Dr. Juha Saarikangas found some relief when he was awarded an IBRO Parenthood Grant. The grant helped alleviate certain lab responsibilities, allowing Dr. Saarikangas to dedicate time to his daughter, at a challenging moment for him and his partner, who is also an early career principal investigator. In this interview, Dr. Saarikangas shares his experience of the grant and how it helped him during this special but demanding moment of his life.

Dr. Saarikangas and his daughter. 

How was your paternity leave? 

It was a great experience. I warmly recommend any parent who can take parenthood leave to do so. It is rewarding to see your baby develop. I feel very fortunate that I could take time away from work to take care of our daughter and witness her growth.

How has the grant helped you during this time?

The grant helped to liberate me from certain responsibilities in the lab and allowed us to acquire certain services that supported the lab members during my absence. As a father, I think it is really nice that this grant is open to both mothers and fathers because in each family the situation can be different, and it is great that IBRO is supporting parents in this changing situation. And there aren’t many grants like this, so it’s a wonderful initiative.

How was your research going before your paternity leave, and what made you apply for the IBRO Parenthood Grant?

I am a cell biologist by training and since my PhD, I have been investigating how proteins dictate cellular functions. During my postdoc, I became interested in understanding how protein aggregates form, how this process is regulated, and how these aggregates are compartmentalized during cell division. In late 2017, I started my own research group at the University of Helsinki, where we study protein homeostasis, focusing on dynamic changes in protein folding and assembling states. Specifically, we want to understand how structural alterations in proteins change their function and thereby regulate the information flow in cells. One of our research lines is focused on neurons where we are investigating how these dynamic changes in protein structural states enable individual synapses to process and store information. When I applied for the grant, I had a clear idea about how the grant could help us while I was absent due to my paternity leave, so the timing was perfect.

Saarikangas lab members, with Dr. Saarikangas in the middle.

How did you spend the grant and how did it support the research project? 

I used the grant to acquire neurons from a core facility, so my group could focus on addressing our research question, without the preparatory steps that take a lot of time. The neurons were used for this ongoing project on the formation of individual synapses, which was being developed by a postdoc, a PhD student, and a technician. The grant helped the progression of the project very nicely and new follow-up questions arose from the project, which we hope to answer soon.

How was the application process and do you have any advice for future applicants? 

The application was straightforward, but it did require some documentation proving my paternity status and a letter from the head of my department. I definitely recommend both fathers and mothers to take advantage of this opportunity. It will hopefully alleviate certain research responsibilities during their absence, so they can enjoy their parental leave.

Join Dr. Juha Saarikangas: submit your IBRO Parenthood Grant application by 10 August 2023.

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If you are an IBRO awardee and would like to share your experience, contact IBRO Communications Manager, Carolina Araujo Sousa, at communications@ibro.org.