The two pre-clinical students from the Université de Montréal School of Medicine who introduce themselves to us are 21 years old, with bright eyes and a bright smile. Roxanne Lamanna and Cyril Gagnon, freshly returned from the Big Apple, begin the story of their stay with our neighbors to the south with evident joy and a touch of nostalgia.
The path that led her to the Belfer Research Center on Cornell University’s Weill Cornell Medicine campus in the heart of Manhattan was littered with daring gestures, pitfalls, and small victories.
“It’s been a long process, acknowledges Roxanne Lamanna. The summer before, I had completed a research internship in Montreal. I wanted to repeat the experience elsewhere.”
“We wanted to do a project together. We took on a challenge that was both professional and personal, combining research, travel and pleasure,” adds Cyril Gagnon, his partner on the adventure.
two is better
Doing a project together (especially when you’re in love!) inspires and increases the motivation tenfold to combine experience abroad with study – be it research, an exchange program, training or co-supervision of a thesis at an institution outside of Quebec.
It is important to persevere. Because there is a lot to plan. But the further we go, the clearer it becomes.
— Roxanne Lamanna, second-year medical student
First step: choose your home port. “We sent emails to medical labs at various universities focused on internal medicine and cardiology – our areas of interest. We also relied on our commonalities with recipients to create links. The more targeted and personalized our messages were, the better the response rate was,” explains Cyril Gagnon. To their surprise, the answers came in. The chemistry was conducted with a research team from Cornell University School of Medicine.
It took faith to tell yourself that everything would be fine! The team opened their doors to us based on our meetings on Zoom. You must have seen that we were serious about our approach. We breathed new life into the team.
— Cyril Gagnon, second-year medical student
Step two: get funding. The duo brought new lines into the water. “We contacted the members of the International Relations Department of the Medical Faculty of the UdeM, who provided us with the list of funds that we could receive. Mitacs grants1 were the ones that best suited our needs,” summarizes Roxanne Lamanna.
Third step: find accommodation. “Housing was a whole different challenge,” Cyril Gagnon continues. In New York, you must sign a rental agreement to stay in the same place for more than 30 days. The prices are very high and the apartments are flying away quickly.”
The couple searched rental apartments, consulted Facebook groups and faced several rejections before finding a small studio in a college dorm with a shared kitchen and bathroom upstairs. Nothing fancy but conveniently located on the Upper West Side. “We used to run through Central Park every morning to go to work on the Upper East Side,” the ex-apprentices recall with gleaming eyes.
Work and live like New Yorkers
First day at the Belfer Research Center
When they left in early June, shortly after their final elementary school exams, they had hardly dropped their bags when they began their three-month internship. From day one, the current flowed with us main instigator (or laboratory manager) who supported her during the internship. “We used state-of-the-art equipment to perform DNA sequencing through nanopores [nanopore sequencing], we took part in working meetings and conferences. We were really seen as part of the team,” says Roxanne Lamanna.
Parallel to the internship, they made friends with young people of all nationalities, discussed their ideals together, visited the various neighborhoods and experienced the city the New York way.
What’s in it for you? Feelings of confidence, contentment and immense pride. “Immersion in another culture destabilizes and makes you more sensitive to others,” said philosopher Cyril Gagnon. “If I had stayed in Montreal, those three months would have felt like any other. We really stepped out of our comfort zone. We took the opportunity to discover the city and meet people,” smiles Roxanne Lamanna.
A prelude to other adventures!
1. The Globalink Research Grants from the Canadian organization Mitacs offer UdeM students around 200 grants of US$ 6,000 each year for research stays at a university institution or research center abroad.