Nobel Laureate Harald zur Hausen with participants of the Lindau Alumni Retreat 2019 (when group photos were possible). Photo: Silvana Bazúa
A small group of Lindau Alumni from the life sciences came together for the 2nd Lindau Alumni Retreat in September 2019. In this guest article, Lindau Alumna Silvana Bazúa recaps the retreat and the discussions that took place.
Last fall I was encouraged and supported by my mentor to attend the Lindau Alumni Retreat in the hopes of getting what every mentor wants for their pupils: personal and intellectual growth. I am very grateful to her because, together with the marvellous scenery of the city of Heidelberg, the amazing food and the constant intellectual encounters, this proved to be one of the most enriching experiences I have ever had – together with the official Lindau Meeting of course! Indeed, this alumni retreat was an excellent opportunity to rekindle the scientific craving that each of us experienced at Lindau; but most importantly, and what in my opinion made it extremely valuable, it was a space created by ourselves to unite young scientific minds from all over the world around a common goal: build a better future.
During the meeting we were honoured by Prof. Dr. Harald zur Hausen’s visit. He gave a beautiful talk on his work on pathogenic bacteria-derived plasmids. Listening to his scientific work was truly awe-inspiring, but beyond that we seized the opportunity to “stand on his shoulders” and learn from his life experiences. For the other days, there was time dedicated for some of us to give talks about our most recent research, covering subjects from cancer biology, neuroscience and immunology to environmental sciences. Additionally, there were organized discussions about the socio-political issues that concern us. As scientists, our curious minds want to understand the world around us, and through our science we create knowledge. It is our responsibility to share this knowledge and describe our findings as they are. Unfortunately, in our present time, the act of sharing has become clouded. We discussed and dissected the causes of this cloudiness: gender and wealth inequality, religious discrimination, and many other socio-political situations around the world. These causes, mixed with an insufficient investment in science, have led to a lack of opportunities to exercise our duties as researchers. Moreover, scientific journals have spiralled into becoming monopolies that overprize the monetisation of knowledge, making it difficult for everyone to share as well as to have access to it – further restricting our opportunities to exercise our duty and prompting unhealthy competition between us.
This is why scientists should fully support the open access and open science movements and urge ourselves and our peers to publish in all journals, especially those that encourage open access, in addition to creating transparency of the review process. All these measures will help to dismantle the monopolies and help mitigate this problem that haunts our thoughts. In addition, we need to emphasize the pressing need to call for more scientific investment, either public or private. This measure is not only crucial for the qualitative advancement of science, but it is also critical to train more researchers and increase scientific output. By increasing both quality and quantity, on the one hand we would encourage the creation of new scientific spaces that could help pave the way to the democratization of science; and on the other hand, we would promote the accumulation of knowledge that strengthens our society and our capacity to face devastating contingencies such as the one we are currently living.
And yet we must not forget another important action; the raising of awareness of these problems by discussing them in these kinds of meetings. Awareness is a powerful tool because it is an important step in the creation of a collective consciousness, which in turn facilitates the creation of communities. I believe that the power that drives change lies in building relationships and collaborations around knowledge. It is by building these communities that we can spread ideas and rally support. In these inclusive communities we need to teach to receive, and to give information without prejudice, without pretentiousness, and most importantly, with respect. It is only through this type of a community that we will achieve our goal as a species, which is to evolve to a future where we can enjoy justice, equality, peace and an environmentally sustainable world.
This is why attending these alumni retreats is so important: We had the chance to reinforce community building, we came together as a team to come up with solutions. The time has arrived for our generation to take the reins, unite, break the barriers of a bygone era, assume responsibility for our evolution, and start at once sowing the seeds of change, so that tomorrow’s world can reap the benefits of this desperately needed change.