Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?
I started doing research by chance and soon realized how fun it was. I relish the process of creatively conceiving new ideas, rigorously formulating a testable hypothesis, logically designing an empirical plan, and meticulously performing experiments. The rare moments when the experimental data support your initial intuition are magical.
Why did you decide to study at UBC?
When my friends ask this question, they typically get an answer along the lines of, "this is a very long story". In a nutshell, I was fascinated by the line of research that my current PI, Dr. Poul Sorensen was conducting: targeting aberrant signaling pathways that are specifically activated in childhood cancers. I decided to apply and a few months later I found myself in a lab on the opposite side of the globe.
What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?
Many of the supervisors affiliated with my program are based at the BC Cancer Research Centre. The research environment fosters interdisciplinary basic and translational research, and the Centre has great strengths in mentoring emerging researchers.
What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?
At risk of being trivial, it’s probably impossible not to be impressed by nature and wilderness in and around Vancouver. In addition, it is always curious and pleasant to learn about the positively exotic perception that people here have of Italians and Europeans in general.
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?
I really enjoy the multiple learning and teaching opportunities that a graduate degree at UBC has to offer. It is extremely fulfilling to learn about the molecular biology of cancer, T cell engineering, AI, and coding while refining my writing skills at workshops and teaching neuroanatomy to undergraduate students.
What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?
I think I’m too preoccupied working for today to think in-depth about tomorrow’s challenges. As an international student with an MD, one of the main obstacles is getting recognition of an international medical degree in order to practice in North America.
How do you feel your program is preparing you for those challenges?
I have been very fortunate to be part of a multidisciplinary and multi-institutional effort aimed at developing and conducting paradigm-shifting early phase clinical trials of immunotherapies. In this context, I have had the privilege to work alongside several clinician-scientists, including the world’s leading experts in pediatric cancer immunotherapy. This has paved the way for wonderful personal and professional connections.
What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?
Everyone has thought at least once, "why am I even learning this". It is actually remarkable how some very disparate skills acquired during different experiences surprisingly turn out at some point to be an asset. In addition to all the skills acquired during medical school, I ended up at one point serving whiskey in the UK: I really think that without that experience I would not have had the basic English requirements to attend UBC.
What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?
As soon as I can, I jump on a plane and end up backpacking and getting to know interesting people, typically somewhere warm and close to an ocean. I am also an avid reader of classic, modern, and contemporary literature. Finally, a special mention here for cinema, wine, cheese, and coffee.
What advice do you have for new graduate students?
Choose carefully the type of research that you want to pursue. Work hard and be persistent: even Nobel laureates were at some point students who messed up their experiments. Don’t be misled by big names in the field or publications in fancy journals: those things come as consequences, not as premises. If you don’t know what you like, keep looking, and never stop fighting for your goals: it is never too late.