Sandro PEREIRA's testimonial
Sandro LINO CARDOSO PEREIRA, postdoc
University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB), Portuguese, married (Giselda) with a 12 months-old son (Pedro)
1. What was your main reason for coming to Luxembourg?
My first idea of coming to Luxembourg was raised in the context of a collaboration that I had previously established with Prof. Karsten Hiller (former metabolomics group at the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) and now at the University of Braunschweig). During my doctoral work, I have studied the influence of energy metabolism and particularly the mitochondrial function to the differentiation of embryonic stem cells into neurons. Then when I was completing my project and during my first year as a postdoc at the University of Coimbra (Portugal), we felt that we should broaden the type of metabolic studies we were conducting, by integrating other technologies and so I have contacted Karsten. From this collaboration, it resulted that I came to Luxembourg to actually work in one of his projects.
2. Since when are you living in Luxembourg?
I have arrived in the middle of June 2016 and my wife and baby joined me some weeks later.
3. What kind of research are you doing in Luxembourg? Tell me please a bit about your work.
As referred before, since my doctoral work I have specialized in stem cell biology, namely on the study of the different metabolic pathways these cells use to sustain their properties. Here at the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) I have embraced a completely different project with a final focus on Parkinson’s disease, following the motto of our institute. This neurodegenerative disease is characterized mainly by recognizable motor symptoms, which are related to the loss of a specific type of neurons (dopaminergic) in a well-confined area of the brain, the substantia nigra. As the name indicates this subtype of neurons produce the neurotransmitter dopamine, and it is the resulting decrease in the dopamine signaling in certain regions of the brain that causes the symptoms of this disease. In a simplistic way, we can say that the main goal of the CORE project in which I am involved is to investigate if the modulation of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), the rate-limiting enzyme in the pathway for the synthesis of dopamine, can result in increased dopamine production in neurons. Our study is by now focused at the cellular level, and for that we make use of different models, including neurons derived from pluripotent cells, but obviously the broad hypothesis would be to understand if the modulation of TH in the remaining surviving dopaminergic neurons in Parkinson’s disease patients could be favorable for them. It is a very integrative approach, as for example we are trying to modulate TH activity by applying mutations that have been identified, by another group at the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB), to be present in supercentenarians.
4. What obstacles you had to face before your arrival in Luxembourg?
Well, I would not call it an obstacle, but rather a challenge. I really enjoy travelling and have previously had the opportunity to develop several projects (not only in science) in different countries. However, when envisioning my moving to Luxembourg, circumstances were different as I now had my wife and my baby with me. I had to be sure that I could provide them with everything they would need. It was a challenge planning everything and especially with the baby, and at the same time focusing on my projects (the old and the new one). Also, the fact that I knew already by then that Karsten’s group would relocate to Germany also required (and still requires) demanding logistics. Here I should definitely acknowledge my wife’s efforts and resolutions and the help of the family. Regarding more practical aspects, the first major difficulty I have encountered before coming here, was to find a suitable apartment that would fulfill the constraints of our short stay in Luxembourg. Nevertheless, on this we had a major help from the Euraxess Luxembourg network.
5. What were the biggest challenges you had to deal with after your arrival?
When I first arrived, and even before my arrival, I was surprised with the organization and the preparation for my moving by the University of Luxembourg and by the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB). It was not difficult for me to start focusing on the project straightaway. However, the bureaucracy regarding the legal requirements of our registration, and complete integration in the Luxembourgish system wasn’t so straightforward. This was disturbing, particularly regarding the fact that we have a small baby. My stay in Luxembourg has now been extended for two or three more months, for practical reasons, and some of these issues we have encountered are only now on the way to being solved. Nevertheless, fortunately throughout this sinuous path we have encountered many supportive people that have helped us getting through all the procedures and drawbacks.
6. What role did Euraxess play in this whole process (in the process of your settlement in Luxembourg? Describe your experience with Euraxess Luxembourg.
Well Euraxess Luxembourg were of extreme importance during my moving to Luxembourg. Namely, just few days before my arrival, I was dealing with the difficulty of getting a suitable place to stay considering the constraints of our stay. By that time, we had exhausted all the possibilities we have been informed of. We have contacted different people and institutions we believed could be of some help to us, but we were unsuccessful. Then I got to know about the existence of Euraxess Luxembourg through the internet (I was aware of the Euraxess network since my PhD, when I have spent some time at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm), and I have indirectly contacted them through Euraxess Portugal, and got a positive feedback. When I got in direct contact with the coordinator of Euraxess Luxembourg, Ms. Barbara Daniel, she immediately solved our problem, by enabling our stay in one of the University’s residences. Particularly, we have been attributed a studio just next to my work, and this was a major point that helped me assisting my family more closely. Additionally, when then we started to have these difficulties I have told before, Ms. Barbara Daniel has always found the time to receive us and to actively try to help us, by addressing to the right person. It is always more comfortable to undertake this kind of ventures when you feel that there are people at your side.
7. What is the best thing about living/working in Luxembourg and why?
It is hard to identify a single aspect. I would say the combination of all factors that have contributed to our cheerful experience here, such as quality of life, great place to live with kids, multicultural society, friendly people, opportunities, etc.
8. What was surprising for you when you moved to Luxembourg?
I was surprised to see such a multicultural society here. It seems that being different is part of the Luxembourgish identity, obviously with some contingency, as I believe this occurs closer to the large cities. However, it makes me feel comfortable here with such rich environment. In my case, both my parents are from Indian origin but I was born in Mozambique and raised in Portugal. My wife also appreciates this cultural amalgam.
9. What is the main difference between Luxembourg and your country of origin?
I would say, opportunities. It still might be too soon to have a conclusive opinion on this as I have only been here for three months now, but I think that opportunities are the major differences when comparing both countries. Obviously, this difference stems from other fundamental factors such as the contrasting economic conjuncture witnessed in Portugal and in Luxembourg. When looking at the people from my generation and even younger people in Portugal I feel that they have been offered fewer opportunities to develop themselves, as they desire to. It is not rare to see good talent being lost due to circumstantial reasons; people are still not so valued as they should. In order to succeed they must be extremely driven and resilient.
10. What do you miss from your home country?
Family and close friends, definitely. I have left home to study when I was 17, and unfortunately, since then I have never again been close to my family as much as I would like to. This is what I really miss.
11. What has Luxembourg given you professionally and personally?
Even though I have not been here for an extended period yet, I really cheer the environment of our research centre and feel that, professionally I have already significantly expanded my knowledge and skills also through the interaction with my colleagues and collaborators. Personally, this international experience in family has been an enriching period for us. Discovering a new country as a couple at the same time that we discover our baby is much of a fulfillment (actually Pedro is essaying his first steps while I am writing this text). Obviously, we have encountered some difficulties, but we are getting better in overcoming them, together. Furthermore, we were pleasantly surprised to find a very welcoming country, which we truly appreciate. Moreover the presence of a couple of good friends that we have already made, have also given some more color to our experience in Luxembourg. Places are defined by the experiences you live and the people you meet.
12. What about your future plans in Luxembourg or abroad?
As referred, I will soon relocate to Karsten’s new laboratory at the University of Braunschweig in Germany, and start a new chapter in this international experience with my family. Regarding Luxembourg, it is definitely a country we will consider in the future, as we find it a great place to live especially when regarding the future of our son.