In this guest article for our Annual Report 2017, Lindau Alumna Renata Gomes tells the story of her Lindau experience as an alumna of the 64th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in 2014.
Einstein once said, what makes a great scientist is character not intellect. I recall clearly – as if it were yesterday – receiving the email that read “Congratulations (…) you have been selected (…) Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting.” My initial thought was one of disbelief. Was it a prank, or did I maybe just get lucky? I was having one of the most difficult times of my life. I despaired; I felt I had no more strength to continue; my character had gone; I was surrounded only by intellect. My research was progressing, perhaps not as fast as I hoped, yet progress was there. However, I was being targeted by animal activists. I have been a fervent researcher and proud scientist for over ten years. My area of focus is regenerative medicine, namely cardiovascular regeneration. This obviously implies that I work with all systems from molecules to in vivo models. Our in vivo work has always been impeccably ethical and in accordance with the strictest regulations, yet in my opinion some activists ignore this and act blindly. I was advised to consider becoming invisible, to reconsider my position in research. I shamefully admit that I had started to reconsider my career in science; but if nothing else, I had one more trip to make: I had to go to Lindau.
As I arrived in Lindau, I felt I didn’t belong there. Although I had been very successful for my age and also received the honour of a Valley Foundation Fellowship to attend Lindau, I thought that this was no place for people with existential doubts. However, within minutes my mind was changed completely. I was surrounded by young scientists from all over the world. We were all unique, we all had problems, yet we had a common passion for science and knowledge. I’d never been in a place where scientists were so welcomed and where our nerdiness was something to be proud of. I felt so honoured to be part of such a unique community.
In all honesty, I didn’t learn a great deal of new science whilst in Lindau. I learned more about challenging the status quo, not feeling guilty about continuously breaking barriers and about thinking outside every single box. I also learned how to better myself as a scientist and as a human. I learned that everything is a journey, that we will eternally face difficulties, some greater than others, yet it’s all about how we deal with them.
I was in a place surrounded by Nobel Laureates who had travelled from every corner of the world to share their science and experiences with us. We thrilled them, we were the main attraction! Nobel Laureates treated us as equals. They never told us what to do, and they stimulated us to think for ourselves even more, to smash the imposter syndromes, to forget luck. We deserve it, and yes, we are intelligent! We worked hard together, we also played hard. For one whole week I hardly slept, because there was so much amazing science to discuss, so many experienes to share, so much excitement. I didn’t want to miss out on anything or anyone.
My hat goes off to Nobel Laureate Peter Agre with whom I had one of the best dinner parties ever. He was so much fun and totally engaged with us, his young scientists. His humanity and humility is awe-inspiring. While on the dance floor with Professor Agre, Countess Bettina Bernadotte walked by, joined us and thanked each one of us for coming. I want to thank the Countess and all involved for having us and for making such a unique event happen. I believe our lives, at least mine, were deeply transformed by visiting Lindau. I made friends for life, I’m still in contact with alumni from every corner of the world.
Science for the benefit of mankind was the topic of the meeting. Professor Oliver Smithies, whom I had the honour to meet and have many discussions with, once said in an interview that “Renata can solve any problem, really any problem.” I had more conversations with his wife, Professor Noyubo Maeda. I started thinking, started looking into how to best use knowledge for the benefit of mankind, how to use my ability to solve problems.
I decided to do something, and in collaboration with others I started a task force which aims to use knowledge for the benefit of mankind by attempting to tackle extremism. I also found that – regardless of adversity – I was and always will be a scientist!
Suddenly, I felt like one of Beethoven’s symphonies, as described by Daniel Barenboim: “Music which tends to move from chaos to order, as if order were an imperative of human existence.” Lindau helped me find the order and changed my life forever.