Outgoing: Florian, from Bordeaux to Tel Aviv
Florian Bernard, a recent graduate from the Institut Européen de Chimie et Biologie (IECB), has begun a joint-PhD in genetics between the University of Bordeaux and Tel Aviv University. He will study in Tel Aviv for the next two years.
At the end of his studies, Florian will graduate with a double degree thanks to the organization of this cotutelle*.
Why did you choose to carry out a cotutelle at Tel Aviv University, Israel?
In 2016, as part of my Master 2, I carried out a 6 month internship in the laboratory of Dr Denis Dupuy at the IECB. As I approached graduation and began to look for PhD opportunities, Dr Dupuy offered me a position as part of an established project between his lab and the lab of Oded Rechavi at Tel Aviv University. Both team leaders had met previously through a European consortium called GENIE (Group of Elegans New Investigators in Europe) and were interested in investigating the links between their main topics.
I decided to complete my PhD as a cotutelle for several reasons. First, this opportunity allows me to continue working on a subject that intrigues me now for several years (see below for the details!). I also think that carrying out half of my PhD abroad will be a great experience, since anyone who wishes to work in academic research must go abroad for post-docs. Finally, I am very excited to be working with Oded, discovering new areas, new techniques and also a whole different culture!
What is the topic of your co-tutelle?
I am studying the biological mechanism of alternative splicing in a little worm called Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elgans). This mechanism is partially responsible for the molecular and cellular diversity that we observe in complex species such as humans. Our genes contain the information for producing every protein in our body, and this information is carried out by an intermediary molecule called the messenger RNA (mRNA).
20 years ago we thought that one gene was coding for one specific protein. However, our understanding changed when we began to sequence genomes. We discovered that there are about 20 thousand genes in humans, which is about the same amount as C. elegans.
Consequently, researchers started to investigate the reasons why two species that share the same amount of genes are so diverse. One of the many answers is a mechanism called alternative splicing which allows for one gene to encode for more than one protein via the expression of different mRNAs. We estimate that about 90% of human genes are being alternatively spliced compared to only 30% of the genes in C. elegans.
Right now, my work is focusing on understanding the link between the expression of genes and the development of specific tissues such as muscles or neurons. More precisely, I am trying to detect all the mRNAs that are expressed in each tissue and to understand the ones that may be required to regulate the fate of a cell and the development of a tissue.
What are the main differences you have identified so far between PhD studies in France and Israel?
I would say the main differences concern the duration and organization of graduate studies. In France, the length of a PhD is 3 years, which is quite short compared to other countries. Students thus have only a short amount of time to obtain and publish results in a scientific journal.
In Israel, a PhD lasts a minimum of 4 years but students generally stay for 5 years. Not only does this allow them to spend more time on their subject, it also gives them time to experience other areas, start collaborations, try new techniques and, ultimately, provides them with the opportunity to take more risks in their research.
What do you hope to learn from this international experience?
Professionally, I hope this experience will open me to new ways of thinking and help me develop as a better scientist. For sure, it will be a very beneficial experience for my career in the future. I am looking forward to the opportunities ahead for starting and pursuing scientific collaborations within Israel and with other international institutes.
As a person - and a French citizen - I thought it was a good opportunity for me to live within a culture that is very different to my own. I expect that this experience will broaden my perspectives and I’m ready to be very much out of my comfort zone!
Find out more!
*A cotutelle allows for joint organization and supervision of doctoral theses between a French university and a foreign university. Currently the University of Bordeaux has more than 260 PhD students in cotutelles which brings many assets for the career of doctoral students including:
- Acquisition of new skills
- Development of an international professional network
- International career prospects