A world of methods: Educating scientists at IEMR

Magnhild S. Erdal and Adelle Basson in discussion. Networking is an important part of the PhD methods introductory course.

What are the commonly used and cutting-edge methods in the field of cardiac research? That question is thoroughly answered during the popular PhD methods course at the Institute for Experimental Medical Research (IEMR).

Text: Marianne Alfsen/Felix Media | Photo: Fredrik Naumann/Felix Features

I met people working on roughly similar things. I didn’t know about them. Now I have a list of people I can go to when faced with a problem.
Nigel Callender, PhD student

“The course was super useful to me. It is easy to be stuck in your ways. This course opened up new knowledge and understanding of more cellular and microscopic techniques used in cardiac research,” says Nigel Callender.

He is one of 13 PhD students who attended the three-day PhD methods introductory course at IEMR in April 2023. Such feedback is music to main course organiser Andreas Romaine’s ears.

“Cardiac research is multi-modal in nature, new techniques are constantly being developed. We cover all main methods currently in use. This course is an opportunity to learn and get an overview of the possibilities,” says Romaine, an experienced immunology and biomedical researcher.

Anna Bergan-Dahl discussing the methods covered in the course, during an interactive workshop.


“We want to educate, but also inspire people to explore new techniques that are applicable to their research,” says co-organiser Anna Bergan-Dahl. She is herself in the final stages of her PhD in cardiac research at IEMR.

The course is hosted by the Institute for Experimental Medical Research (IEMR), in association with The Norwegian PhD School of Heart Research (Norheart). IEMR is a hub for multidisciplinary clinicians and scientists working at many levels to advance cardiac research. At the heart of the course, pun intended, is the belief that cardiac scientists benefit from understanding and utilising a wide set of techniques – including those outside of their own field of expertise.

Bridging the gap

“Traditionally, there is a big divide between the basic science researchers and the clinicians who treat patients,” explains Romaine.

Andreas Romaine demonstrates the use of histology to visualise macroscopic changes in the architecture of the heart in health and disease in the Core Facility for Advanced Light Microscopy.


PhD student Tea Sætereng Fyksen testing the confocal microscope in the Core Facility for Advanced Light Microscopy.


“The PhD methods course is quite special, as we bring together clinicians and basic science researchers that are not normally exposed to each other’s methods. The research techniques in each field marry well, and we bridge the gap between the two during this course. Clinicians and basic science researchers can learn a lot from each other,” he elaborates.

“It was very useful to get the clinical perspective. Personally, as a basic science researcher, I know little about imaging techniques such as CT and MR, for instance,” says course participant and PhD student Magnhild S. Erdal, who is studying the titin protein, trying to understand how changes in this protein affect the contraction of cardiomyocytes (heart cells).

PhD student Nigel Callender presenting the methods he uses in his industry funded research on the effect of intermittent negative pressure and vacuum as potential treatment for vascular disease.


Nigel Callander, on the other hand, who is researching the effect of intermittent negative pressure and vacuum as potential treatment for vascular disease, was surprised to find that the CT and MR techniques he knows well as a clinician, also have their use in his current research.

“I was not aware that CT could be used for instance to measure cardiac strain. That surprised me,” he says.

Optional, but strongly recommended

The course is optional, but strongly recommended for PhD students in cardiac research.

“The earlier in your PhD, the better, preferably within the first six months,” according to Romaine.

“If you are exposed to what is available early on, you can make better decisions on which methods to use in your research,” he says.

The course offers lectures on the theory and general principles on each method, by the IEMR staff as well as experts from other hospitals and institutes. The participants also observe the practical application of several cardiac techniques in some of IEMR’s cutting-edge core facilities, such as the Core Facility for Advanced Light Microscopy, and the Core Facility for Large Animal Research.

“The course curriculum is constantly updated, we thoroughly cover the most important methods in the field at any given time,” says Anna Bergan-Dahl.

Jia Li demonstrating how a cardiac cell can be stretched in the Core Facility for Advanced Light Microscopy.



A thorough introduction to available methods is not the only objective of the course: “It is equally important to foster networking and collaboration, by exposing the participants to each other’s research,” says Bergan-Dahl.

All participants give a three-minute presentation of their own research, and they are encouraged to reach out and benefit from each other’s expertise and experience throughout the three-day course.

“It was great to get an introduction into what everybody was doing,” says PhD student Magnhild S. Erdal.

“The course was very relevant to me, and the group discussions were engaging. I have been inspired to explore more techniques which are not commonly used in my field,” she adds.

“I met people working on roughly similar things. I didn’t know about them. Now I have a list of people I can go to when faced with a problem,” says PhD student Nigel Callender.