My Scholarship Experience at Huttenhower Lab in Boston

A report from Theresa Geese, doctoral researcher at IMIS in Kiel

I want to share my experience of a two-month scholarship at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health at the Huttenhower Lab in Boston. My visit lasted from April to June and was an incredible journey of learning, collaboration, and personal growth.

I’m currently in my second year of pursuing a doctorate at the Institute for Medical Informatics and Statistics (University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein, Kiel). My background is in physics, but I’ve shifted my focus towards medical statistics and bioinformatics, particularly in relation to the human gut microbiome in the context of IBD and using statistical and network-based approaches. The scholarship gave me the chance to join the Huttenhower Lab and be a part of their research endeavors.

This research group is very diverse and multidisciplinary, led by Curtis Huttenhower. As the group is quite large, there are several subgroups. Through my stay, I joined the Human Microbiome Bioactives Resource (HMBR) subgroup. This allowed me to collaborate with fellow researchers, actively engage in discussions, and give talks and presentations on my own. I also had the opportunity to join the journal club and actively discuss state-of-the-art papers, as well as present one paper. This is something I would like to continue doing, as it has really broadened my horizons.

During my time at the lab, my work was split into two main areas. First, I worked with the KINDRED dataset, which I was already working on here in Kiel, using tools like BAnOCC, MaAsLin2, and HALLA. This provided hands-on experience with advanced methodologies. The second part of my work involved delving into the HMP2 dataset. This exposed me to the complexities of multi-omics approaches and led to thought-provoking conversations about networks of networks. My efforts yielded interesting results and productive discussions within the group. These exchanges of ideas were incredibly valuable and have continued to influence my thinking even after my scholarship period ended.

Apart from the academic side, my time at Huttenhower Lab broadened my horizons in many ways. Being part of a larger, international research group exposed me to diverse viewpoints and methods. Attending the Harvard Chan Microbiome in Public Health Center (HCMPH) Symposium was a highlight, as I got to listen to insightful talks that connected different aspects of my research interests. Not only were my technical skills boosted, but important soft skills were developed too. Collaborating with professionals from various fields highlighted the significance of effective communication across disciplines. In addition, I managed to explore the city of Boston and its surroundings. Although I missed being close to the sea, I formed meaningful bonds with people across the sea.

In conclusion, my time at Huttenhower Lab was transformative. It exposed me to cutting-edge research, provided a platform for collaboration, and facilitated personal growth. I’m thankful for the scholarship that made this experience possible, and I’m excited to apply the knowledge and skills I gained during this period to contribute further to this research field.

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