Throughout the summer, I conducted cancer research at the Hanahan Laboratory of Translational Oncology in the Agora Translational Cancer Research Center in Lausanne. Upon my arrival, I spent several days immersing myself in the literature to get up to speed on my project, which was a subpart of an ongoing project in the lab. Soon, I began designing experiments, analyzing data, and constructing manipulations to investigate the mechanisms of immunosuppression in HPV-induced cancers (which aren’t responsive to immunotherapy).
Meetings with the team had me ideating and delving into my research. I got to present updates to my team and at lab meetings throughout the summer.
At the lab, I worked with a small team working on the larger HPV project. The team was welcoming – each day, we worked and ate together at the lab. We spent several evenings at Parc de Milan for a picnic, Jetée de la Compagnie for an apéro, or on the lab’s terrace for Agora happy hour. Our discussions ranged from mechanistic biology to theory to science fiction – never a dull moment when surrounded by people dedicating their careers to investigation.
Outside the lab, I explored as many corners of the area as I could. Weekends in Switzerland took me all over. I traveled to Trümmelbach Falls in Lauterbrunnen valley and saw 10 waterfalls inside one mountain. A day in Zermatt had me hiking to legendary views of the Matterhorn. A quick train after work brought me to the Montreux Jazz Festival, with two weeks of concerts on the lake. A lab retreat had me at Champéry, where I hiked through herds of cows. A train to Bern let us float through the city on the river, where we swam with what we at first thought was a large dog, and realized later was a small bear. Travels outside Switzerland were plenty too – in such a central area, it was easy to travel to Barcelona, Paris, Berlin, and Annecy.
This summer was nothing like what I had imagined. Impossibly, it was better. At the Hanahan lab, I received mentorship from a researcher pursuing her PhD. The discussions and guidance I received from her, a woman whom I shared many similarities with, helped me broaden my research interests, and pinpoint an intersectional path for further graduate school.
I am so grateful for this summer, and am certain that I will look back on it with disbelief.
This place and my summer, with the outstanding science, picturesque location, and extreme levels of opportunity, is one for the books (did I mention that Switzerland looks like a fairytale from a storybook?) As wonderful as it has been, I can’t help but look forward with excitement to use the tools, plans, and opportunities I have made and uncovered this summer; as for my career it’s just beginning…
Sarah Bortel, Johns Hopkins University
Hanahan Laboratory of Translational Oncology