A Once-In-A-Lifetime Experience

View of Lindau Island from the zeppelin. Photo/Credit: Laura Schönhardt/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

There is a distinct lack of conversation about the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in South Africa – the first that I heard of this opportunity was when I was asked by my supervisor if he could nominate me to attend the 67th Lindau Meeting. The selection process is very rigorous, and it was 4 months after submitting my application that I received an email informing me that I had been selected to attend. I was extremely excited to receive this email, to the point that I immediately rushed to my supervisor’s office to tell him the news. A travel grant was provided by ASSAf, and as the selected delegates were from different universities and research organisations throughout South Africa, ASSAf organised a pre-meeting team-building gathering, during which we met the other delegates. Several Lindau alumni were also invited to this gathering, to share their experiences and give us advice on how we should approach the meeting. This advice varied from the sensible, ‘Meet as many people as you can’, to the less sensible, ‘Don’t sleep at all’. For my stay, I was hosted by Lindau residents, and my host family proved to be exceptional. They went so far as to organise transport for me from Munich to Lindau, and to make sure that I got onto the correct train at the end of my stay. We had many discussions, which varied from the nuances of our cultural differences, to discussions about topics raised at the meeting, to sports, politics, and everything in between. The experience of being hosted by locals added substantially to the entire ‘Lindau experience’.

During the meeting, numerous programme additions were organised, to which only a small group of researchers was invited. These additions were sponsored by research organisations or multinational corporations. I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend two such events. The first event was the Summer Festival of Science, which was hosted by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research. During this event, I found myself conversing with CEOs and vice-presidents from large multinational companies such as the Linde Group, Cabot Corporation and Lockheed Martin. Another opportunity was a flight in a zeppelin, as a part of an introduction to the ‘Clockwork Ocean’ expedition being undertaken by the ‘Helmholtz Zentrum Geesthacht’ of the Helmholtz Association. We were introduced to the methodology and equipment used to study the behaviour and impact of water eddies in the seas and oceans. Thereafter, we were taken on a 45-minute flight in the zeppelin for a magical view of Lindau and the Bodensee from the sky. We were joined for this flight by two Nobel Laureates, who were just as enthralled as we were by the views that unfolded.

 

On board of the zeppelin, expedition director Burkard Baschek from Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht explains the research of ‘Clockwork Ocean’ to Mark Williams-Wynn, Nobel Laureate Dan Shechtman and others. Photo/Credit: Roland Koch/Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft

 

The days of the conference flew past at a breath-taking pace, although not without presenting each of us with many opportunities to network and to learn from both the Nobel Laureates and the other researchers present. The advice from the alumni to not sleep made much more sense at this point. There were simply so many interesting people to meet and to discuss science with, that we all ended up sleeping far less than usual. For me, the lectures that most stood out were those in which the Nobel Laureates chose to share their personal experiences as researchers. These were lectures by Peter Agre, Dan Shechtman (2011 Chemistry Nobel Laureate) and Martin Chalfie (2008 Chemistry Nobel Laureate). After the lectures, each Nobel Laureate held a discussion session with the young researchers. I found Shechtman’s discussion session particularly pertinent to me, as we discussed science entrepreneurship and education. There was a strong emphasis on women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at this year’s meeting, and as such, many of the young scientists involved in discussion panels and sessions were women. In stark contrast, only one of the 29 Nobel Laureates present was a woman (Ada Yonath, 2009 Chemistry Nobel Laureate).

On the final day of the meeting, we were treated to a boat ride to the garden island of Mainau, where we spent the day. Two occurrences during the events held on the island further highlighted women in STEM. During the closing panel discussion on ‘Ethics in Science’, a young researcher from the University of Cambridge, Dr Karen Stroobants, was, by far, the stand-out panel member, eclipsing the otherwise male-dominated panel. Secondly, Dr Hlamulo Makelane, from South Africa, gave heartfelt and emotive closing remarks for the Lindau Meeting on behalf of the young researchers, doing South Africa and women in STEM proud. Everything considered, the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I would recommend to anyone who is eligible to attend. Were it not for the fact that young scientists are only afforded the opportunity to attend once, I would have applied immediately for the next meeting.

 

This article is an excerpt from “Young South African researchers attend the 2017 Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting” by Nolwazi Nombona, Mark Williams-Wynn and Paul Kennedy, which was originally published in the South African Journal of Science.

“The Networks Created Will Benefit My Scientific Research Career for Years to Come”

Nolwazi Nombona at the African Outreach Breakfast during the 67th Lindau Meeting. Photo/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

The first that I heard of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings was when a senior professor approached me to ask if they could nominate me to attend. I secretly thought: Why would they select me? But I submitted an application and then promptly forgot about it. Months later, I received an email that turned my world on its head. The African Academy of Sciences had nominated me for consideration to the Council and I was chosen to attend. I couldn’t believe it: I was going to Lindau! I was excited for the opportunity to meet and interact with Nobel Laureates – the remarkable people I’d only read about on the Internet. But after the initial elation, the nervousness kicked in. I worried to myself: What on earth would I possibly have to say to them? In hindsight, my fears were completely groundless.

My experience far exceeded any of my expectations. The atmosphere in Lindau was friendly and relaxed; and this made the interaction with the Nobel Laureates far less intimidating than I had expected. At the opening ceremony, the excitement in the auditorium was tangible. As became typical for the duration of the Meeting, we had an opportunity to mingle with and meet the Nobel Laureates as well as fellow researchers who hailed from all corners of the globe. The Meeting was centred on lectures, discussion sessions, and science breakfasts, but outside of these times, there were many opportunities to discuss topics ranging from current research activities to politics and cultural norms. Over the course of the week, the Nobel Laureates delivered short lectures; some focused on the fundamental challenges in their respective research areas, whilst others shared their experiences as researchers. For me, the highlight was the keynote address that was delivered by Prof. William E. Moerner (2014 Chemistry Nobel Laureate) on behalf of Prof. Steven Chu (1997 Physics Nobel Laureate). Chu mentioned that governments seem to be in doubt about scientific evidence (especially on climate change) and emphasised the need to have political scientists who can work with governments to develop better policy options for a sustainable future. Apart from the scientific aspects that were covered during the lectures, what was of most value to me was the guidance that each Nobel Laureate imparted during their lecture. They motivated us to never doubt our abilities and inspired us to hold on to the passion we have for science. Possibly the most interesting lecture (judging from the applause given) was delivered by Prof. Ben Feringa (2016 Chemistry Nobel Laureate). In his talk, Feringa took us through his discovery of a ‘nano-car’ which he built from compounds that use light-induced chemical energy to move across a surface, highlighting the positive impact these nano-machines could have, especially in medicine.

The African delegates had a special African breakfast with Prof. Peter Agre (2003 Chemistry Nobel Laureate). This breakfast gave us a chance to meet other African delegates and we had a rare opportunity to pick Agre’s brain regarding his work in Africa through his role as the Director of the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute. The discussion touched on various issues, including why we have not been successful in eradicating malaria. The dialogue was so thought-provoking that ASSAf organised a follow-up lunch discussion with Agre and the researchers from South Africa. The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting was a unique experience, and it exposed me to colleagues working on similar research projects around the world. The discussions were enlightening, and the networks created will benefit my scientific research career for years to come. I would encourage every young scientist to apply to attend this meeting, as it provides a remarkable opportunity to interact with current and future Nobel Prize winning scientists from across the globe.

 

This article is an excerpt from “Young South African researchers attend the 2017 Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting” by Nolwazi Nombona, Mark Williams-Wynn and Paul Kennedy, which was originally published in the South African Journal of Science.

“The quality of students has improved enormously.”

Edmond Fischer during the 61st Lindau Meeting. Picture/Credit: Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

On the occasion of the 65th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in 2015, science historian Ralph Burmester spoke to Nobel Laureate Edmond Fischer about his first Lindau experience and the development of the Lindau Meeting since the early 1990s. This interview is part of Burmester’s book ‘Science at First Hand – 65 years Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings’.

 

Ralph Burmester: What did you expect when you first came to Lindau in 1993?

Edmond Fischer: I remember well the first time I ever heard of Lindau. It must have been forty-fifty years ago; I was flying to Europe on TWA and, seated behind me, was George Wald. While we were chatting together, he told me he was going to a place called Lindau, on Lake Constance, where Nobel Laureates would be giving lectures to many students. And I thought: what an incredible experience it must be for young researchers to hear some of the foremost scientists discussing their work in such an informal setting. What a rewarding experience it must be for the laureates to have this opportunity to communicate with very bright students from all over the world. So, it’s no wonder that, when I was in Stockholm in 1992 for the Nobel Award Ceremony and I was invited by Count Lennart and Countess Sonja to attend the Lindau Meeting, I accepted with enthusiasm.

 

How did you perceive the Nobel Laureate Meetings personally?

I went to Lindau for the first time with my wife Bev in 1993, and the meeting was all that we had expected, and more. We were overwhelmed by the gracious and friendly way we were received. We were all lodged at the stylish and charming old Bad Schachen Hotel with its lovely lakeside garden, and we often walked together along the lake to the Inselhalle were the meetings were held. There were several friends of us and we met many other laureates whom we knew only by name. The opening ceremony was both solemn and whimsical, with the display of extravagant hats by Countess Sonja, and the talks and other events including the Friday trip to Mainau were outstanding.

The meetings have been planned for them, for the students, not for the laureates.

Which elements of these meetings do you hold so dear that they make you return every once in a while?

Meeting many friends, both from Lindau and fellow laureates. Having an opportunity of encountering recent laureates whom I didn’t know and listening to their superb presentations. And, of course, the prospect of meeting and speaking with students from all over the world. The meetings have been planned for them, for the students, not for the laureates.

 

In your opinion, which dimension of these meetings is more beneficial, the scientific or the social one?

Undoubtedly, their scientific contribution. Social occasions are obviously very pleasant, because they allow one to interact with people and provide some needed relaxation amid very intense activities, but they are secondary to the mission of the Lindau Meetings which is to inspire, motivate and connect.

 

Edmond Fischer’s Sketch of Science. Picture/Credit: Volker Steger/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

What kind of topics are you discussing with young researchers?

Obviously, topics related to one’s field of expertise. The students come to you after having heard your talk and realise that some of the material you covered is relevant to their own research project. And those already involved in scientific research are eager to tell you what they are doing.

 

Since the interdisciplinary Jubilee Meeting the scientific standard is reported to have much improved – thanks to the committee of organisers here. It has also become much more international. I wonder how you perceived this development – was it much to your convenience?

Yes, indeed. The quality of students has improved enormously. I remember well, 20 years ago, meeting a bunch of students who were not even in science. They came to Lindau to have fun, to camp with friends. Some didn’t attend any lectures or group discussions. Lindau was barely known at that time. Universities and most of their faculty had never heard of it and there was no incentive for them to suggest students or write letters of recommendation on their behalf. Today, in contrast, the Lindau Meetings are known throughout the world and there is almost a competition among institutions to have their students admitted, and they feel highly honoured when this occurs.

 

This interview is part of Ralph Burmester’s book ‘Science at First Hand – 65 years Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings’

How do you like the interdisciplinary meetings which have been set up every five years from then on?

Very much. It is an occasion to learn what is going on and what is new in different fields of science, and to meet the friends we have in those other disciplines. In fact, those are my preferred meetings.

 

What – in your eyes – are the factors that contribute to making the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings a true success?

Superb lectures, the beauty of Lindau and Bad Schachen, and Mainau, and the warmth, kindness and friendliness with which we are received.

 

What is the ‘Spirit of Lindau’ to you?

I now feel as if I were part of the Lindau family.

 

What are your hopes and expectations for the future of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings?

They can only increase. It’s like an opera: it takes years before everything runs to perfection. In my opinion, under the guidance of Sonja and Bettina, the meetings are now running flawlessly and with enormous efficiency. They run like a very well-oiled machine.

Furthermore, the quality and dedication of the students is unprecedented.

 

 

Breaking the Shyness Barrier

Sir Christopher Pissarides discussing with young economists during the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences. Photo/Credit: Lisa Vincenz-Donnelly/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Sir Christopher Pissarides in discussion with young economists during the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences. Picture/Credit: Lisa Vincenz-Donnelly/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

When I was growing up as an economist, first at Essex University and then at the London School of Economics, I was hearing about the Nobel Prize and all the gossip around it and I thought those winning it must be some kind of superhumans, that every word that came out of them is a word of wisdom. I guess in economics in my formative years, there were indeed some superhumans around: Samuelson, Hicks, Arrow, Friedman, to name a few who made the subject what it is. But it is still puzzling to me why, as human beings, we attach so much importance to the few who have the medal in their hand. And it’s not new: in Classical Greece, a city would destroy part of its city walls when one of its young men got the Olympic wreath because with men like him it did not need walls to protect it. What would I not have given in those days to be in the company of the Nobel Laureates (or the Olympic athletes, for that matter) for a few days? Lindau does just that for a few hundred lucky young people. 

Lindau succeeds in breaking the shyness barrier between young people still struggling with degree studies and silver-coloured gentlemen.

 

Sir Christopher Pissarides during a Press Talk at the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences. Picture/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Sir Christopher Pissarides during a Press Talk at the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences. Picture/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Of course, today, being on the other side of the fence, I also count myself lucky to be in the company of so many bright young people and so many of my fellow laureates. In Lindau, I enjoy most the quiet discussions around the dinner table or talking with a cup of coffee in hand until the coffee gets cold and undrinkable (please, next time hire an Italian barista!). Lindau succeeds in breaking the shyness barrier between young people still struggling with degree studies and silver-coloured gentlemen who have forgotten what it is like to study for a degree (regrettably, there are no living women laureates in economics), to the extent that the organisers feel they should set aside certain times where the laureates can be on their own. Credit should go to the organisers, Countess Bettina Bernadotte and the staff of the executive secretariat.

I decided to lecture about my more recent interests rather than the work that won me the prize: the future of work in the age of automation and robots. It is a fascinating topic, which has attracted a lot of attention on both sides of the argument – the doom and gloom scenario that there will be no meaningful work left for humans and all the profits from the robots will go to a few wealthy individuals and the optimists who claim that society as a whole will be better off and the sooner the robots take over the work the better off we will all be. I belong to the second category but not unconditionally. A lot of jobs will no doubt be taken over by robots but many more will be created, ranging from software engineers who will develop and feed the robots with data and instructions to carers who will look after the children and ageing parents of men and women engaged in the new economy. But inequality and the question of who will get the rewards from the robots’ work is a big unresolved issue; governments need to work hard to come up with credible policies for how to reduce poverty and achieve more equality if the optimistic scenario is to materialise. These last topics were hotly debated both at the side gatherings and in the final panel session of the meeting, of which I was fortunate enough to be a member, on a beautiful day in the lush gardens of Mainau Island.

 

Pissarides talking to young economists during the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences. Photos/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Pissarides and young economists during the Lindau Meeting in 2017. Photos/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

Lindau has been going on for a long time but it is an evolving organisation. This year, we had several 5-minute presentations by graduate students, which are much better than poster sessions where you wander around a room with posters hanging on its walls and students standing by them in the hope that someone will pay attention. The 5-minute presentations put laureates and student participants into the picture, enabled the students to say what their research objectives were and generated lively discussions afterwards in the gardens and coffee rooms of the island. If I have a grievance, it is that despite the length of the meeting (arrived Tuesday and left Sunday) there was still no time to visit the other attractions of Lindau Island, including, from what I am told, a wonderful old library. A free afternoon would have been welcome! This year, there were also more journalists with requests on one’s time for interviews, which interfered with participation in other laureates’ presentations, which is a shame given how much you learn from them. Journalists can reach many more people than can be present in Lindau so their presence should be welcome, but where one strikes the balance between time taken up in interviews with them and attendance at the scheduled events is something not easy to resolve. 

Overall, this was an excellent meeting; regretfully, we have to wait three whole years for the next one.

 

 

More reviews and highlights of the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences can be found in the Annual Report 2017.

The Joy of Discovery

Zur deutschen Version

Bernard L. Feringa

Few events in the career of a scientist make such a lasting impression as the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. In the beautiful setting of Lake Constance, Countess Bettina Bernadotte and the staff of the executive secretariat of the Lindau Meetings welcome hundreds of young talents from all over the world to discuss with several Nobel Laureates. Far beyond my daily joy of discovery in the molecular world, I experienced the excitement and stimulating atmosphere created by the discussions with so many bright young minds. The lectures of distinguished Nobel Laureates, covering various aspects of our discipline and far beyond, were equally stimulating, providing ample opportunities to open new windows to our common future. This memorable event, characterised by superb organisation and royal treatment, makes even the youngest participant feel proud to be a scientist. The numerous discussions with the students reminded me vividly of my own early days as a young scientist – the wonder and passion for chemistry but also the struggle with choices. Which are the most challenging topics or areas for the future, which directions to take, how to deal with the winding and unpaved roads to discovery, the balance in one’s personal life? How do you translate the advice of one of your heroes in the field and find the balance with your own knowledge and intuition? It was indeed a great joy to rediscover how the journey of a scientist starts as well as sharing my personal experiences with these daring and ambitious young men and women.

Few events in the career of a scientist make such a lasting impression as the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting.

The opportunity to advocate the values of science in general – our responsibilities for humanity and the important role of ‘quality of thought’ in academic training, through extensive discussions with participants from around the world – reflects to me one of the major assets of the Lindau Meetings. This extends to the many opportunities to engage with the press to emphasise the beauty and power of chemistry as the central science and the key role of all the young talents gathered in Lindau in making major contributions to invent our future. The considerable efforts of the Lindau organisation in reaching out to the community at large are to be applauded. The inspiring lectures and high-level social events, including an enchanting ’Mexican Evening’, provided the proper ‘wings’ to make us all feel as though we were flying during this magnificent week.

 

Ben Feringa with young scientists during the 67th Lindau Metting. Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Ben Feringa with young scientists during the 67th Lindau Meeting. Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

For me, the absolute highlight of the event was the discussion forum, which lasted nearly two hours, with a large group of students. The topics ranged from personal highlights to decisive moments in my career, the challenging questions by the audience on the future of our discipline and the experiences shared by students from different continents, made this particular meeting a steep mutual learning curve for all of us. It was a fine example of the essence of science, asking questions and entering academic debate. It gave me much pleasure to share with the students my views on “how to discover your talent” being a scientist: “Be confident in following your dreams, as it allows you to discover what will give you lots of energy and to experience your limits in this adventure in the unknown beyond your current horizon.” 

The joy of discovery by the students, both scientifically and personally, experienced in all its facets during the Lindau week, will make a long-lasting contribution to the careers of these young chemists. The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting offers a magnificent ‘laboratory’ for young talents who are going to shape our future.

 

More reviews and highlights of the 67th Lindau Meeting can be found in the Annual Report 2017.

 

 

Go on a virtual tour through the Feringa lab at the University of Groningen in the Nobel Lab 360°.

An Opportunity Not to Waste

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I must admit to being incredibly intimidated about attending the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences. About twenty of history’s greatest minds coupled with hundreds of the world’s most talented young scholars on one island – I felt like a stowaway on a celebrity cruise, and I wondered how on earth I’d participate in their conversations without being discovered for the imposter I was.

David Smerdon (right) with Countess Bettina Bernadotte and laureate Jean Tirole. Picture/Credit: Lisa Vincenz-Donnelly/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Countess Bettina Bernadotte, laureate Jean Tirole and David Smerdon. Photo: Lisa Vincenz-Donnelly/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

But in hindsight, my fears were ill-founded. From the very first interaction at the airport arrivals, everyone I met was enthusiastic, approachable and, above all, friendly. I discussed how to best measure teacher quality and swapped job-market war stories with Chicago-based Nathan in the taxi ride from the airport and was amazed by the developments in climate finance after meeting Veronika, a Russian physicist, in the hotel lobby. Rushing off to dinner, I sat opposite Banji, who educated me about the consequences of Nigeria’s trade policy on its energy markets, and Eleni, who detailed the early results of a cash transfer pilot study in Ethiopia. On the bus, Roxana from Romania taught me a form of econometrics I didn’t even know existed. By the time I fell asleep that night, my notebook already had pages full of scribbles about the people I’d met and the conversations I’d had – and the official programme hadn’t even begun.

But it was the interactions with the laureates themselves that really surprised me. I had expected these esteemed statesmen to be cordial and pleasant – which they were – but I had not expected them to go so far beyond their official obligations (for lack of a better word). The laureates were not only tirelessly willing to acquiesce to our floundering flattery and sycophantic selfies, but were eager to interact with us on an intellectual level, engaging in stimulating conversation with different groups of scholars at every possible break in the programme. They actively encouraged us to ask the big questions, whether it was about their work, our own careers or the state of the science itself. They listened to our views, not dismissively or with well-crafted rebuttals but with real consideration. And while it was hard to ignore their obvious intellectual aura, on several occasions the laureates showed us their human sides and let their hair down (who knew they could dance like that?). One common thread of advice I picked up from the laureates was their earnest desire that young economists take up relevant, welfare-improving research topics, rather than just playing the classic publishing game. Coming from a policy background and thus a ‘late-starter’ to the world of academia, I very much appreciated hearing this admonishment – though one could imagine it is easier to dish out, let alone follow, with a Nobel Prize hanging in one’s office… Having said that, I found that this idealism was echoed by my fellow scholars, and it was a delight to listen to their presentations and the laureates’ comments in the parallel sessions – not to mention the many animated conversations we had over dinners, coffees and even swims in the lake. Judging by these short snapshots of research, it was even possible to imagine a few of them standing in front of the Swedish monarch at some point in the future.

I didn’t anticipate such positivism in a room full of economists, but on reflection I guess that’s what the Lindau Meetings are all about.

I particularly enjoyed chatting with people from vastly different streams of research to mine – including, mind you, other attendees such as the laureates’ and scholars’ partners, members of the Lindau Council and its executive secretariat and industry partners. In the cut-throat world of academia, it’s so easy to lose one’s self in the narrow silos into which we now specialise, so it was an unexpected pleasure to have such stimulating debates that combined all branches of economics and policy, joined by a common focus on real-world issues (I’d forgotten that macroeconomics can actually be fun). More importantly, there appeared to exist a collective motivation among the scholars that our careers should matter in some tangible way to the ‘outside world’ and that the investment made by ourselves and others in our education deserved to be returned with real contributions to improving welfare. To be honest, I didn’t anticipate such positivism in a room full of economists, but on reflection I guess that’s what the Lindau Meetings are all about.

It was surprisingly sad to leave Lindau after such a brief but hectic event. Sure, I’d been running on caffeine and naps for a week, visited the first-aid tent twice and had run out of clean socks, but attending the Lindau Meeting was, pardon the cliché, an unforgettable experience. I landed home with a folder overflowing with lecture notes, research ideas scribbled on napkins and crumpled business cards of the scholars and other attendees, all thanks to the wonderful opportunity that the Foundation and the Council for the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings provided. It’s an opportunity I’m not going to waste.

 

David Smerdon gave the farewell address of #LiNoEcon alongside Nobel Laureate Jean Tirole.

 

More reviews and highlights of the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences can be found in the Annual Report 2017.

The World at Home in Lindau

For nine years, host families from Lindau and the surrounding area have welcomed young scientists from all over the world who are participating in the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings. Through their engagement, the young scientists avail of the unique opportunity to get to know Lindau and its people in personal surroundings and learn more about their lives and culture first-hand. 

 

Reunited After Six Years – Elom Aglago and His Lindau Host Family

Brigitte Trojan and Hans Schweickert have been participating in the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings as a host family since 2011. They have already welcomed seven young scientists from all over the world (Egypt, Japan, Georgia, Chile, Iran, Lebanon and Togo). In 2011, young scientist Elom Aglago from Togo was their first guest. They have kept in touch during the past six years, and this year, Elom came back to Lindau to meet his host family again.

 

Elom Algago and his host family in Lindau. Credit: Christoph Schumacher/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Elom Aglago and his host family in Lindau. Credit: Christoph Schumacher/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

How did you decide to become a host family?

Brigitte Trojan/Hans Schweickert: We had just moved here to Lindau, into a new house with garden, when we thought that we might welcome a young scientist from abroad. We love being at home, we love living here in Lindau, but we are also open to new cultures and perspectives. In addition, we are very enthusiastic about the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings. So, for us, it was a perfect opportunity to meet people from all over the world. It is also a great way for us to improve our English.

For us, it was a perfect opportunity to meet people from all over the world

How do you remember Elom’s first stay here in Lindau?

BT/HS: We felt happy and privileged to host Elom here in 2011. We had breakfast together every morning and talked about the daily programme. And every evening, he gave us a briefing about the day at the Lindau Meeting. We got lots of inspiration from him. He always liked to discuss things with us, and we truly appreciate that.

 

How did you stay in contact over the past six years?

BT/HS: We occasionally exchanged e-mails. For example, we wished each other a Merry Christmas each year. We sent him the news from Lindau, told him about the new young scientists, and in return received news from Togo, Morocco or France, depending on where he lived at the time. He shared the progress of his scientific career with us, the papers he published and his most important findings. Two years ago, we had the idea that he could visit us again. Last December, we have planned his visit for this summer – and now he is here again.

 

How was it to see each other again?

BT/HS: We met at the railway station and were happy to see each other again. Immediately, there was the familiar warmth and the same spark. We right away started again to discuss differences and in our philosophies, and to talk about the roles of family and parents in our different cultures and so on. We missed him, and our cat missed him as well (laughs).

 

Is he the same as you remember him?

BT/HS: Yes and No. He is as young and lively as he was then – but also a little bit more serious; it seems as if he has arrived where he wants to be.

 

Elom at the Bavarian Evening during the Lindau Meeting 2011. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Elom Algago

Elom at the Bavarian Evening during the Lindau Meeting 2011. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Elom Aglago

Elom Aglago: I have become wiser; I’m not as childlike as I was then. I think that my host family contributed in some way to that; they helped me to understand differences in cultures, to respect other cultures and learn from them. I think it all started with the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. I experienced for the first time that we are all different but unique and special. We have to take that into account.

 

Are you closer to getting the Nobel Prize now than you were back in 2012?

EA: Personally, getting the Nobel Prize is not on my agenda at the moment (laughs). I would like to take on administrative position from which I can improve the transfer of knowledge, technology and responsibility to Africa. Many Africans get lost in their ambitions, not aware of the correct procedures. I plan to do this and continue with my research at the same time.

 

Did you have such good experiences with every young scientist you welcomed?

BT/HS: It is always a great opportunity to meet people who are able to bring the world forwards. All young scientists were very polite and got along well in our home. They were always very thankful; and were eager to engage in dialogue and to take in all information.

 

 

 The First Access to the World – Host Family Ober

The Ober family has been welcoming young scientists in Lindau since 2013. Thus far, all of them have been from Asia: Korea, Taiwan and Thailand. Often, two young scientists stay at their holiday apartment at the same time. Their son David enjoys the company of the foreign visitors and helps his parents as host.

 

Host family Ober with their two young scientists Nopphon Weeranoppanant (“Nop”, left) and Cholpisit Kiattisewee (“Ice”, second from right) and guest Pree-Cha Kiatkirakajorn (“Joe”, right). Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Catharina Ober

Host family Ober with their two young scientists Nopphon Weeranoppanant (“Nop”, left) and Cholpisit Kiattisewee (“Ice”, second from right) and guest Pree-Cha Kiatkirakajorn (“Joe”, right). Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Catharina Ober

 

Why did you become a host family for the Lindau Meetings?

Cathrin Ober: My niece Theresa came up with the idea of acting as a host family for young scientists. We wouldn’t have thought about if it wasn’t for her; she was the driving force behind our decision. She already knew five years ago, when she was 14, that she would become a physicist and had been at various events of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, for example, at the Grill & Chill or at the Matinee. She convinced us to volunteer as a host family and promised to care for the young scientists during their stay. When the first young scientists came to our home, our son, David, also became enthusiastic about the visitors. For example, he prepared the breakfasts for them. He was only five years old! If he wouldn’t have been that committed, we may have stopped after my niece had left Lindau. […] The Lindau Meetings are wonderful for our city. Everything is always working out that well, because everyone plays their part to the full. We are happy to contribute our bit.

Our son also became enthusiastic about the visitors

How is it to be a host family during the Lindau Meetings, especially with a young child?

CO: It is always a lot of fun! We benefit from the tightly packed programme of the young scientists. I mean, my husband and I are both fully employed; we’re doing this alongside our day jobs. Although we don’t have much time, the young scientists were always very grateful. We do have the mornings together, and on the only free evening, we are always cooking a German meal for our guests. This year, we made Kässpätzle, sautéed onions and Sauerkraut. Up to now, the two Thai boys we had here this year have been the most fun, it was amazing with them. They played tabletop soccer with David. They always tried to chat with him. In previous years, it was only sign language, but now he knows a few words in English. I think that it is a good thing for him and the other children in host families. It is his first access to the world. He has always joined when we spent time with them, and it is always him who first finds the young scientists at the train station. He looks at their photos before we pick them up at the station, and he always spots them right away!

During the interview, their son David enters the room, wearing a jumper with the inscription ’Time to go and change the world’. When asked how it is to have young scientists at their home every year, he simply replied: “Quite cool!”

 

Have you stayed in contact with the young scientists you have welcomed here in Lindau?

CO: We have never stayed in contact with any of our guests. I really do think that it is hard if you only get to know each other for one week. But if we’d like to get in touch again, it would surely be possible with all of them. Our young scientists this year were quite direct and said that all hell would break loose if we were to set foot into Thailand without getting in touch with them (laughs). We show them the beauty of Lindau and that’s all. We’re not well versed in natural sciences. That’s why we never really talked about their disciplines. We talked about their countries and customs, about their focuses in life.

The two young scientists were also enthusiastic about their stay at the Ober’s house. They told us about the “incredible experience” (Ice) with “an amazing host family” (Nop). They were particularly pleased with the exchange of their cultures. The conversations during the meals were “very important parts of my memory of Lindau. And Spätzle was my favourite! :)” (Nop)

 

 

Lindau Family for Life – Host Family Heller

Mrs. and Mr. Heller are a host family since 2012. Every year, they welcome at least one young scientist at their home.

 

Host family Heller and Alumna Dissaya in Lindau. Credit: Courtesy of Dissaya Pornpattananangkul

Host family Heller and Alumna Dissaya in Lindau. Credit: Courtesy of Dissaya Pornpattananangkul

 

Why did you decide to host young scientists?

Mr. Heller: I have spent ten years of my life abroad. I know what it’s like to be a foreigner in another country and how nice it is to get access to the local people and to get their support. Everybody wishes to enjoy hospitality: this means that you have to offer it yourself. In that way, you can get to know the world without stepping onto an airplane.
In addition, I do have a special interest in science in general and in astrophysics, medicine and economic sciences in particular.

In that way, you can get to know the world without stepping onto an airplane.

What is it like to be a host family?

H: Being a host family means to be tolerant and open. It implies to be considerate of others and to give someone you don’t know the benefit of the doubt. It is always exciting when a completely unknown person becomes part of your family from one minute to the next. In general, it is always an enrichment to spend time with those guests. The young scientists that come to Lindau are global elite. It is thus not surprising that they are pleasant, interesting, capable and astonishingly mature personalities. Unfortunately, we have not yet succeeded in persuading one of our guests to move to Germany and work here, although each of the scientists would mean an enormous gain for our country.

 

Were there huge differences between the different young scientists you have welcomed in Lindau up to now?

H: In our experience, the young and mobile generation in a global world is coming closer together. Their dreams and wishes are – despite all cultural differences – the same: they want to start a family, to develop professionally, to travel as well as to live in wealth, peace and security. Although there might be a loss of cultural diversity, I believe that the positive impact of this is predominant due to the fact that homogeneity has a connecting effect.

 

Is there a key moment you remember with one of the young scientists?

H: In 2013, we welcomed a young scientist from Thailand: Dissaya. With her, we immediately had a special connection. She really became our friend even though thousands of kilometers are dividing us. During the Lindau Meeting, we had some deep conversations over a glass of red wine. We talked about the important things in life: for example, about what it means to grow old. Those moments were quite touching. I also took her out on a motorcycle tour once to show her the surroundings. A few months later, Dissaya came back to Lindau to stay with us for a two-week vacation. She also invited us to her wedding a few years ago; unfortunately, we weren’t able to go.

 

After the interview with Mr. Heller, we asked Dissaya to also comment on her experience with her host family.

Dissaya Pornpattananangkul: Before meeting with the family, I was only expecting to exchange experiences with the local people. The first time I arrived in Lindau by train, Mr. Heller was there waiting to pick me up. From that moment onwards, my host family took care of me so well. They showed me many places in Lindau. It was one of the most valuable experiences abroad for me. Staying with the host family, I gained a family in Lindau for life. […] The whole time I was there, every moment was very special. Mr. Heller took me out to ride a motorcycle in the mountains. The view was fantastic. It was really one of the most beautiful sceneries I have ever seen.

 

Alumna Dissaya at the motorcycle tour. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Mr. Heller

Alumna Dissaya at the motorcycle tour. Photo/Credit: Heller

We thank the Lindau host families for their engagement as well as the open and interesting conversations.

“Lindau Was a Lesson in Building Courage and Confidence”

Devaki_Slider

When submitting my application for the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences, I said that it would give me a platform to interact, exchange ideas and build collaborations with the best minds in the world: young enthusiastic people from across cultures and geographies. I now know that whatever you write, it is going to be an under-statement: my experience of Lindau was truly life changing, continuing to inspire me in my everyday life.

Lindau gave me the courage to believe in my dreams. It is very motivating to discover that there are so many young scientists who are working towards the common goal of making the world a better place to live.

I met people who have identified new economic problems brought about by the rapidly changing environment and who are using innovative ways to address issues of food wastage, environmental degradation and economic inequality. I now know that when I say that these are the causes that led me to study economics, I speak for many young people.

Lindau is the place to talk freely about your ideas and get valuable feedback from people who share your vision. This is the time and place to build networks that are already a step towards turning your ideas into actions.

The meeting is designed to create plenty of opportunities for informal conversations with Nobel Laureates over lunch or drinks. James Heckman spoke to us about his struggles in graduate school to come up with a research idea, in the process of which he read about a wide variety of topics. He told us: ‘Nothing I have learned has ever been non-useful.’ Bengt Holmström emphasised the role of serendipity, as opposed to luck, in his life: luck is random, but serendipity – that is, how well you use your luck – is not, he said.

I cannot tell you what you are going to experience because it will exceed all your expectations in one way or another.

The frontiers of science are often pushed by borrowing from other disciplines. I had a conversation with Nobel Laureate in Physics, Brian Schmidt, who had many insightful suggestions about the way we, economists, do research and how we can improve our techniques. Being an experimental physicist, he believes in the scientific use of data to answer important research questions and hopes that, in the future, more empirical economists will be honoured with the Nobel Prize.

One of the defining moments of my Lindau experience was being selected as a panellist alongside Nobel Laureate Eric Maskin and Howard Yana-Shapiro, chief agricultural officer of Mars Incorporated, to discuss problems and solutions to economic inequality in a globalised world. I seized the opportunity to draw on my own experience to talk about the problems of inequality in my home country, India.

In this respect, Lindau was a lesson in building courage and confidence: you have to speak what you believe in. The experience was rewarding. After the talk, many economists came forward to share their views on some of the issues I had raised.

Vladimir Petrov, a PhD student at University of Zurich, spoke about his experience of being involved in a start-up that is leveraging blockchain, an artefact of the new financial system, to build projects to save the environment. Carl Schramm, economist and entrepreneur, encouraged my initiative of building data to study entrepreneurship in developing countries. Discussions with Romesh Vaitilingam, writer and media consultant, taught me many important lessons about communicating economics to a broader audience without losing it in jargon.

 

Laureate Eric Maskin, Devaki Ghose and Howard Yana-Shapiro

Nobel Laureate Eric Maskin, Devaki Ghose and Howard Yana-Shapiro were on a panel discussing economic inequality at the Mars Science Breakfast during #LiNoEcon.

 

Interactions with Bruno Roche and Jay Jakub from Mars Incorporated contributed to my understanding of how collaborations between industry and academia can help address issues of economic importance, such as helping deprived communities. Lack of social and human capital in historically deprived communities hinders their participation in economic activities and restricts their purchasing power to buy goods from the market. Community-level interventions to invest in human capital can be beneficial for different stakeholders, starting from members of the community, policy-makers and multinationals.

As a confluence of ideas from both industry and academia, Lindau is different from any regular academic conference. It is not only about listening to seminars and raising questions. It is also about exchanging ideas with some of the brightest and most passionate young economists, drawing inspiration, engaging in conversations with Nobel Laureates and, most importantly, learning to express your own ideas.

My experience at Lindau opened windows of opportunities that I did not even know existed. It led me to foster connections with people who are deeply passionate about science and believe in using science to solve many of the world’s problems.

I highly encourage every young scientist to apply to the Lindau Meetings. I cannot tell you what you are going to experience because it will exceed all your expectations in one way or another. Oh, and did I not tell you that these five days are also packed with many fun activities, including music, dance and a boat trip to the pristine Mainau island?!

Young Women Economists in Lindau: Powerful Encounters

One of the reasons I applied to attend the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences was the expectation of coming back brimming with self-motivation. Moreover, I expected to be deeply fascinated by the commitment of the pioneers of economic sciences, by their bravery in addressing world issues and by their lives as common individuals facing successes and failures. My expectations were by far exceeded.

I have always genuinely aspired to become an active participant in economics and to make a difference. My passion for the subject started with my postgraduate studies and further developed during my work at the United Nations and my academic experiences. A special opportunity offered by this meeting is the possibility of interacting with Nobel Laureates and other young academics, while sharing passions and values, understanding different cultures and exchanging ideas and future collaborations.

But what also fascinated me and made this experience even more magic and overwhelming was the passion, the eagerness and the determination of the many young women economists I had the pleasure of meeting in Lindau.

 

Zeinab Aboutalebi (left) and Angela De Martiis during the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences. Picture/Credit: Lisa Vincenz-Donnelly/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Zeinab Aboutalebi (left) and Angela De Martiis during the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences, Picture/Credit: Lisa Vincenz-Donnelly/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

One of the ideas that particularly got my attention during the meeting is what Nobel Laureate Bengt Holmström called serendipity. Among the various questions to the laureates, many young economists were eager to know the secret of their success: how did they do it?

A common answer was indeed serendipity. An unexpected discovery that occurs by chance, a valuable finding that was not looked for by others, being in the right place at the right time, or simply luck. Nevertheless, the role of chance – or luck – in science is also driven by passion and determination. Often, such unexpected findings come from an error in the scientist’s own methodology, according to scientists Kevin Dunbar and Jonathan Fugelsang. Passion and determination were in fact the two main elements that I sensed when talking with young women economists about their research interests.

During my week at the meeting, I had the honour of presenting my research in front of five Nobel Laureates – an invaluable experience – and the pleasure of interviewing several young women economists from different countries, cultures and backgrounds. They came from Africa, Russia, Iran, China, the United States, Germany and Italy, and they all have one element in common: passion.

When I asked them about their motivation for doing academic research, the first answer was indeed passion, eagerness to learn, to understand and provide valuable results to inform some of today’s most debated issues – such as climate change, economic sanctions, information asymmetry, inequalities, labour markets, growth theory and monetary policy. The women economists, and women’s participation in the economy more generally, provide a diversity of economic thinking, as Janet Yellen recently emphasised in a speech at Brown University.

This diversity of thinking comes from the fact that, as one of these women economists told me, economics is not just economics. Being an economist implies knowing about mathematics, statistics, natural sciences, law, politics, psychology, history, sociology and more. Economics means dealing with issues that involve institutions and individuals. All these elements together make it a powerful tool for improving people’s welfare and lives.

On the one hand, welfare is one of the motivations driving Linda Glawe, a young German economist from the University of Hagen, to focus on prolonged growth slowdowns in emerging market economies and on the concept of the middle-income trap. In a world in which more than five billion people live in middle-income countries, representing more than 70% of the world’s poor population, a slowdown in emerging markets will have strong implications for low and high-income countries. Therefore, the danger of a middle-income trap is of great relevance for future welfare. After publishing a literature survey on the middle-income trap, Linda’s current research aims to provide a theoretical contribution to discussions of future growth in China.

On the other hand, when we talk about welfare we often refer to the fact that countries have unequal living standards that makes them grow faster or slower than others. Therefore, some countries display higher inequalities in incomes, wealth and human capital. These issues are among the main research interests of Rong Hai, a Chinese young assistant professor in economics at the University of Miami.

In one recent paper, she and laureate James Heckman investigate the determinants of inequality in human capital with an emphasis on the role of credit constraints. The results show that both cognitive and non-cognitive abilities are important determinants of human capital inequality. In addition, credit constraints are important because young people cannot borrow enough against their future human capital and thus suffer from lower consumption when they are in school.

In a second paper, Rong finds that reducing income inequality between low and median income households improves economic growth. But reducing income inequality through taxation between median and high-income households reduces economic growth.

 

Angela De Martiis and other young economists during the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences,  Picture/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Angela De Martiis and other young economists during the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences, Picture/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

When investigating economic inequalities, there are many reasons to explore inequality within cities or states, especially if we consider that individuals move across space. Thus, the disparity of a particular area is also a reflection of the skills of these individuals as potential workers. From a labour economist perspective, Sarah Bana, an American Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is interested in understanding the returns to skills and the role that skills play in earnings inequality in the US labour market.

One of her current research papers looks at displaced workers, those who lose their jobs as a result of a firm or plant closing. Analysing comprehensive occupational employment data, the results of her research suggest that vulnerable displaced workers’ difficulties in the labour market are a function of their skills and less related to the goods and services they were previously producing. This is due to the fact that the same set of tasks can be applied in the production of various goods and services, but there appears to be little scope for workers from shrinking occupations to find work with similar earnings, which may help to explain the large earnings losses.

As a researcher in labour economics, Sarah thinks of an individual’s work as their contribution to their family, community and society. But this may be hard for those workers who are displaced in worse labour market conditions.

Several studies investigate the effects of the global financial crisis on the labour market. The data from the displaced workers survey from 1984 to 2014 clearly show a sharp increase in the rate of job loss. Besides the effects on the labour market, the long-lasting impacts of the financial crisis on the economy and wider society have questioned the adequacy of the traditional tools in explaining periods of financial distress as well as the adequacy of the existing policy response.

At the same time, the financial crisis has shown that complex interconnections among financial institutions represent a mechanism for the propagation of financial distress and they are nowadays recognised as one of the key elements of potential financial instability or systemic risk.

This is one of the crucial issues that the young Italian economist Chiara Perillo, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Zurich, is investigating. In particular, she is exploring the implications of the unconventional monetary policies (such as quantitative easing) in the euro area by combining financial network analysis with econometric methods. Using the time evolution of loans granted from euro area banks to different institutional sectors operating in the euro area, her results show that since the beginning of quantitative easing there has been an increase in bank lending, but mostly addressed to the banking system itself.

Another element that drew my attention while getting to know the young women economists was their diverse backgrounds, another powerful tool for academic research in the diversity of thinking. Being Russian by origin and doing research based in Germany, Maria Kristalova, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Bremen, investigates the impact of the mutual sanctions between the EU and Russia, followed by the escalation of the Ukraine conflict in 2014. Her results show a division pattern of all EU-27 countries in two groups: the West European countries that recovered from the sanctions shock, and the East European and Baltic countries, which are still suffering with negative consequences.

Angela De Martiis (right) and Maria Kristalova during the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences

Angela De Martiis with Maria Kristalova, Picture: Courtesy of Angela De Martiis

According to Maria, this topic is of crucial importance for gaining a better understanding of the costs of political decisions that might affect the aspired convergence of Europe. In a second research topic, Maria also looks at long-run co-evolution of innovation activities and public funding in German regions. The results show strong empirical evidence of its existence.

Another issue of crucial importance, one of the most controversial, is climate change. According to Jennifer Uju Okonkwo, a young Nigerian economist based at the University of Kiel, regardless of what sceptics think, research shows evidence that the climatic system is changing and this change has several negative consequences, such as rising sea levels, coastal flooding, droughts, global warming and changes in precipitation. Hence, there is a dire need to understand optimal ways to adapt to the changing climate. Her research thus aims at finding cost-effective strategies to manage climate change that could be beneficial to developing countries with limited adaptation funds.

When investigating the issue of climate change, we immediately come across divergent views and an asymmetry in information, thus generating inefficiencies in addressing and solving such a phenomenon. As a young Iranian economist working on applied microeconomic theory at Warwick University, Zeinab Aboutalebi is investigating the role of information asymmetry.

Her research is dedicated to tracing inefficiencies created through the strategic interaction among economic actors. The role of information asymmetry is crucial in shaping the resulting consequences and in reducing the inefficiencies using, for example, different incentive schemes, designing incentive mechanisms, delegation or persuasion techniques.

Zeinab is currently working on feedback in experimentation and how the goodwill of a principal to not discourage an agent, while providing him/her feedback about the result of the experiment, could cause large inefficiencies and uninformative communication between the principal and the agent. Information asymmetry and the lack of informative communication are thus the building blocks of most of today’s big phenomena.

From climate change, to inequality, displaced workers, sanctions, growth, monetary policy and information asymmetry, it was a pleasure to make this journey into the lives and research interests of seven young women economists – to discuss new research ideas, exchange views and laugh while talking about science and about a world that is a fascinating place still to be discovered with a pinch of serendipity and a lot of determination. Thank you for sharing your passion!

Choosing the Right Mentor is Most Important, Says Lindau Alumna

Interview with Lindau Alumna Floryne Buishand

This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, to increase the visibility of women in research (more information for and about women in science by “Women in Research” on Facebook and Twitter). Enjoy the interview with Floryne and get inspired.

 

Floryne Buishand, 30, from the Netherlands, is a postdoctoral researcher at the National Cancer Institute/NIH, Bethesda, USA, studies genomic changes associated with endocrine cancers with the ultimate goal of identifying novel diagnostic and prognostic markers, as well as novel therapeutic targets. One of her special interests is the field of veterinary comparative oncology: the study of naturally occurring cancers in pet dogs provides a suitable model for the advancement of the understanding, diagnosis and management of cancer in humans. Floryne participated in the 64th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting.

 

Floryne Buishand

What inspired you to pursue a career in science?

My background is in veterinary medicine. When I started at vet school, I was convinced that I would become a small animal veterinarian in private practice, because this had always been my dream. However, during college I was selected to participate in the Honors Program of Utrecht’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. This program is an additional year on top of the normal curriculum, and it is 100% research focused. During that year I got inspired to pursue a career in translational science. I realised that solely practicing veterinary medicine would eventually become too much of a routine for me; however, research would always stay challenging. The combination of clinic and research was very appealing to me, because on the one hand I could immediately contribute to curing small animals by practicing, and on the other hand I could contribute to potential future anti-cancer therapies through my research. Also, it would allow me to formulate fundamental research questions based on clinically relevant problems, take these to the lab, and eventually translate the research findings back to the clinic. Since I was fortunate enough to get good results from my Honors Program research, after obtaining my DVM degree, I was able to continue this research project as a Ph.D. candidate. I obtained a grant from The Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development, and this allowed me to perform my Ph.D. research alongside my clinical residency in small animal surgery.

 

Who are your role models?

Obviously, I’m thankful to my parents. Without their support I wouldn’t have been in the position that I am in now.

On a professional level, I have many role models. To name a few that I have met personally, I’d like to start with late Prof. Wim Misdorp, who was one of the founding fathers of veterinary comparative oncology. He was the first veterinarian to receive a grant in comparative cancer pathology at the Dutch Cancer Institute and the Queen Wilhemina Cancer Foundation, which resulted in his Ph.D. thesis in 1964 “Malignant mammary tumors in the dog and the cat compared with the same in women”. During his impressive career he has established collaborations between human hospitals and veterinary practices and he was the first to get a dual professorship at Utrecht’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, both in the Pathology Department as well as in the Small Animal Medicine Department. Standing with one leg in the pathology lab and with one leg in the clinic, he was able to further integrate these two disciplines. Other role models are Profs. Douglas McGregor and David Fraser, who have established the Veterinary Leadership Program at Cornell University. This unique summer research experience combines faculty-guided research with student-directed learning through participation in modules, workshops and group discussion that encourage responsible leadership, critical thinking and the development of teamwork skills. Over the last 28 years, Douglas McGregor and David Fraser have inspired many veterinary medicine students, including myself, facilitating career counselling and promoting the professional development of programme alumni as independent scientists and public health professionals.

Finally, thinking of strong women in science, I consider late Nobel Laureate Rita Levi-Montalcini as a role model. She was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of Nerve Growth Factor. At the time of her death, aged 103, she was the oldest living Nobel Laureate. Besides her outstanding research accomplishments, she also served in Italy’s Senate as Senator for Life and she has a foundation to support African women with potential for scientific accomplishment. I like her quote: “Above all, don’t fear difficult moments. The best comes from them.”

 

How did you get to where you are in your career path?

During the final phase of my Ph.D., I realised that it would be important to gain research experience abroad, in order to build a successful scientific career. I always had NCI/NIH at the back of my mind, since I had visited NIH once in 2009, as part of a workshop of the Veterinary Leadership Program.

When I participated in the 2014 Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, I met Prof. Jens Habermann from Lübeck University. We shared similar research interests, so he invited me to give a lecture in Lübeck in 2015. It turned out that he had performed his postdoc at NCI and when he learned that I was looking to do a postdoc abroad, he connected me with Dr. Thomas Ried, his former postdoc supervisor at NCI. I applied for a Rubicon grant from the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research, and luckily this grant was honoured to me. That allowed me to start my postdoc at the Ried lab in 2016. Later this year I will start a new challenge at NCI as postdoc in the lab of Dr. Electron Kebebew.

 

Promotie Floryne Buishand (2)

 

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

Each project is different and has its own charm. Something that I very much enjoyed was one of the final projects during my Ph.D. In this project, we identified CD90 as a putative cancer stem cell marker in pancreatic endocrine cancer. Using a zebrafish embryo xenograft model we also demonstrated that anti-CD90 monoclonal antibodies decreased the viability and metastatic potential of insulinoma cells, suggesting that anti-CD90 monoclonals form a potential novel adjutant therapeutic modality. Obviously, this therapy is still far from the clinic. However, with my clinical background I also tremendously enjoy projects that are closer to the clinic. Therefore, I enjoyed my recent rotation at NCI’s Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program (CTEP) very much, too. During my time at CTEP, I reviewed letters of intent for clinical trials and clinical trial protocols, and made improvement recommendations. It was very satisfying to realise that many people could already benefit from these clinical trials within 1-3 years, and even more people in the future if these drugs make it through Phase III trials.

 

What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself/your work?

It’s not my personality to feel immensely proud of what I do, or maybe this moment is yet to come. However, I’d like to rephrase: if that moment comes, I would be proud of the team work and not of my work alone, since science is ultimately a team effort. I tend to be my own devil’s advocate, always critically reviewing my work, looking for ways to improve. Although, I don’t feel pride, I can be very happy about work-related things. The happiest moment was during my Ph.D. defence. It was wonderful to end a period of hard work with a ceremonial defence in the midst of family, friends and colleagues.

 

Floryne Buishand (2)

 

What is a “day in the life” of Floryne like?

On a regular day I get up at 6 am, eat breakfast and go to the gym. I have started going to the gym every morning – weekends and holidays included – after I arrived in the U.S., and I haven’t missed a single day since. It’s a great way for me to wake-up and get energised for a productive day. I bike to NIH and normally start around 8 am. In the lab I am able to immediately start with my experiments, since I plan them ahead of time. I try to get as many experiments running in parallel in the morning. During protocol waiting steps I send emails, search papers or write manuscripts or grant proposals. However, if I really have to focus on writing, I’d rather do that at home, where I can focus better. If I am not having lunch with co-workers, I eat lunch in 5 min at my desk; it’s a habit that still persists from the time I was on clinics. I could probably make more time for lunch, but I like to keep going. During the afternoon I am finishing my experiments. The time I actually finish depends on the things I am working on that day, but usually I don’t have to work late on experiments. When I am finished I go home, make dinner or go out for dinner to meet friends. Bethesda is well known for its many restaurants, and I have made it my goal to eat at every one of them – I am getting there. After dinner I usually work a little more on emails, manuscripts or grants, and often my husband and I finish the day watching a good series. It’s too bad that we have to wait until 2019 for the final GoT season…

 

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

My short term goals for my postdoc are to identify novel diagnostic and prognostic markers, as well as novel therapeutic targets, leading to several high impact first authored publications. Also, I am aiming to establish an endocrine cancer comparative oncology consortium. Clinicians and investigators in the fields of veterinary and human endocrine oncology, clinical trials, pathology, and drug development will be joined in this consortium, in order to improve knowledge, development of, and access to naturally occurring canine endocrine tumours, as a model for human disease. Canine and human comparisons represent an unprecedented opportunity to complement conventional endocrine tumour research paradigms, addressing a devastating group of cancers for which innovative diagnostic and treatment strategies are clearly needed. A clinical trial testing an agent in dogs can run between one and three years, whereas human clinical trials stretch between 10-15 years. Comparative oncology research could help by integrating results from canine trials into human trials, thereby speeding up the whole drug development process.

In the long term, I would like to keep contributing to the improvement of current cancer treatment modalities, either by running my own lab, or by coordinating a clinical therapeutics development program, like the work that is being performed at NCI’s Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program.

 

Floryne Buishand

 

What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?

Back in The Netherlands, I used to play the piano a lot. I have been playing since I was five years old and although I did get the chance at the conservatory to pursue a career as a professional pianist, this has never been my dream. It’s great as a hobby, and I do miss having a piano here in the U.S. Furthermore, I love to be active: besides going to the gym, I am playing tennis and I love to hike, especially in the National Parks. So far, I have visited ~35 of them, and I am looking forward to add two more during our upcoming road trip through Colorado, South Dakota, Wyoming Utah and Arizona.

 

What advice do you have for other women interested in science?

Historically, gender stereotypes in science have impeded supportive environments for women faculty. Stereotypes not only affect the social interactions and external evaluations of a stereotyped individual, but can also affect that individual’s performance. Social science research suggests that women’s perceptions of their environments are influenced by stereotype threat: the anxiety faced when confronted with situations in which one may be evaluated using a negative stereotype. For instance, it has been demonstrated that women perform worse on math tests when reminded of their gender, like older adults perform worse on memory tests when reminded of their age. So first of all, women should try to prevent that stereotype threat influences their perception of the environment. Since gender stereotypes should not be an issue, I would give women the same advice as men: the most important thing that someone interested in science should think very carefully about is who they will choose as a mentor. A mentor will have a big impact on the future career of a young scientist, both through an inspirational experience and through the practical benefits of vocational planning. Training decisions should only be made after discussing scientific interests and objectives with trusted advisors and individuals currently in training. Individuals contemplating graduate training should be advised to seek relevant information concerning prospective mentors, including a prospective mentor’s training record, his or her academic progression and productivity, the journals in which he or she has published, and peer regard as reflected in the frequency with which his or her published papers are cited in the scientific literature.

 

Promotie Floryne Buishand

 

In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in science?

CRISPR/Cas9 is a hot genome editing tool that was first reported in 2010 as a programmable system for creating DNA cuts at desired locations in prokaryotes. Since then, the system has been adapted enabling its use in eukaryotic cells. So far, CRISPR/Cas9 has been successfully used in vitro and ex vivo for editing, regulating and targeting genomes. The next step would be to use CRISP/Cas9 in vivo, because it could be the next breakthrough in cancer treatment. All cancers harbour multiple mutations that cause uncontrolled cell proliferation. With CRISPR/Cas9 these mutations could be corrected directly in cancer patients. However, before CRISPR/Cas9 makes it to the clinics, obviously some challenges still need to be solved, like off-target effects and efficiency and specificity of in vivo CRISPR/Cas9 delivery methods.

 

What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?

During the last two decades, women have already made substantial progress in several science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. Female assistant professors are now at or above parity in psychological science and in most social sciences, and they are approaching parity in biological sciences. However, women remain less numerous at senior ranks in all fields. For example, females make up more than half of biomedical science undergraduate (58%) and postgraduate (53%) degrees but only 18% of full professors in the biomedical science. Apparently, women leave science at the transition from a mentored to an independent stage of their careers. These transition points along this career path offer a target to prevent the loss of highly trained women scientists.

One strategy to keep women on board is to provide specific “women in science fellowships”. At NCI the Sallie Rosen Kaplan postdoctoral fellowship for women in cancer research, provides additional mentoring opportunities, seminars, and workshops designed to strengthen leadership skills over a one-year period, which should enable female postdoctoral fellows to feel better equipped to transition to independent research careers.

Other strategies that could stimulate women to stay in science are a) various forms of flexibility with federal-grant funding designed to accommodate women with young children keeping these women in the game; b) increasing the value of teaching, service, and administrative experience in the tenure/promotion evaluation process; c) providing on-campus childcare centres; d) supporting requests from partners for shared tenure lines that enable couples to better balance work and personal/caretaking roles; e) stopping the tenure clock for one year per child due to childbearing demands; f) providing fully-paid leave for giving birth for tenure track women for one semester; g) providing equal opportunity for women and men to lead committees and research groups.