Interview with Daniele Parisi

Interviewer: We are here today with Daniele Parisi, chair of the organizing committee of the 2018 European Student Council Symposium of the iSCB. Daniele, thank you for agreeing to this interview, and hello!

Daniele: Hi everybody and thank you for giving me the chance to talk.

I: So, Daniele, tell us first a little bit about yourself. You are originally from Italy, but you are currently doing your PhD in Belgium. How did that happen?

D: So, yes as you said I am an Italian PhD student at the KULeuven. I came here to do research at Yves Moreau's group during my master thesis, under the supervision of Prof. Anna Tramontano (RIP). After 6 months of thesis I decided to continue working on my project with a PhD in Bioinformatics.

I: If I remember correctly you are working on drug prediction, right?

D: Yes, drug repositioning based on drug-protein interaction prediction. An intersection between Bioinformatics, computational biology, and computational chemistry.

I: Very interesting, if not so "hyped" at the moment. What made you stay in Belgium? What motivated you to say "I'm not going back, I'm staying here"? Or what was it that made this decision easier?

D: I was fascinated by how KULeuven and all the Flemish universities are able to easily turn research to impact. I wanted to see from close up how a scientist can make everyone's life better (even if it might not actually work out in my case). Then I love the international life that Belgium can offer, which I found to be one of the best schools for personal development, and of course its beers (laughs). And that's why I am working at the engineering department although I am a biotechnologist by background.

I: You speak about the impact of research to everyday life, but there is also the impact of research on everyone's life, especially for early career researchers such as PhD students and postdocs. The recent Nature survey [1] showed that research places considerable burdens on young scientists. Given that you probably work full-time hours (or even more), what made you choose to invest your precious free time in activities like the RSG Belgium? To phrase it in a better way; all you do every day is science. What makes you devote your free time to science as well?

D: That is true, unfortunately. Young scientists are subjected to a considerable load of stress, which most of the time is not comparable with the one experienced during the university life. Many times a PhD student doesn't have the tools to address the anxiety and stress that a 4-year-long PhD might produce. And this is more amplified for international students who are more vulnerable. Being part of RSG has been my way to take motivation high. Working to personally contribute to the development of colleagues and the advancement of the field.  I didn't devote my free time to science (that is my working time), but to people,. That's why I accepted to be chair of the ESCS2018.

I: The ESCS is an event of the iSCB - an organization connected to Bioinformatics. You studied Biotechnology, and are now at an Engineering department. While these fields are all, to some degree related, they are by no means adjacent. How did you come to be a part of the Bioinformatics community in Belgium? What is your connection to the iSCB and the Student Council?

D: That is true, but only right now. I am sure that one day bioinformaticians, engineers and biologists will be closer and closer, mostly for the applied research. Some decades ago no one could see the connection between informatics and biology either. I started working on Bioinformatics when I arrived in Belgium and I found the RSG/ISCB network extremely useful to make all those students working on such different things feeling close to each other. I am fascinated and interested and what people working on genetics or proteins are able to do and I always ask myself if I might one day collaborate with them, even though drugs remain my first focus. That's why I decided to be part of the network in the beginning, especially because I am not originally from this field. How did I get to the RSG board and then to the student council? Was thanks to the former president of RSG Belgium, Bart Cuypers, who saw my "ability" in networking and public relationships.

I: You already organized the BeNeLux Bioinformatics Conference, and you are currently the chair of ESCS 2018. What are the differences and the similarities between the two events? How is the experience of coordinating the efforts of so many people?

D: The BBC2017 was an amazing experience, the first time for me as chair of a student symposium. However, the BBC is a regional conference, restricted to Benelux, while ESCS covers all Europe and attracts people from all over the world. Thanks to the BBC I learned a bit of everything concerning the organization of scientific events, since the executive team was composed by only 3 persons and everyone had to take care of a little bit of everything, directly or indirectly. We couldn't ask anyone for help, since previous BBC’s were organized by entire research groups coordinated by experienced professors. The ESCS is another story, its executive team is bigger, counting almost 20 members, and perfectly structured in branches. Moreover we can always count on the help of the ISCBSC and the experience of previous organizers. Comparing the BBC to the ESCS, the European symposium requires more time, more effort and more responsibilities but it is much less stressful because everything is perfectly divided among the members.

I think I am lucky to coordinate the current ESCS team, everyone is fully committed, has plenty of ideas and is responsible with the own duties. The responsibility is high and [my] presence in the group has to be continuous, at the point of being omnipresent, but the reward in terms of satisfaction is incredible.

I: For a closing statement, maybe you can tell us why students from all over Europe should attend the symposium in Athens.

D: Because good bioinformatics needs to receive different inputs from different fields, a good PhD needs different and multidisciplinary skills (soft and hard), and a good scientific career needs a strong and stable network, and ESCS will contribute with all those aspects. And, most of all, because it will be so much fun! (laughs)

I: Thank you for the talk and for your time, Daniele.

D: You are welcome Niko. Thanks for this opportunity to share my thoughts about the student council and the ESCS.


Interview taken on 2018-02-21 by Nikos Papadopoulos on Slack

(lightly) edited for spelling mistakes, grammar by Nikos Papadopoulos

Published with the consent of Daniele Parisi

[1] Link