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.”
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.”
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.”