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Experiences from my CCP4 scholarship 2000

S. Ravichandran, January 2000

At the beginning of this millennium, CCP4 announced a new bursary scheme providing scholarships for young crystallographers, mainly from the developing countries, to attend the annual study-weekend program and also to visit several protein crystallography (PX) laboratories across the UK. Being one of the recipients of this year's scholarship award, I am glad here to come forward and share my experiences with others.

On 15th of September 1999, the Chairman of CCP4, Prof. N.W. Isaacs, offered me the first study-weekend scholarship for the year 2000. I owe a lot of thanks to the selectors, who are senior protein crystallographers in India (and also in the UK), for nominating me. It was my first-ever scholarship, or for that matter even for anyone, traveling from India to attend such a (CCP4-sponsored) crystallographic meeting in the UK. Like me, two other young crystallographers were selected from China and were also offered this scholarship.

The scholarship included all financial expenses like traveling, and daily allowances for a period of two weeks. Also, as a part of this scholarship I was asked to select some PX groups (of my own choice) across the UK for visits to discuss scientific matters. I owe a special thanks to Mr. David Brown, the CCP4 executive assistant, who helped me in arranging financial and official matters. He also supplied me with a bunch of e-mail addresses of protein crystallographers in the UK who had shown interest in hosting me. So, all my official correspondence with the CCP4 office (at Daresbury) and my host laboratories across the UK were made through e-mails.

I was much delighted to see the positive and swift response from everyone, i.e., Prof. E.J. Dodson (York University), Prof. N.W. Isaacs (Glasgow University), Dr. W.N. Hunter (Dundee University), Dr. E.F. Garman (Oxford University), Prof. R. Acharya (Bath University) and Prof. R. Read (Cambridge University). I had no problems in communicating with all the above hosts and therefore I was able to fix my schedule well in advance. They had also arranged my accommodation, the day's programme, etc. well in advance and so I could gain one or two extra days in some of these places. I utilized this time by visiting a few other places like Edinburgh, St. Andrews, Daresbury and London. In this regard, I would like to give my special thanks to Dr. J. Naismith and Prof. G. Taylor at the University of St. Andrews, and Dr. P.J. Rizkallah and Dr. S. Bailey at Daresbury Laboratory. Circled in this UK map are the list of places that I visited during my trip.

The topic for this year's study-weekend programme was "Low resolution Phasing" and the meeting was held on January 7-8, 2000 at the University of York. Although my flight to London was delayed from the scheduled time by 14 hours due to poor climatic conditions at New Delhi, I managed to reach London on the evening of Wednesday, 5th Jan. at 19:15 pm. I was happy (and also amazed) to see my host, Prof. E.J. Dodson, waiting for me at York railway station at quarter past midnight. In York, I was put up at the Goodricke College.

During the day on 6th of January, I visited the Chemistry department (the York Structural Biology group), where I had many scientific discussions with researchers like Dr. G. Murshudov, Dr. J. Turkenburg, Prof. E.J. Dodson, Dr. S. Lewis and Dr. S. Roberts. I was lucky to be invited for lunch at my host's sister-in-law's place, near the University. On the next day (7th Jan), the conference started at 11-00 am at the University Central Hall. At first, the Chairman briefed about the scholarship scheme and called the three nominated names for this year. This was followed by the two introductory talks by Prof. C. Gilmore on Direct methods and Prof. H. Saibil on the subject of Cryo-E.M. There rest of the scientific sessions were about the various interesting topics like the ab-initio phasing and the Few Atom Method (FAM), Cryo-E.M. and its applications in (virus) crystallography and phase extension techniques. More details about the programme is presented elsewhere. Some of my photo collections on this meeting can be seen here

After the CCP4 meeting, I went to Glasgow University and visited the protein crystallography group at the Chemistry department. Here, my host was Dr. Jeremy Beauchamp, in the absence of my original host Prof. N.W. Isaacs. I had scientific discussions with people like Dr. A. Freer, Dr. A. Lapthorn, Dr. P. Emsley and some young researchers there. I also visited the Theoretical Crystallography group and had discussions with Dr. K. Anderson. In Glasgow I was given an opportunity to speak (informally) about the kind of research work I am doing in India.

On January 12th, my train to Dundee started at 16-15 pm and I arrived at 18-00 hrs. Despite the weather being cold there (1 0 C), I was given a warm welcome by Dr. W.N. Hunter. I was accommodated in a hotel at Dundee and on the next day I visited the Biochemistry department (Wellcome Trust building) of Dundee University. Here again, I met several researchers, viz. Dr. Van Aalten, Dr. Charlie, Mr. Magnus, Prof. D. Liley etc. and talked about their scientific activities. The next day, Bill (Dr. Hunter) took me to the University of St. Andrews, where I met Dr. J. Naismith and Prof. G. Taylor. The next day again, I had a chance to present my scientific research report in the form of an informal seminar at the department. This was followed by a dinner party in the evening, arranged by the graduate students of Dr. Bill Hunter.

On Saturday (Jan. 15th) morning, I boarded the train for my longest journey across the country (Dundee to Oxford). That evening, I got a warm reception from my host (Dr. E.F. Garman) at Oxford railway station. Then she took me for dinner at her house where I thoroughly enjoyed the company of her family. Later I went to my accommodation, the University Guest house (or the Club house) near the science area. In Oxford, I visited the Laboratory of Molecular Biophysics (LMB) at the Rex Richard building and had talks with the Head of the Department (Prof. L. Johnson) and other faculty members. I had a detailed discussion with my host Dr. E.F. Garman, regarding several aspects about her expertise subject area - ``cryocrystallography''. On the same day, one of our senior colleagues (Dr. M. Ghosh) who is doing her research in the same building, took me for dinner at her residence.

The next day I received a surprise invitation from Dr. P.J. Rizkallah, the seminar secretary of the protein crystallography group at Daresbury laboratory. My rail tickets to Daresbury (and also the return-ticket to Bath) were delivered to my address (in my host's name) in Oxford. Though my visit to Daresbury was short, I was able to spend my time usefully, visiting the SRS Daresbury synchrotron stations for PX. Also, I had the chance to meet the CCP4 staff again, viz. Dr. P. Briggs, Dr. M.D. Winn, Dr. A.W. Ashton, Dr. S. Bailey and Mr. D. Brown. After my talk in Daresbury on Wednesday (Jan. 19th), I proceeded to Bath University.

In Bath I received a very kind welcome from my host, Prof. R. Acharya. I was put up at the Polden Court University guest house. I visited the Biology and Biochemsitry department at the South Building there. I am thankful to my host for spending an hour of his valuable time in driving me through the city to show me the historic spots. I had my laboratory visit during the noon and in the evening I (once again) gave an informal presentation of my research work. Later that evening, I was invited to my host's place for dinner. Early on Friday morning (Jan. 21st), I started towards Cambridge from Bath. My host at Cambridge (Prof. R. Read) was expecting my visit at the Heamatology department of the Wellcome Trust building, which is located near Adenbrooke's hospital. I had a short discussion with Dr. B. Hazes and others there. Later in the evening, I visited the Biochemistry department of the University, located in Tennis Court Road. I am thankful to Dr. V. Dhanaraj (who is at Prof. T.L. Blundell's laboratory) for spending his time with me there. I also had a brief discussion with Prof. B. Johnson.

For the last three days of my stay I was held up in London, as my return flight was scheduled for Monday night (Jan. 24th). Because it was the weekend, I wasn't able to visit any scientific institutions. Instead, I spent those days sight-seeing.

Though my journey was bit tiring and hectic, I was able to thoroughly utilize my time and enjoy my visit during that short fortnight in the UK. I would like to convey my thanks to all those whom I met during this period, especially the scholarship organizers (CCP4) and all my hosts, who gave their kind cooperation and spent their valuable time on my behalf.

S. Ravichandran
Crystallography & Molecular Biology Division,
Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics,
Calcutta - 700 064,

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