“No matter how experienced you are, you always have to think that what you don’t know is more than what you do know”


Peter Jung was Postdoctoral Fellow in Eduard Batlle’s Colorectal Cancer lab between 2009 and 2015. Now he is Principal Investigator at the Institute of Pathology Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich. This institute is a partner site of the DKTK Cancer Consortium, coordinated by the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ). “Life and science are an on-going learning process with new challenges to encounter with every new project,” he says.

Peter Jung (Lich, 1978) was a Postdoctoral Fellow in Eduard Batlle’s Colorectal Cancer lab at IRB Barcelona from 2009 until the end of last year. Born in Germany, and with a PhD in Molecular Oncology from the Max-Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried (Germany), Peter used his time in Eduard Batlle’s lab to gain proficiency in the isolation and characterisation of human and mouse intestinal stem cells. At the beginning of the year, he became Principal Investigator at the Institute of Pathology Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich. This institute is a partner site of the DKTK Cancer Consortium, coordinated by the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ). “Munich is an excellent location for cancer research,” he tells in vivo. “The Institute of Pathology is a very suitable environment in which to work at the interface between basic cancer research and translational cancer medicine. I have just started, and I still feel a bit like a rookie,” he admits. His current research is focused on the oncogenic signalling pathways of colorectal cancer.

 

How does one prepare to take the step to become a Group Leader?

Working in a very enthusiastic research laboratory, like Eduard Batlle’s, with a spirit for innovation has certainly been a critical piece of the puzzle. A good publication record is also a must to be competitive when applying for a position as a principal investigator. Still, there’s more to it than that when establishing and leading a research laboratory. IRB Barcelona gave me the opportunity to develop essential complementary skills through meetings, workshops, and teaching activities. In all these events, I learned a lot about how to communicate science and how to inspire people about research. And, most importantly, I became aware of my own strengths and weaknesses.

Give us some examples of the courses IRB Barcelona offered and those which were most useful for you.

A couple come to mind as really important for my training. One, back at the very beginning of my time at IRB Barcelona, was a workshop on leadership, which taught me how to reduce conflict and obtain more results in a group. Another one organised in collaboration with the Esteve Foundation was on how to improve scientific presentations. And a number of Career Development courses – I remember for example one of the speakers offering some excellent suggestions on how to make sensible decisions for your next career steps.

You mention that you feel like a “rookie” as group leader. What are the first steps a new PI has to take?

When you begin, everything is very new. You have to work a lot on your communication and networking skills. As a young scientist you are used to working in a lab where everything is ready for you to use. But when you start a new lab from scratch, all the shelves are empty, you have to plan ahead, draw up a strategy, think about what you need now and what you might need in the future. You also have to become familiar with the work environment, learn what resources and equipment you have at your disposal to do your research, and identify where collaboration might be necessary. It is important to learn how to deal with companies, how to manage administrative work, and lots of other indirect science-related issues. Last but not least, recruiting new people is a big challenge at the beginning, and it is not easy to decide who should join the group and to see how different researchers will fit in with each other.

Tell us about your current research projects.

The projects are still in their infancy. Our main goal is to better understand the corruption of signalling pathways during cancer progression and the contribution of the tumour-associated microenvironment to the manifestation of tumour heterogeneity. Our new projects aim to provide a closer mechanistic insight into cancer-promoting processes. We think that this “dealing with the details” is critical when it comes to characterising novel putative targets suitable for cancer therapy. The analytical thinking and the way we addressed the fundamental questions about the nature of colorectal cancer that I learned in Batlle’s group will leave an indelible mark on our future work.

What advice would you give to a PhD student who would like to follow your path?

Work hard! This is what every PI will tell you. It is true, but it’s not enough. Besides showing strong performance at the bench, you should also look beyond it. Just doing the pipetting will not give you the connections you need to find an excellent job later on. Visiting scientific meetings and presenting your work to the scientific community helps to create a network and gives you self-esteem. It’s very important to understand that a lab is not a closed cosmos and that collaboration and knowledge exchange are critical for a successful career path. One very important thing I learned is that no matter how experienced you are, you always have to think that what you don’t know is more than what do you know. Life and science are an on-going learning process with new challenges encountered with every new project.

How does keeping in contact with former colleagues benefit your work?

I’m convinced that keeping professional contacts with the IRB Barcelona community and the Alumni Network will prove very important for me and might lead to common future research endeavours and opportunities. I don’t know yet how, but time will tell.

How can you contribute to the extended IRB Barcelona community now? ​

I guess sharing my experience and knowledge can inspire my younger colleagues. The IRB Alumni Network is an excellent platform to do so, and I make an effort to be up to date with events and news from the Institute. If my strategies work out one day, I would be happy to become a reference for my colleagues and have exchanges between my lab and those at IRB Barcelona, or to collaborate with my younger colleagues for events such as the PhD Students Symposium or Postdoc Day. (Sara Martorell)