Former [PEGASUS]²-researchers speak out

In 2015, the FWO launched – with co-financing of the COFUND work programme (No 665501)* within the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) of Horizon 2020 – the mobility programme ‘[PEGASUS]², giving wings to your career’. Five years, and 48 completed fellowships later, the [PEGASUS]² programme has come to an end.

To finish on a high note, 2 (former) FWO [PEGASUS]² Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellows will take the floor and share their experiences in a blog.

Arno Thielens (UGent-imec)

What exactly does your research involve?

During this Pegasus fellowship, I studied wireless communication on and around the human body. This research was part of a multidisciplinary project focused on the development of so-called smart bandages. These are ultra-thin, wearable electronic devices that can monitor the development of lesions in the skin by means of a series of integrated sensors.  They can transmit data over a wireless connection. During my Pegasus fellowship, I examined which physical mode is most efficient at establishing this wireless connection and how these modes can be excited from electronic components mounted on a flexible substrate. This research is not only important for this specific medical device, as it is expected that in the near future we’ll be seeing more and more of these wireless body-centric devices.  This research will enable the efficient sharing of data among these devices, thus paving the way for a host of new applications.

At what institute did you complete your Pegasus fellowship?

I worked as a postdoc researcher at the Berkeley Wireless Research Center (BWRC) at the University of California, Berkeley, in the United States.

What was the added value for your research (career)?

This fellowship gave me the opportunity to work as part of a team of international top researchers in an environment with top quality facilities and research resources. It allowed me to take my research to a higher level and brought me into contact with several new concepts and ideas which now form the basis for my current research.  The sponsoring I received through the Pegasus fellowship enabled me to further extend my independence and freedom of research, which subsequently allowed me to undertake more in-depth research than before.  The BWRC attracts many excellent researchers who work together with scientists from the Center or come to the Center as part of an exchange programme.  During my stay, I thus came into contact with several colleagues with a Marie-Curie postdoc fellowship or an ERC grant.  Such contacts are extremely important to set up joint research projects and to keep abreast of the latest developments in my research field. The BWRC also has close contacts with the major industrial players in the telecommunications sector.  I myself, for example, work closely with researchers from ST Microelectronics, a key player in the semiconductor sector. This collaboration, too, is important for follow-on projects.

What are your plans for the future?

In the meantime, I’ve obtained a FWO senior postdoc fellowship, which I’m combining with a part-time position as an independent academic staff member at UGent. This postdoc fellowship follows directly on my Pegasus fellowship and this project allows me to continue my collaboration with the BWRC. My plan is to further develop my academic career during and after my current FWO fellowship.

Katja Reinhard (NERF)

What exactly does your research involve?

Avoiding danger by escaping or freezing are essential behavoirs. My research aimed at understanding the achitecture of brain circuits that mediate innate reactions to threat. Freezing and flight are mediated by neural pathways through the superior colliculus, a sensory hub of the midbrain. It had been known that different outputs of the superior colliculus mediate different types of behaviors. However, it was unclear how visual information from the retina is routed to these different output circuits. Do different circuits receive all types of visual information or only the cues that represent threat? Together with my colleagues, we used transsynaptic viral tracing in mice to label the retinal inputs to two specific output circuits of the colliculus, and we found that each circuit only received a small set of retinal inputs. Moreover, patch-clamp recordings in the retina and in-vivo Neuropixels recordings in the targets of the colliculus revealed that these retinal inputs convey specific and different visual information to each output circuit of the colliculus. Taken together, we found that circuits through the superior colliculus have a ‘hard-wired’ architecture that allows routing of a small, behaviorally relevant set of visual inputs to different circuits that trigger distinct innate behaviors.

Why did you decided to apply for a Pegasus fellowship?

The Pegasus fellowship was one of the big three postdoc fellowships (MSCA, EMBO) available for me as a junior postdoc. Eventually, I accepted the Pegasus fellowship since it provided the longest support – 3 instead of 2 years.

What was the added value for your research (career)?

Besides securing my salary for 3 years, the included bench fee gave me more independence and allowed me to attend additional conferences and summer schools. For future applications, this fellowship demonstrates my ability to acquire competitive funding.

Why did you decided to stay in Flanders after your fellowship?

In systems neuroscience, 3 years are a very short period for a postdoc. I hence acquired a Senior FWO Fellowship to stay in the same lab and to persue follow-up questions.