Convergence Career & Talent Festival

Convergence – the first batch

Two years ago, the Convergence between TU Delft, Erasmus MC and Erasmus University was kickstarted with the IMPULSE programme – 17 research projects for attracting the first batch of talent and laying a solid foundation. At the recent Convergence Career & Talent Festival, postdocs and supervisors involved shared their successes and evaluated the lessons learned.

“Convergence is about creating a large-scale community in which not only knowledge, but also tools and methodologies are shared between the medical, engineering and social disciplines,” said Richard Goossens at the beginning of the festival. He is program director Convergence for Health and Technology. “Each of you was appointed at TU Delft or Erasmus MC, with a counterpart at the other institute. Let’s discuss what we have achieved.”

Pitches

Goossens’ opening statement was followed by pitches from seven postdocs, describing their project outcomes and alluding to the follow-up research grant proposals they helped write based on those results. All postdocs indicated to have enjoyed easy access to both the technical and medical expertise required to achieve their aims. “During my PhD, I worked with a hospital, but it wasn’t a research facility and certainly not a convergence environment – I really feel the difference,” said Rachel Cahalane. As a biomedical engineer, she investigates the mechanical behaviour of bloodclot analogues at Erasmus MC. “The clinicians, specialised in ischemic strokes, really kept me on track when it comes to clinical relevance. I also learned a lot about setting up research including patients.”

Lowering hurdles

Eager to put his machine learning expertise to practical use, Stephan Bongers had joined a project on osteoarthritis, on the TU Delft side. “I had access to all expertise I needed, and I have grown a lot in understanding the goals and perspectives of clinicians,” he said. But while expertise flowed freely, he did have some trouble in getting access to clinical data. “IMPULSE was the very first Convergence programme, and it already yielded notable results,” says Maarten Frens, Vice Dean of Erasmus MC and one of the round table discussion leaders. “Even so, there are some practical hurdles that we need to lower further: easy sharing of data, materials, and facilities. And, with COVID restrictions gone, more face-to face community building. This will help unlock the full potential of convergence.”

The medical professionals have opened my eyes to challenges that are wildly interesting for me as a machine learning expert

Stefan Bongers,
postdoc researcher at Erasmus MC

Cross-disciplinary inspiration

When asked about what defines a good convergence researcher, the unanimous answer was that while being an expert in your own domain, you are not limited by its boundaries and recognise the added value of experts in other domains – a physicist can be a huge inspiration for a biologist. Bongers: “The medical professionals have opened my eyes to challenges that I was unaware of, and that are wildly interesting for me as a machine learning expert.”

Trend-setting

Since the start of the IMPULSE programme, Erasmus University has also joined the mix. Flagship Programs, involving all three institutions, are about to be granted, offering ample opportunity to IMPULSE talent to continue within Convergence. Stephan Bongers certainly wants to continue doing theoretical research within such a multidisciplinary environment. Rachel Cahalane has accepted a fellowship in the United States but may want to return afterwards. “It is nice to maintain talent,” said Hans van Leeuwen, former dean of Erasmus MC and one of the prime initiators of Convergence. “But even when leaving; if these researchers continue to look beyond the walls of their own discipline, they are still a product of Convergence.”

 

During my PhD, I worked with a hospital, but it wasn’t a research facility and certainly not a convergence environment – I really feel the difference

Rachel Cahalane,
postdoc researcher at Erasmus MC