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Dr. Catriona Wimberley - Australian expertise for neurodegenerative diseases treatment


Dr. Catriona Wimberley is an Australian researcher who works at INSERM in data analysis related to PET imaging. Her stay at CEA takes place between October 2015 and October 2018. Get to know more about this science enthusiast!

Published on 29 September 2016
  • ​​Could you tell us about your academic and professional background?

For my undergraduate studies, I specialized in Biomedical Sciences and in Electronic and Computer Systems Engineering. During this 5-year bachelor period, I had amazing research opportunities

Afterwards, I wasn't sure whether I wanted to engage in research by carrying out a PhD or enter the industry and go for a career as an engineer. In the end, I managed to combine both by entering a graduate program at ANSTO (Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation), which is the equivalent of CEA in Australia. I worked and conducted research in a great variety of fields during four years. I spent six months in the reactor engineering team, designing safety systems for cyclotrons and nuclear waste tanks. Then, I conducted research on neutron scattering for another six month period. Afterwards, I worked as part of a team of reactor engineers before entering the Life Science Division where I specialised in Medical imaging. In this latter field, I really enjoyed the combination of physics, computing, mathematics and medical sciences. That's why I chose PET-imaging as the topic of my PhD.

Afterwards, my PhD supervisor told me about CEA/INSERM and about the Enhanced Eurotalents fellowship. I learnt about the programme through word-of-mouth I would say. My PhD supervisor knew researchers at CEA. She put me in touch with them and that's when I found the position I am currently holding.

  • What is your research project about?

My research project is the quantification of PET imaging data with a focus on neuroinflammation in neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease or epilepsy. With the PET tracer [18F]DPA714, we can follow neuroinflammation throughout the course of a disease and my work is to quantify the neuroinflammation in the PET images at different time points of the disease processes to see the subtle changes over time. This will give us a better understanding of the diseases, and hopefully lead to improved treatments.

  • What do you think about the quality of CEA's facilities and equipment in relation to your project?​

I have the chance to work with state-of-the-art equipment as my laboratory boasts top-notch technical imaging devices. There are few laboratories in France with a combined PET and MRI machine. I am really excited to be involved in this project because it gives me the opportunity to use these machines. ​​

  • What are the strengths of your stay at CEA?

An exciting aspect of my professional life here is that the team I belong to consists of scientists operating in a very diverse range of expertise. There is a high concentration of physicists specialised in imaging processing as well as strong connections with hospitals.

In Australia, the scientific community operating in my field is a smaller group and I would have to work much more remotely (over the computer) to ask for their expertise or to collaborate with others. Here, the laboratory gathers everyone at the same place, which enables a great exchange of ideas and knowledge.

  • What did you think about the training session called "Post-doc: how to manage your career?" you attended in INSTN (CEA – Saclay)?

I think it was a great session to attend. I learnt how to adapt the way I am presenting my skills depending on the professional context, getting to know the difference between what a research company and an industrial company expect.

The training session also includes a lesson on how to decode the language of hirers during an interview, meaning, knowing what they expect when they ask specific questions, what they expect candidates to demonstrate. It was really enlightening and obviously, it is crucial for young researchers to be as prepared as possible for interviews. 

  • Do you think that the international dimension of the programme adds value to your laboratory?​

The international dimension is really beneficial for the laboratory for two main reasons, in my opinion. First of all, it creates a bridge for international collaboration between scientific institutes, for instance CEA and ANSTO.

Secondly, it allows for a mix of different perspectives to problem-solving, different methods and insights. I bring what I learnt from my experience in Australia, where I was working in a very international laboratory and my colleagues bring their own experience as well so it builds up a rich work environment. My team is mostly French but there is a Vietnamese PhD student as well as German and Lebanese researchers. ​

  • How are you enjoying your professional and cultural life in France so far?

At first it was really challenging! Upon my arrival, I didn't know much French and I was abruptly immersed in a French environment. Thankfully, my colleagues have been really willing to help me and this was a great way to improve my language skills.

I really enjoy life in France though. Paris is busy and alive, it's wonderful! And of course, I enjoy French bread, cheese and wine…

Culture-wise, I noticed a difference between Australian and French models: in France, I would say people are very communal. I always eat with my team members and I think it's great for work relations. In general, my team has been very welcoming and I really feel part of it now. 

  • Overall, what do you think about the Enhanced Eurotalents programme?

I believe it is a wonderful opportunity for young researchers to work in an international lab.  What I found was really enjoyable was the possibility to have an input in the project. It is not just about answering a post-doc position offer; you get to design the project together with the laboratory, finding the overlap between your interests and the lab's needs.

The programme also gives fellows the opportunity to attend international high-level conferences, which is very valuable for a scientist. ​

  • What are your plans after your postdoc at CEA?

After my post-doc at CEA, I would like to apply for a permanent position at INSERM. However as it is very competitive, I am looking into other options. I would also like to live in the US for a short time and to continue conducting research, maybe through another post-doc.  Then I would like to settle somewhere, maybe in France. The Enhanced Eurotalents programme has really set me up well to be competitive in the academic and research world, as well as in the commercial setting.