a number of Short Term Scientific Missions were undertaken with students travelling between institutes. At the end of the COST Action, a number of further EU project applications were submitted to keep the momentum of collaboration progressing. After three separate but linked applications in the area of applications of “omic” sciences to animal science, the MANNA project was successful in obtaining funding for this prestigious European Joint Doctorate.

Why is it important for a PhD student (or a student in general) to be in touch with more universities and companies?
A main feature of MANNA is that the ESRs are supervised at two universities for their Dual PhD Degrees and during their studies they will visit other institutes and companies for their placements. These visits will be important to widen their experience, to increase their understanding of the translation of science from the laboratory to having significant impact in the real world, to develop a network of contacts in academia and industry and to experience working in different cultures across Europe. Having the two supervisors, often from differing disciplines in their projects should provide the PhD students with a wide understanding of the latest developments in multiple areas of science which may mean that their careers may move in ways they might not have imagined before MANNA. Taken altogether these will give the ESRs a boost in future career wherever they go in animal and biological sciences or beyond.

Which advices would you like to give to an ESR for a brilliant career?
Some advice that can be given to an ESR to have a brilliant career, is of relevance to the next 3 years but more can apply for your post-MANNA life. If you read and understand the literature to be aware of what research has gone before; understand all the methods relevant to your research area; recognise and answer gaps in the current knowledge to seek new questions to address; learn to apply statistics to ensure significant results; develop expertise in writing papers in English for publication in international journals; become adept at making incisive conference presentations, but do not overestimate the knowledge of the audience; invent novel methods of investigation or analysis; be aware that strange results may lead to new discovery but confirm a new finding before dissemination; build a network of international contacts; contribute to the organisation of national and international associations; do not believe everything your elders and betters say; acquire a mentor who will provide an invisible hand in your academic career and who will glory in your progress; look forward to going to the laboratory every day, then you will have a great and brilliant career.

What do you expect to obtain in terms of results from the MANNA projects?
From the MANNA project the priority result is that all ESRs will become highly competent scientists and will graduate with Dual Degrees from the two Universities where they are registered. To accomplish this, each project is expected to produce novel and interesting findings that can be published in leading scientific journals. On another level the MANNA project expects to provide the scientific and related training such that all of the ESRs will go on to have a successful career in scientific or industrial research and contribute to our knowledge of animal health and nutrition and especially in the use of “omic” technology at the cutting edge of science to these areas. Predicting exact results that will come the MANNA projects is a fool’s errand for supervisors as well as students. Indeed, the most interesting results are those we do not expect that can then lead onto new hypotheses and further experimentation, so we are in the realm of seeking out both known unknowns and also unknown unknowns. We fully expect there to be a raft of experimental results which by the end of MANNA will make a major contribution to European Research.

Questions: Ruben Riosa