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It pays not to give up

Due to the pan­demic re­strictions, I had al­ready spent 2 se­mes­ters study­ing online from Bang­ladesh in the Inte­grated Im­munology pro­gram. When I was finally able to come to Er­langen last Au­gust to con­tinue my stud­ies on site and meet my fellow stu­dents and the lec­turers, the annu­al retreat of the pro­gram facili­tated my entry into this long-await­ed world.

From Bangladesh to Germany amidst the Pandemic

When I remi­nisce on my jour­ney to Ger­many from my home coun­try Bang­ladesh for the pur­suit of higher edu­cati­on, it al­most feels like a roller­coast­er ride but with a pleas­ant end­ing. It all start­ed with my un­wa­vering pas­sion for pursu­ing a post­grad­uate de­gree in the field of im­munology, which led me to apply for grad­uate pro­grams abroad in 2020 know­ing well that the path is chal­leng­ing yet achievable. But fate took a darker turn when Covid-19 slammed the world to a stand­still. Un­cer­tainty hit and my goal start­ed to feel al­most unachieva­ble. How­ever, my resili­ence paid off and I got into the Elite Grad­uate Pro­gram "Integrated Immunology" (iImmune) at FAU Er­langen-Nürn­berg. De­spite my thrill and de­light, I too fell victim to the de­layed visa pro­cess­ing dur­ing the pan­demic like many inter­na­tional stu­dents. I hap­pily ac­cept­ed the offer from iIm­mune to start online. All the facul­ty and stu­dents tried to keep me in­volved and al­ways sup­port­ed me to partic­ipate in lec­tures, tuto­rials and semi­nars de­spite the great dis­tance. When, after a year of nerv­ous wait­ing, I finally got the visa and moved to Ger­many, I was lucky enough to meet the big iIm­mune family right away at our yearly inter­nal re­treat.

The retreat was eventful and memorable

We start­ed our jour­ney for a 2-day retreat on a nice sum­mer morn­ing to the Fraunhofer Re­search Cam­pus in Waischen­feld, situ­ated at the center of the scenic Fran­coni­an Swiz­er­land. Prof. Nim­mer­jahn inau­gurat­ed the event with a warm wel­come to the stu­dents, alum­ni, lec­turers, and the exter­nal scien­tific advi­sory board after which he con­cisely re­viewed the past aca­demic year. Then, the pro­gram suc­ces­sively un­fold­ed as our advi­sory board Prof. Da Costa, Dr. Grawunder, Prof. Fil­latreau, and Prof. Mar­tens­son-Bopp brief­ly dis­cuss­ed their re­search fields fol­lowed by some en­gag­ing presenta­tions from stu­dents of the sec­ond cohort on their Mas­ter thesis topics and on their over­all expe­rience of the in­tern­ships abroad. We were also fortu­nate that some of our alum­ni from the first cohort took part in the re­treat. They pre­sent­ed not only what they ac­quired from the de­gree pro­gram but also on how it bene­fitted their suc­ces­sive ca­reers. Af­ter­wards, through an inter­active ses­sion allot­ted for career dis­cussion, they gave us valu­able sug­ges­tions on myri­ad issues such as in­tern­ships abroad, mas­ter theses and suita­ble career op­tions post-graduation. It was also fasci­nating to wit­ness how a short hiking tour to­geth­er, an af­ter-din­ner get-together and small coffee breaks sparked some lively con­versa­tions on varied scien­tific topics among groups, which I was of course glad to be a part of. Fur­ther­more, sever­al ses­sions were in­tend­ed to assess and to fine-tune the mas­ter pro­gram. As such, Prof. Nim­mer­jahn eluci­dated the evalu­ation report based on a prior sur­vey taken by us - the third cohort stu­dents and jotted down the as­pects to be re­fined, and af­ter­ward, our advi­sory board con­vened with us into small groups where we shared our thoughts on dif­ferent as­pects of the pro­gram with mere criti­cism and much praise. Final­ly, the event wrapped up with a final dis­cussion and fare­well. Over­all, I found the retreat to be highly re­sourceful thanks to stimu­lating scien­tific lec­tures, useful sug­ges­tions by peers, and open dis­cussions and also it is worth men­tion­ing that after a year of online study, it was truly re­fresh­ing for me to be in pres­ence of my col­leagues and facul­ties ena­bling me to create this over­whelming mem­ories. They moti­vated me ex­treme­ly for my fur­ther stud­ies here on site.

Text: Susnigdha Sen, student of the Elite Graduate Program „Integrated Immunology“)
Translation into German: Dr. Anja Glanz, coordinator of the Elite Graduate Program „Integrated Immunology“