Travel Letter from Stanford University

Last modified: 30.05.2016

Eight interesting months as research students at Stanford University have now passed, and I promised to provide a little insight into everyday life over here. Time flies and the feeling of everyday life hasn’t fully hit me yet. I'm inspired daily by the innovative and collaborative mentality, as well as the relaxed and dynamic atmosphere around Stanford and the San Francisco Bay Area. As participants in the Lundbeck Foundation Clinical Research Fellowship Program, the four other medical students in the program and I are engaged in a variety of interesting activities and challenges. Here is a selection of recent events.

My project deals with the classification of a type of blood cancer and in the past week I’ve presented my findings at the University of California, San Francisco to the UCSF Inquiry Symposium and the Pathways to Discovery Awards as well as at Stanford for the 33rd Annual Medical Student Research Symposium. Both were well organized events and it was exciting to present your research side-by-side with talented medical students from UCSF and Stanford. There was great interest in my project that I’m doing in conjunction with the Department of Hematology Research Lab at Aalborg University Hospital and the Center for Cancer Systems Biology at Stanford University. The past month I've supplemented my knowledge on the management of cancer data through the course Introduction to Cancer Systems Biology held by the head of our research unit, Sylvia Plevritis. The course uses a variety of visiting lecturers, leading experts who review the material within each topic covered. I also receive valuable input in our weekly lab meetings that always include pizza and a good discussion of my colleagues' research results.

Danish American Frontier Award

At the beginning of April I attended the Danish American Frontier Award, which is a great event that celebrates the Danish-American pioneering spirit; the guest list included a large number of Danes from the Bay Area and Silicon Valley. The award was presented by Ulla Tørnæs, Danish Minister of Education and Research, who traveled all the way to San Francisco in order to present the award. We had the opportunity to exchange a few words with the Minister about our experiences and discuss the importance of initiatives like the Lundbeck Foundation research stay that make it possible for Danish medical students to improve themselves and get experience outside Denmark's borders while creating meaningful relationships between recognized Danish and American institutions. This year's Danish American Frontier Award recipient was Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, CEO of the LEGO Group, who in his acceptance speech emphasized the importance of play and creativity in what we do. It is precisely this science-based philosophy that should be remembered and be integrated into research, because this is where we must take chances and fail, see things in a different light, and learn and experiment in a creative environment. True to tradition, the CEO danced, and the guests were allowed to play for a minute where creativity was given free rein in building ducks with LEGO bricks that were brought along for the occasion. There were many different takes on what a duck can look like.

$10 Challenge Program

In one week there’s the finale of our $10 Challenge Program, our innovation competition that has run parallel with our research projects and which was a great way to introduce us to the “Silicon Valley spirit." All groups focused on a health problem that can be resolved or optimized for $10 or less per patient.  Our group focused on the lack of proper speaking time among patients and caregivers in the healthcare system. We are developing a website to meet this need. The concept is based on storytelling and peer support. I’m looking forward to presenting next week and to hearing about what the other groups have done. The winning group receives a cash prize of $10.

The weather only gets better, and it's great to finish off a long day in front of the computer with a swim in the outdoor pool or a walk around campus. In addition to the academic obligations there has also been space for other experiences like the Lukas Graham concert in San Francisco and Easter vacation with my family which included a trip to Yosemite National Park and sightseeing along Highway 1. Just before you reach Los Angeles you will find Solvang – a hyggelig Danish oasis with meticulously landscaped streets, Danish-inspired bakeries, inns, a windmill, Danish flags and a homey atmosphere. They need to work on their accent, and although there were similarities it doesn’t quite feel like Denmark. After a year away from the white lab coat and life at Aalborg University Hospital, I look forward – with fresh eyes and invaluable experience –t o planting my feet on North Jutland soil once again on July 30. 

All best wishes,
Caroline Holm Nørgaard