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Sun, Sea and Science: The MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit on Tour in Brazil by Andrew Simpkin, Research Associate at the MRC IEU

17 April 2015

12 early career researchers recently ventured to Pelotas, Brazil, to deliver a seven day ‘Genetic and Epigenetic Epidemiology’ course to professors, postdoctoral researchers and PhD students from all corners of South America. The group was made up of seven postdoctoral researchers and five PhD students from the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit in the School of Social and Community Medicine at the University of Bristol.

35 epidemiologists from Universities in Sao Paolo, Curitiba, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre and Pelotas attended the course, which took place from March 5th to 13th at the Centre for Epidemiology, Federal University of Pelotas, Rio du Grande Sul in the southern reaches of Brazil. The course was funded by a Partnering Award provided by Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, in order to deliver knowledge of genome- and epigenome-wide association studies and Mendelian randomization to researchers in Brazil. Capacity building in this field is particularly welcomed in Brazil where large-scale genotype data have only recently become available. The funding also provided a means to build collaborations between researchers from Bristol and Pelotas, which hosts four birth cohorts (recruited in 1982, 1993, 2004 and 2015) and has many parallels with Bristol’s Children of the 90s study.

The visit was originally conceived by Caroline Relton, Professor of Epigenetic Epidemiology at the MRC IEU, and offered as an opportunity to researchers at the MRC IEU with expertise in genetic and epigenetic epidemiology. These willing volunteers then took on responsibility for liaising with the Brazilian host institution and adapting, developing and delivering course materials.

Professor Relton said, “It was a privilege to work with such a capable and enthusiastic group of talented MRC IEU researchers. It was wonderful to witness the team work together - it was a perfect opportunity to gain teaching experience in a challenging but mutually supportive environment. The group had a very memorable trip, as did I seeing quite how much they gained from the experience. Following the success of this venture we are seeking to offer a similar overseas group teaching visit for as many of our PhD students and postdoctoral researchers as we can in the future.”

The visit was a great success giving valuable teaching experience, exposure to a different research culture and environment and the opportunity for early career researchers to develop their own collaborative links. And it wasn’t all hard work – once the course was complete, the team managed to fit in a trip to Cassino Beach – the longest stretch of sand in South America at over 200km – for some well-earned beach time before heading back to Bristol.

Insights from the team:

"The trip was an amazing, albeit nerve-wracking, introduction to planning and delivering a course - I now really appreciate the work that goes into delivering high-quality teaching! It was brilliant to meet various people I had been collaborating with for the past couple of months, and to find out about new opportunities to work with researchers in Pelotas and beyond. It was also a unique chance to meet and work with other researchers from within the IEU who I didn't know yet, and to learn about their different areas of expertise within the unit." – Maija Sequeira, PhD student, MRC IEU

"It was fantastic to get the opportunity to plan, develop and deliver a course on topics that we all work on every day. It made me realise the high level of expertise we have in the IEU and how valuable that is. Delivering the course in Brazil was such a great experience - the course attendees and the people of Pelotas were so friendly and welcoming. I'm sure some exciting and fruitful collaborations will come out of our visit." – Gemma Sharp, Postdoctoral Scientist, MRC IEU

"I found the whole experience very rewarding; from working together with other IEU researchers to design the course, to the opportunity to teach in a completely different environment, to the chance to engage with enthusiastic scientists across such a diverse array of disciplines about their work. Having recently joined the IEU, it was a great opportunity to get to know my colleagues better, and it was a privilege to be able to work with such a friendly group of people whilst also discovering an amazing country. I just hope the course recipients found the course as meaty as we found our diets for the week!" – Cathy Elks, Research Associate, MRC IEU

“On behalf of participants from Porto Alegre (The Brazilian Longitudinal Study of Adult Health), we are very grateful with you for sharing your experiences and knowledge during the course of genetic epidemiology and epigenetics! You as team showed great commitment and ability teaching on the theme of the course. For me it was a fantastic and great learning experience! Thanks a lot and I hope to collaborate and meet you again in the future.” – Wilson Cañon, Colombian PhD student and course participant

About the MRC IEU

The MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit (IEU) is a research unit at the University of Bristol that uses genetics, population data and experimental interventions to look for the underlying causes of chronic disease.

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