Young Scientists: Selection Process for #LINO19 Completed

Young scientists at the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting Photo/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 The Council for the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings sent out the letters of acceptance to 580 outstanding undergraduates, PhD students and post-docs from 88 countries today.

From 30 June to 5 July 2019, the young scientists will come together with 42 Nobel Laureates in Lindau, Germany. This year’s 69th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting is dedicated to physics; key topics are cosmology, laser physics and gravitational waves.


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Young Researchers and Science Communication: Results of an Extensive Survey

More scientific literacy, more methodological knowledge and more authentic insights into how scientists obtain their results – today, scientists can communicate all of this to the public better than ever before. At their disposal, they have an unprecedented portfolio of opportunities to engage in the communication of science to laypeople, ranging from offline formats such as classic public lectures, children’s universities or science slams to various online formats such as YouTube videos, blogs or Facebook pages.  It has become clear that scientists are no longer dependent on media professionals and can now just go ahead with personal outreach. But to what extent do researchers make use of their opportunities? What about the young in particular, those who have grown up in the digital age with its many opportunities to get involved? Plus: Are there any differences between scientific disciplines or cultures?

From 2014 to 2018, we surveyed the participants of two highly respected international scientific events for young researchers – the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings and the Heidelberg Laureate Forum. We asked them about their attitudes towards science communication to the public (the so called external science communication) and their personal involvement in such activities. What importance do these young researchers from all over the world, who many consider to be the “next generation of professors”, ascribe to communicating science to laypeople? Which formats do they use themselves – and how often? After quality control, we were left with 988 complete datasets of young scientists. These scientists carry out their research in 89 countries and none are older than 35 years old. 41.5% of the interviewees in the sample were women, while 57.5% were men. Fig. 1 shows the distribution by subject.


Figure 1: Distribution by subject (n = 988), © Carsten Könneker (for all figures)

In the two years preceding the survey, most had conducted their research in Asia, Europe, and the USA (Fig. 2). In the analyses below stratified by continent, we have essentially limited ourselves to these three well-represented groups.


Figure 2: Distribution by continent (in absolute numbers)

The analysis of formats used by the surveyed scientists shows that the most popular is the classic popular science lecture (“Giving readily understandable talks for a non-specialist audience”, Fig. 3). 50.5% used this format one to three times in the 24 months preceding the survey; 8.2% did this four to six times; and a further 6.7% of very frequent users made use of this format six or more times. The percentage of very frequent users was only higher for another format, i.e. the use of social media such as Facebook or Twitter to conduct science communication. According to their answers, 8.0% did this more than six times within the preceding two years, 5.2% four to six times and 24.9% one to three times. This made “Discussing topics in my area of specialization in large online social networks (e.g., Facebook or Twitter)” the most widely used online format for science communication to the public, well ahead of “Filming videos about my research and putting them onto the net”.


Figure 3: Selected formats of science communication to the public used by young researchers within the sample (n = 988) during the course of 24 months.

A closer look at the use of selected offline formats reveals that engineers and economists in our sample were particularly active. The former, for example, most frequently gave talks for non-specialist audiences, conducted institute tours by far most frequently, and were particularly diligent in organising exhibitions. The latter most frequently wrote popular science articles and served particularly often as experts in public panel discussions. The engagement of mathematicians, engineers and physicists in lectures for children was above average (Fig. 4).


Figure 4: Selected offline formats of science communication to the public used by young researchers from different disciplines over the course of 24 months.

However, differences by continent and thus presumably by scientific culture are more pronounced than differences by discipline. Presuming that recruitment criteria for the two events did not differ between regions of the world or between countries (which is what was asserted by the organising institutions), this is striking. Scientists who conducted their research mainly or exclusively in Asian countries in the 24 months preceding the survey were the most active in using almost all offline formats (Fig. 5). Only in the case of lectures for children were they slightly outperformed by their colleagues conducting research in the USA.


Figure 5: Selected offline formats of science communication to the public used by young researchers from different continents over the course of 24 months.

A similar picture emerges for the online formats for science communication to laypeople. Here, computer scientists clearly stand out in their commitment (Fig. 6). However, subdivided by continent, again the involvement of scientists from Asia in public discourse with non-specialists is particularly intensive, both with regard to discussions on social networks and the production of internet videos about their own research as well as science blogging (Fig. 7). Use of digital science communication opportunities is especially rare among scientists in Europe, and those from Germany, 224 of whom were in our sample, are particularly hesitant.


Figure 6: Selected online formats of science communication to the public used by young researchers from different disciplines over the course of 24 months.

Figure 7: Selected online formats for science communication to the public used by young researchers from different continents over the course of 24 months.

Researchers from Germany were also particularly sceptical about the statement that “Communicating science has a positive effect on a career in science” . Their colleagues from Asia and the USA were much more likely to agree to this statement. This points to differences in the appreciation of personal commitment to external science communication in different scientific cultures. Here, too, the differences by continent were more pronounced than those by discipline (Fig. 8).


Figure 8: Agreement or disagreement with the statement “Communicating science has a positive effect on a career in science”.

The situation is different with regard to the question of the justification of publicly funded science; here, we found no decisive differences between scientists from Asia, Europe and the USA within our sample. The statement that publicly funded scientists should clearly explain their research to society is strongly affirmed by life scientists, economists, engineers and chemists; mathematicians, on the other hand, are more hesitant in their approval (Fig. 9).


Figure 9: Agreement or disagreement with the statement “Society has a right to demand that publicly-financed scientists clearly explain what they are doing”.

Have prospective scientists been prepared for today’s media landscape during their years of study and have they learned how to express themselves comprehensibly to laypeople? The unfortunate answer is: “no”. When asked about their own opportunities to acquire public outreach skills through practice-oriented training during their studies, 64.2% of respondents retrospectively rated their possibilities as poor or very poor and only 19.8% as good or very good (Fig. 10). Our survey data suggest that – differentiated by disciplines – primarily engineering and computer science endeavour to train science communication skills during studies; in contrast, mathematicians, chemists and economists seem to lag behind. However, the differences by continent are again even greater. Here, US institutions are apparently ahead, while specifically Europe is lagging behind. Germany again comes in last in this respect.


Figure 10: Assessment of external science communication training at university.

Conclusion: The majority of young scientists from the STEM disciplines and the economic sciences we interviewed are open to dialogue with society, and consider it right and proper that members of the public reach out to them. All in all, the young scientists use a broad portfolio of online and offline formats for this purpose, and traditional formats such as popular science lectures or guided tours through the institute are even used to a greater extent by these “digital native” scientists than more modern, low-threshold formats such as social media discussions. In terms of personal commitment to science communication to the public, differences between disciplines exist, but the differences between continents are more significant – provided that the admission of young researchers to the meetings we examined is based on the same criteria in all countries. Scientists in Asia are particularly committed, while their colleagues in Europe (and Germany in particular) are lagging behind. Reasons for this may be that the latter consider such a commitment to be less rewarding for a scientific career and that opportunities for them to acquire skills in communicating their science are worse.


About the authors:

Carsten Könneker is editor-in-chief of “Spektrum der Wissenschaft”, the German edition of “Scientific American”. From 2012 to 2018, he headed the Chair of Science Communication and Science Studies at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. He also is the founding director (2012-2015) of the National Institute for Science Communication (NaWik) in Karlsruhe.

Philipp Niemann is the scientific head of the National Institute for Science Communication (NaWik).

Christoph Böhmert recently completed his PhD at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.

“Es war ein einmaliges Ereignis”: Zwei Rückblicke auf #LINO18

Zu den rund 600 Nachwuchswissenschaftlern aus 84 Ländern, die an der 68. Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagung 2018 teilgenommen haben, zählten auch Sofie Valk, Postdoc am Institut für Medizin und Neurowissenschaften des Forschungszentrums Jülich, sowie Arnim Gaebler, Assistenzarzt in der Klinik für Psychiatrie, Psychotherapie und Psychosomatik des Universitätsklinikums RWTH Aachen. In zwei Interviews, die hier in Auszügen nachzulesen sind, berichten die beiden Lindau Alumni von ihren Erlebnissen während der Tagung – insbesondere den inspirierenden Begegnungen mit Nobelpreisträgern.

Interview mit Lindau Alumna Sofie Valk

Sie waren auf der Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagung am Bodensee. Was war Ihr erster Eindruck?

Sofie Valk: “Als ich mit dem Zug in Lindau ankam, war ich zunächst überrascht, wie schön der Ort und der Bodensee sind. Wichtiger aber: Gleich am ersten Abend wurde das Ungewöhnliche dieser Tagung deutlich. Anders als bei normalen Konferenzen waren sowohl Doktoranden als auch Postdocs aus den verschiedensten Bereichen der Medizin anwesend und natürlich die Nobelpreisträger selber. Dadurch war ein breites Spektrum an Interessensgebieten vertreten und es herrschte ein reger Austausch. Insgesamt war die Konferenz sehr gut organisiert. So war sie zum Beispiel äußerst interaktiv: Nobelpreisträger wie auch Nachwuchsforscher konnten wesentliche Aspekte des Programms mitgestalten, unter anderem durch Diskussionen, Vorträge und eine Poster Session.”


Sofie Valk bei einem Vortrag am Forschungszentrum Jülich, © Sofie Valk

Das Thema der diesjährigen Tagung waren Physiologie und Medizin. Wie sind denn Ihre eigenen Forschungsschwerpunkte hier einzuordnen?

Sofie Valk: “Mein Forschungsfeld liegt an der Schnittstelle zwischen Psychologie, Psychiatrie, Neurowissenschaften und Genetik. Dabei konzentriere ich mich momentan auf die Beziehung zwischen Verhalten, Genetik und Gehirnstruktur – um so quasi die Biologie, die kognitivem Verhalten zugrunde liegt, besser zu verstehen. Während mich die Erforschung des Zusammenhangs zwischen Verhalten und Biologie allgemein interessiert, habe ich bisher vor allem im Bereich Soziale Neurowissenschaften gearbeitet. Insgesamt ist das Gebiet noch relativ jung. Von daher war es für mich spannend, zu hören, wie Forschungsfelder, die vor Jahrzehnten ähnlich klein waren, sich in der Folge weiterentwickelt haben. Die Arbeit der Nobelpreisträger bietet Beispiele dafür, wie aus zunächst reiner Grundlagenforschung später Anwendungen mit großer gesellschaftlicher Wirkung hervorgingen.”


Gab es Vorträge von Nobelpreisträgern, die Sie besonders beeindruckt haben?

Sofie Valk: “Viele haben versucht, uns eine Message mitzugeben. So hat beispielsweise die Biologin Ada Yonath beim gemeinsamen Lunch über Durchhaltevermögen gesprochen. Sie selbst hat zwanzig Jahre lang an Ribosomen geforscht. Bei Ribosomen handelt es sich um makromolekulare Komplexe in Zellen, an denen Proteine hergestellt werden. Yonath verfolgte das Ziel, die Kristallstruktur von Ribosomen mit Röntgenbeschuss aufzuklären. Das wurde lange Zeit für unmöglich erachtet und anfangs hat man sie für verrückt erklärt. Bei einer Gelegenheit wurde ihr sogar vorgeworfen, sie würde lügen, als sie Ergebnisse präsentierte. Aber sie hat nicht aufgegeben und schließlich 2009 den Nobelpreis für Chemie erhalten.”


Ein Gesprächsgegenstand bei diesen Konferenzen ist ja in der Regel auch die Gestaltung der eigenen wissenschaftlichen Laufbahn. Haben Sie hier gute Hinweise erhalten?

Sofie Valk: “Ja, ein Forscher hat beispielsweise Ratschläge gegeben, wie wir bei der Bewerbung als Postdocs vorgehen sollten. Das Wichtigste ist, die eigenen Ideen zu verfolgen und keine Angst vor dummen Einfällen zu haben. Ein wesentlicher Aspekt ist auch, sich nicht in kleinen Problemen zu verrennen, sondern stets einen weiten Blick zu bewahren. Denn nur so kann man Chancen, die sich bieten, auch erkennen.  Auch die Life Lecture von Torsten Wiesel, der 94 Jahre alt ist, war ganz wunderbar. Zusammen mit seinem Kollegen David Hubel hat Wiesel 40 Jahre lang an Aufbau und Informationsverarbeitung des Visuellen Kortex geforscht; gemeinsam haben sie 1981 die Hälfte des Nobelpreises für Medizin erhalten. Wiesel hat seine Karriere als Arzt für die Forschung aufgegeben, weil er dem Ursprung der Phänomene auf den Grund gehen wollte. Etwas poetisch hat er es so ausgedrückt: ‚Wenn Du eine schöne Blume siehst, schaue sie Dir an. Pflücke sie nicht, um zu sagen: Schau mal, was ich gefunden habe‘.”

Genau das war an der Tagung übrigens auch so interessant: die Geschichten hinter den Nobelpreisen zu erfahren. Ich hatte mir vorher ein bestimmtes Bild von den Preisträgern gemacht, die mir eher wie Helden als wie normale Menschen erschienen. Aber dann haben sie Einzelheiten aus ihrem Leben erzählt und ich habe festgestellt, dass sie ganz anders und auch vielseitiger waren, als ich gedacht hatte. Alle waren so begeistert und voller Freude über ihre Arbeit und gleichzeitig haben sie sich viele Gedanken über die Zukunft der Wissenschaft gemacht – das war sehr schön zu erleben.”


Interview mit Lindau Alumnus Arnim Gaebler

Welche Vorträge auf der Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagung sind Ihnen besonders im Gedächtnis geblieben?

Arnim Gaebler: “Sehr fasziniert hat mich beispielsweise Robert Lefkowitz, der 2012 den Nobelpreis für Chemie erhalten hat. Sein Forschungsfeld sind G-Protein-gekoppelte Rezeptoren. Dabei handelt es sich um Rezeptoren in der Zellmembran, die Signale über G-Proteine in das Zellinnere weiterleiten. Unter anderem dienen sie als Zielstrukturen für die Wirkung von Hormonen und Neurotransmittern. Damit stellen sie die Angriffsorte für eine Vielzahl der in der Medizin verwendeten Medikamente dar, was für mich als Kliniker natürlich sehr relevant ist. Herr Lefkowitz stellte in seinem Vortrag interessante Ansätze für die Entwicklung neuer Medikamente dar, die nur einen bestimmten von mehreren möglichen Signaltransduktionswegen am Rezeptor begünstigen (funktionelle Selektivität) oder an einer anderen Bindungsstelle wirken (allosterische Modulatoren). Im persönlichen Gespräch hat er mir die Namen von zwei Forschern genannt, die in den USA an der Entwicklung solcher Wirkstoffe für psychiatrische Erkrankungen arbeiten.”


Arnim Gaebler mit Lindau Alumni Sina Radke und Lisa Wagels am Abschlusstag der 68. Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagung auf der Insel Mainau, © Arnim Gaebler

Neben den wissenschaftlichen Vorträgen gab es auch Diskussionsrunden zur Arbeitssituation von Forschern im Allgemeinen. Worüber wurde da gesprochen?

Arnim Gaebler: “Ein Thema war der Publikationsprozess. Kritisch diskutiert wurde beispielsweise die Bedeutung des Impact-Faktors von wissenschaftlichen Zeitschriften für die Bewertung von Forschern. Zudem wurde gefordert, Forschungsergebnisse der Allgemeinheit im Sinne von Open-Access-Publikationen kostenlos zur Verfügung zu stellen. Zudem wurde die Nutzung von Preprint-Veröffentlichungen propagiert: Formate, in denen Forscher ihre Ergebnisse während des oft langwierigen Review-Prozesses der Fachzeitschriften bereits vorab zugänglich machen können, um damit schneller auf ihre Forschung aufmerksam machen beziehungsweise entsprechendes Wissen verbreiten zu können. Ein weiterer Ratschlag lautete, in den eigenen Lebenslauf immer einen Absatz einzufügen, der sämtliche Forschungsergebnisse zusammenfasst. Dieses ist laut Ansicht der Experten aussagekräftiger als die ausschließliche Verwendung einer Publikationsliste, bei der typischerweise die Namen der Fachzeitschriften beziehungsweise deren Impact-Faktor im Fokus der Aufmerksamkeit stehen. Ich finde, das ist eine gute Idee, die ich für mich auch übernehmen werde.”

Haben Sie noch ein Fazit für Ihre Teilnahme an der Nobelpreisträgertagung?

Arnim Gaebler: “Das war die beste Konferenz, auf der ich je war. Es herrschte eine sehr freundliche Atmosphäre und alle waren hochmotiviert – Nachwuchsforscher, Organisatoren und Nobelpreisträger. Auch das Umfeld stimmte: Lindau ist eine schöne kleine Stadt und überall auf der Straße sah man Wissenschaftler stehen, die über Forschung diskutierten. Es war ein einmaliges Ereignis.”


Weiterführende Einblicke in das Programm der 68. Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagung bietet die umfangreiche Videoauswahl in unserer Mediathek.

#LINO18 Exceeded My Expectations

Before the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, I interviewed several talented female participants about their career path, their passion for science, their struggles and successes for my “Women in Research” blog – a blog to increase the visibility of women in research. Now after the meeting they shared their #LINO18 highlights with me. Be prepared to be blown away!

Future #LINO19 participants may find more information about the application process here.

Amy Shepherd from New Zealand

“The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting was honestly one of the most surreal experiences of my life. The chance to hear and talk to some of the laureates was a super exciting thought, and it didn’t disappoint. From Richard Roberts’ impassioned talk on how the anti-GMO campaign has led to the unnecessary death of millions of people to Martin Chalfie’s joking advocacy for slightly sloppy science when starting something new, I learnt not about my specific branch of science, but much more about the scientific landscape and our role as young scientists in it.

Amy Shepherd and Harold Varmus during the #LINO18 panel discussion ‘Publish or Perish’. Photo/Credit: Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

A question the laureates get constantly is “How do you win a Nobel Prize?”, but I think the much more interesting one is “What do you do IF you win it?”. A common theme was that after the prize, you really are in the limelight and have a platform to make change. Two examples of Nobel Laureates using their prizes to change the scientific community are Harold Varmus and Randy Scheckman, founders of PLOS one and eLife, respectively, who I was lucky enough to be on a panel with (along with EMBO President Maria Leptin and Springer Nature CEO Daniel Ropers) to discuss the role of ‘Publish or Perish’ in shaping the careers of young scientists – a life changing and exciting experience that’s going to be hard to beat!

What I found the most inspiring and valuable was meeting the other young scientists – representing 84 countries, the different fields and life experience we’ve all had, led to interesting and engaging discussions about specific scientific problems to the scientific community to world issues. I was incredibly lucky to be part of the #LindauAussies, and I think those friendships will last a lifetime. If you have the opportunity to go to this bizarre and wonderful meeting, I would highly recommend it.”

>>Read more about Amy

Rhiannon Edge from the UK

“Every young person with an interest in science should go to this event! Trust me, I’m a Doctor.

The meeting was like a conference on steroids – every speaker a keynote, and the programme packed – I doubt I got more than five hours sleep a night. The Nobel Laureates discussed both their work and their life journeys. Ada Yonath gave a particularly clear, concise, and engaging talk about her research on the ribosome, but she also spoke about her family and the families of her colleagues. She is proof that woman can have multiple roles in their working and personal lives and more importantly that it shouldn’t even be a big deal anymore.  

Rhiannon Edge and Nobel Laureate Ada Yonath during #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Rhiannon Edge

For me one of the nicest things about Lindau is the opportunity to connect with the Nobel Laureates on a personal level. Sitting next to Michael Rosbash for dinner and discussing our mutual respect for the determination of sports-people was something quite surreal. Lindau showed that Nobel Laureates are not that different from the rest of us – (in some cases) they still look forwards to a nice cold beer at the end of a long day! During our time at Lindau the differences between the young scientists and the Nobel Laureates began to blur – they were sympathetic to many of the challenges facing those who are working in science. I think that this is important to take away from the meeting – even the pinnacle of scientific achievement can be reached and surpassed – not by heroes but by people, with a little hard work, luck and an inquisitive mind.  

Many of the laureates used their notoriety associated with the award to pursue political issues. We already know the answers to many of the health issues affecting millions of people but often we choose not to help people. During a lunch with Peter Agre, he talked at length about his recent work as an advocate for improvements in global health (particularly focused on Malaria). I think these individuals should give us hope. I think we need to find our voices as advocates without first having to get a Nobel Prize and really speak up for the issues that still exist not because of a lack of understanding but because of a lack of political will!

As you may have realised, the conference was pretty inspiring!

The young scientists were the very best thing about Lindau. Everyone I met was interesting, engaging and enthusiastic. This made for an atmosphere of togetherness and scientific success that will stay with me for a very long time – as will the memories that I made at Lindau with my fellow young scientists.”

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Edith Phalane from South Africa

“My first impression and a joy-dropping moment was finally being able to see, speak one-one and shake hands with the Nobel Laureates. I have always read about the Nobel Laureates in textbooks and seen them on TV and the internet, so that moment when I finally saw and interacted with them was priceless.

Edith Phalane was a panellist during a Partner Breakfast by the Global Prespectives Initiative at #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

I enjoyed the talks by laureate Elizabeth Blackburn. She is one of the people that I look up to as a female scientist and Nobel Prize winner. Her talk on global science is something that is very close to my heart since I engage a lot in science communication for the public in disadvantaged communities. The talk captured my attention and ignited more hunger in me to do more in terms of sharing science with the public.

One of the other greatest highlights was participating in a partner breakfast hosted by the Global Perspective Initiative as part of the panel where we were discussing ‘Health Innovation in Africa: The Way Forward’. It was really an honour and a privilege to sit and discuss matters that concern Africa; I have never been given such an opportunity. The after effect of the discussion was even more touching and humbling as I witnessed us, the African young scientists, coming together to form a group and collaboration that we want to expand beyond Lindau to discuss, write and publish matters that we face in Africa and implement solution for challenges we face in Africa in our own capacity.”

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Arunima Roy from India

“What I loved the most about Lindau was to hear of each laureate’s journey from their training to their important discoveries. It made me appreciate that each one of us has a unique path ahead of us and that there is no standard blueprint for doing research. Indeed, most laureates stressed the importance of enjoying our work instead of actively planning for a career. It was inspiring, comforting, to hear of their serendipitous discoveries, their errors and of the times they had faltered. It made me understand that no one miraculously conceives of an award-winning experiment or wakes up one day to write their career-defining manuscript. It takes time, effort and a bit of luck. Bottom-line: there is no scientific way to doing science. It is important to understand this, because we often get sucked into habitual pessimism given our frequently failed experiments, paper rejections, unsuccessful grants and so forth. What the laureates taught us is that it is okay to fail, that they, too, have faced such instances numerous times over their scientific careers.

Arunima Roy participated as a panellist in the #LINO18 panel discussion ‘Science in a Post-Factual World’. Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

The Lindau Meeting exceeded my expectations. I think every young scientist that has the opportunity to participate in this meeting, should definitely do so. I doubt we will come across any other opportunity to engage with Nobel Laureates so closely. Outside, there may be the occasional opportunity to hear a lecture or two, but one-to-one interactions like this can only be found at Lindau. I also benefited from this meeting in numerous other ways. One was that it gave me the opportunity to discuss and present my research. Moreover, on a day-to-day basis, I am entirely engaged with my own specific field. The Lindau lectures as well as interactions with other researchers represent a full week immersed in scientific knowledge from across dozens of disciplines. The kid in me was lost in this candy store of exciting research possibilities. It also provides some food for thought and perhaps new ways to think of our own research. It is invigorating to discuss research from other areas, and it is an eye-opening experience; who knows where the next idea will come from or if that interesting researcher you met at the Lindau meeting turns out to be your next collaborator.”

>>Read more about Arunima

Mieke Metzemaekers from the Netherlands

“The 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting exceeded all my expectations and definitely was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I have met many inspiring people from all over the world, of all levels and ages, ranging from undergraduate students to Nobel Laureates. Right from the start, everyone was so enthusiastic and friendly! All participants, each with his or her own cultural and professional background, had one major thing in common: a strong passion for science. It was amazing to see how such shared ambitions are sufficient to let people connect, inspire and motivate each other, while creating a sense of belonging between people from not less than 84 countries. It must be the so-called Lindau Spirit!

Mieke (second from right) with other young scientists during #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Mieke Metzemaekers

The meeting was extraordinarily well organised. The programme was highly diverse and interactive and not dedicated to any specific research field in particular. On the contrary, we mostly discussed the more global issues which all scientists are confronted with, regardless their field of interest or level – such as science and society, leadership, impact factors and how to choose your career path. Therefore, the Lindau Meeting offers unique opportunities to exchange experiences with other researchers; it really allows you to broaden your horizon.

A regular day in Lindau started with a scientific breakfast, followed by lectures, panel discussions, agora talks, master classes and open exchange sessions. These scientific sessions were followed by social events in the evening. The programme was intense, but every evening I went back to my hotel feeling very energetic. In my opinion, the Lindau Meetings are extremely valuable, not only from a professional but also from a personal point of view. It is obvious that I fully recommend every young scientist to apply for this meeting!”

>>Read more about Mieke

Gintvile Valinciute from Lithuania

“The 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting was an amazing experience full of interesting people and inspiring interactions. I felt as a part of something bigger, an international, caring and active community of people who either shaped the science as it is today or will create the science of tomorrow.

Gintvile Valinciute was speaking during the #LINO18 panel discussion ‘Challenges in Personalised Medicine’. Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Every lecture, every workshop, even the discussions in the line for lunch were enriching and very positive. Personally, I enjoyed the discussions on science communication, career choices and current problems of science the most. I believe 600+ people from all around the globe putting their heads together to solve few of the discussed issues could make a great impact on society. Another personal highlight for me was the panel discussion “Challenges in Personalised Medicine” where I was invited to be a panellist. Even though I was nervous, I enjoyed being able to contribute to the meeting with ideas of my own.

Before coming to the Lindau Meeting, I had no idea how to meet new people at conferences, how to approach them, in general, how to network. I think the networking skills and the new contacts, not only the Nobel Laureates, but also the young scientists are the most valuable gifts I brought from Lindau. I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate in this amazing celebration of science and scientists.”

>>Read more about Gintvile

Menattallah Elserafy from Egypt

“The 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting was a true inspiration for me. The lectures, Agora Talks, science walks and discussions were really enlightening, as they touched on many different topics including publishing, ethics, clinical relevance of research and how the world can benefit from science.

I enjoyed listening to the various talks and learning new lessons that will help me along my career in science. These lessons include the importance of basic research, which is mainly driven by curiosity and passion. The laureates described their research with great passion and explained how their findings were not planned, but their hard work and persistence enabled them to explain new mechanisms that no one understood before.

Menattallah (left) with Nobel Laureate Ferid Murad and Ahmed El-badawy during #LINO18. Picture/Credit: Courtesy of Menattallah Elserafy

I also realised the importance of facilitating the application of research findings to solve global problems. For example, Sir Richard J. Roberts discussed the issue of strict regulations that delay the usage of genetically modified food, which could be a great solution for eradicating hunger in Africa. The discussions with Prof. Randy Schekman taught us that science should be judged by its quality rather than where it is published. Finally, all laureates explained that the drive behind research should be the curiosity to answer specific questions and not rewards and prizes.

The participation of young researches from 84 countries made us realise that the world is very small and that researchers from our generation across the globe have the same dreams and aspirations.  I encourage young researches to apply for the next Lindau Meetings to benefit from the experience and enjoy the interaction with the Nobel Laureates as much as we did.”

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Rushita Bagchi from Canada

“No words can do perfect justice in describing the week at the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. It was an extraordinary and unforgettable week, and it was truly inspiring in all aspects. The meeting provided the perfect platform to share the experience and knowledge of the greatest leaders in science with the next generation of scientists to encourage us to work hard for the benefit of mankind. A common thread existed among each of the laureates’ stories and their path to success: curiosity, tenacity, persistence, creativity and enthusiasm. The opportunity to meet these great minds allowed me to better appreciate them not just as Nobel Prize winners but as individuals who have overcome many of the same obstacles we all face in our pursuit of science every day. All their stories have resonated with me and will continue to inspire me to never give up and to never lose sight of why I chose to pursue science. The broad diversity of topics discussed in the newly introduced Agora Talks at this meeting was impressive, ranging from the laureates’ journey to the Nobel Prize to personalised medicine to careers in science. It was inspiring to witness the motivation and passion these laureates still showed after decades of pursuing scientific research.

Rushita Bagchi with Nobel Laureate Walter Gilbert. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Rushita Bagchi

The great networking effort and willingness to discuss science by all young scientists was seen every day throughout the meeting. I have gained tremendous knowledge, made new friends as well as potential colleagues at this meeting – a whole new world has opened up to me. Peter Agre said: “Science is an amazing trip; you will never know where it is going to take you”. Science is what brought me to this meeting and enriched me with this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Every young scientist, especially aspiring young women scientists, should find an opportunity to be a part of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings – it will change your perspective of science and its pursuit. A week on the beautiful island of Lindau on Lake Constance, this meeting will truly educate, inspire and connect you with the brightest young and experienced minds in science beyond any boundaries.”

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Nataly Naser Al Deen from Lebanon

“The 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting was indeed a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it by far exceeded our expectations. The scientific spirit around the Inselhalle and the entire Lindau island was phenomenal. We got the chance to meet with Nobel Laureates in many interactive settings, including agora talks, open exchange and the master classes. I was very honoured to have gotten the chance to participate in a panel discussion along with Nobel Laureate Prof. Peter Agre on “Medical Innovations in Developing Nations”. I also was very honoured to conduct a video interview with one of my hero Nobel Laureates Prof. Michael Bishop, and got the chance to attend all the events and various lectures by Laureates, which we learned a lot from.

Nataly Naser Al Deen and Nobel Laureate Michael Bishop during #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Nataly Naser Al Deen

Being able to connect with 600 talented young scientists from all over the world was very fruitful. We all discussed our scientific projects without any boundaries, and we also shared insights and experiences on future collaborations and scientific advice, be it exchanging ideas regarding experimental procedures or asking each other very insightful questions, which made us think of our research projects from various perspectives and multidisciplinary fields. One of my favourite moments was when I held the farewell speech on behalf of the young scientists to thank everyone that made this meeting happen and reflect upon this surreal week. I was also beyond happy to participate in the Max Planck post event that was on its own a very educational and inspiring trip.

I am forever grateful to my institution, AUB, and all the Lindau staff and partners that made this amazing experience possible for us, and I advise every woman in science to apply to the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, because it is certainly a life changing experience. Thank you Lindau!”

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Forough Khadem from Canada and Iran

“Attending the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting was a once-in-a-lifetime, unforgettable, astonishing adventure that started for me with the incredible moment of winning the Lindau award at the Canadian Student Health Research Forum and being nominated to attend the Lindau Meeting. Two years later, I received the exceptional selection email from the Lindau Meeting’s committee, the consequent emails from the staff (Nadine, Karen and Nasrin) which made the trip and the stay at Lindau very smooth and the personalised programme that was tailored for my scientific and professional development interests.

Forough Khadem on Mainau Island during #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Forough Khadem

The amalgamation of the 39 Nobel Laureates, invited guests, undergrads, graduates and post-docs that created a vibrant group of researchers who instantly became a big family and communicated in a scientific and communal level during the meeting and in social events was incredible and hard to describe (it must be experienced!). We discussed topics from personalised medicine, gene modification, GMOs, international industry-academic research collaborations, better publication standards and ways to improve scientific communication. My take home messages from personal encounters with the laureates, guests at panels, dinners, lunches and lecture events are as follows:

1) “Innovative ways of measuring academic achievements other than via the impact factor are imaginable” – Nobel Laureate Randy Schekman

2) “One should follow their scientific interests and no other priorities in pursuing one’s interests.” – Nobel Laureate Bruce Beutler

3) “Don’t be scared to approach laureates and talk to them on a personal and intellectual level. Be persistent and take advantage of the opportunity that all laureates are here to spend quality time with you.” – Nobel Laureates Richard Roberts and Martin Chalfie

4) “Real scientists should spend more time to communicate their research to the community via any communication means especially social media” – Nobel Laureate Peter Doherty

5) “Go after YOUR career dreams no matter how ambitious they are” – guest speaker Alaina Levine (on the Mainau Island boat trip!)

I not only encourage all young scientists to attend a Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, I also recommend attending the Post Lindau Baden-Württemberg one-week visit to research institutes and universities organised by BW-International, which is an eye-opening experience, as I had the privilege to be among the 20 young scientists that went on this post Lindau Meeting trip.”

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Harshita Sharma from India

“Participating in the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting was an excellent opportunity and an unforgettable experience for me, both professionally and personally. The meeting motto ‘Educate. Inspire. Connect.’ summarises it the best, and being a postdoc and early-stage researcher, I could totally relate to the various aspects of science, education and research addressed and discussed by Nobel Laureates and young scientists. Every moment is special to me and words are not enough to describe this phenomenally fascinating week, but I will still attempt to describe my most favourite ones…

Firstly, I was ecstatic and thrilled to interact with the Noble Laureates. They shared with the young scientists their unique success stories in their fields of research and also common qualities which have helped them achieve the best in their scientific careers, such as perseverance, dedication, passion, kindness (and as they say, a little bit of luck!). The beauty of this meeting is how the renowned and early career scientists come together to share ideas, leading to a bidirectional exchange which not only inspires young scientists, but also stimulates the Nobel Laureates.

Harshita and Nobel Laureate Steven Chu during #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Harshita Sharma

Moreover, it was great to meet vibrant and charismatic young scientists (or future laureates, as we were often addressed!) from 84 countries. I made friends for life and it also opened doors for future scientific collaborations!

Last but not the least, I loved the rich format of the meeting with diverse interactions, including laureate lectures, Agora Talks, panel discussions, poster sessions, open exchanges, special evening events and more. It gave us the opportunity to be involved in significant scientific, cultural and social exchange each day. On the last day, the boat trip to Mainau and picnic was also very exciting. A special thanks to the staff and support team as the entire meeting was superbly planned and organised.

Overall, I had a wonderful time at the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting and will always cherish these memories. I would also encourage young researchers to apply and not to miss the amazing opportunity to achieve this once-in-a-lifetime experience! Thank you #LINO18 for a spectacular week in Lindau!”

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Lara Urban from Germany

Unless it is absolutely impossible, check it out – what good advice from Nobel Laureate Peter Agre. And I heard so many of them in just a week at Lindau. As I listened to the successful scientists talk candidly about their own experiences, with unassuming humour and self-awareness, I felt like I was part of their community, and for that I am very grateful.

Lara Urban (third from left) and other young scientists talking to Nobel Laureate Steven Chu (left) during #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Lara Urban

What made the Nobel Laureates relatable is their willingness to share moments and aspects of their life that are independent of their breakthroughs. I enjoyed chatting to Elizabeth Blackburn about studying in Cambridge and exchanged jokes with J. Michael Bishop on working with poisonous animals during a very entertaining dinner on the waterfront of Lake Constance. I also admired how Steven Chu talked about political responsibilities of scientists in combating climate change on a boat trip to beautiful Mainau Island and the vigour with which Randy Schekman and Harold Varmus championed new standards in evaluating scientific achievements.

The Nobel Laureates are inspiring in that they are ordinary people with convictions, which means that all of our work and convictions, if carried through, can have positive impacts on this world, whether they are acknowledged with an award or not. After one week of listening to the Nobel Laureates reflect on their own lives and meeting like-minded young scientists with similar interests and values as myself, I am assured a life in scientific research is fun, varied and exciting, and we should face it with nothing less than confidence and curiosity. As Marie Curie puts it: Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.”

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Jeerapond Leelawattanachai from Thailand


Jeerapond Leelawattanachai and Nobel Laureate Peter Agre during #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Itthi Chatnuntawech

“Participating in the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting is a priceless once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. I particularly enjoyed both the academic and social events as the meeting covers in-depth academic research as well as offering me a unique opportunity to interact with the Noble Laureates. During the meeting, I got to know more about them and how they overcame many obstacles in their careers to be able to achieve the research that transforms many people’s lives. Along with meeting these inspiring Nobel Prize winners, the meeting also offered me a wonderful opportunity to exchange academic ideas, update the trends of current research and make friends with the young scientists from all over the world. I really appreciate and cherish the friendships we have built since it is always my desires to expand the research boundary, broaden the perspective in the field, and help to support each other in the science community. In addition, I am beyond honoured to have been part of the wonderful panel discussion along with Noble Laureate Peter Agre and young scientists from Lebanon and Germany to discuss the important topics for developing countries. I am impressed by the insight and the tremendous care for the others from these panellists. It genuinely reiterates the spirit, “for the greatest benefit to mankind,” of this meeting. I am pleased and grateful for this opportunity to have my voice heard on this far-reaching stage.

With all these reasons, I wholeheartedly recommended this meeting to every young scientist all around the world. Please take this once-in-a-life time opportunity!”

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Shilpa Bisht from India

“The one week which I have spent at the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting were the best days of my life. I realised that it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for an early career researcher as it provides opportunity to meet a wide range of scientists ranging from Nobel Laureates to young scientists. This meeting has totally changed my vision and perspective towards science. The entire week in Lindau was dedicated to exchanging knowledge, ideas and scientific intellects and some of the Nobel Laureates even exchanged their ideas about “how to win a Nobel Prize”.  It was awesome to get tips from Prof. Robert Huber about scientific pursuits and maintaining a work-life balance. He had also shared his thoughts regarding facing difficulties in life, how to find balance during challenging times in life and shared his thoughts regarding moving ahead even after continuous failures.

Shilpa Bisht (second from right) with other young scientists from India during #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Shilpa Bisht

In addition, this meeting also comprised group discussion activities like the Mars Partner Breakfast, Agora Talks, open scientific discussions to exchange views on current scientific issues. These discussions and sessions have given me a great thrust, and now I am more motivated and confident than ever to try my very best in research. In addition to all this, I enjoyed this meeting to the fullest and made new friends from all around the world.

The Lindau Meeting is a one-of-a-kind meeting and provides a terrific opportunity to network with scientists across the globe, be it networking with Nobel Laureates or with other young scientists. It is one of the rarest opportunity that one researcher can have in his/her life and every young scientist must apply and go for it.

In brief, the Lindau experience is incomparable, and one must go for it!”

>>Read more about Shilpa

Do not Lose Confidence in Yourself

Interview with Lindau Alumna Martine Abboud

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 Martine and get inspired.

Martine Abboud from Lebanon is a Junior Research Fellow at the University of Oxford. She participated in the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting as an Eddy Fischer Lindau Fellow. Her doctoral research made use of nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to study the activity of two classes of enzymes in important biological processes. Her work has led to novel method applications, the mechanistic understanding of these enzymes, and the development of inhibitors for them. She is currently working on metabolic enzymes involved in cancer.


Martine Abboud in her lab. Photo/Credit: Martine Abboud

What inspired you to pursue a career in science?

I have always been driven by curiosity. I grew up asking my parents loads of questions about everything around us. I was so fascinated by the stars and galaxies that I wanted to become an astronaut. However, during my teenage years my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. He was one of the closest people to my heart, and his illness made me question my career choices. I wanted to help people but did not feel suited to working in a hospital, so I decided to pursue a career in scientific research.


Who are your role models?

My role model in science is a bright mind, who makes impactful contributions, and who is a beautiful human being at the same time. To me, academic merit is as equally important as being kind.
During my time in Oxford, I have discovered a genuine enthusiasm for scientific research, which has undoubtedly been enhanced by my supervisor’s support and positive attitude. Prof C. Schofield has given me the freedom to work on various fascinating and rewarding projects which span multiple areas of research. His guidance style suits my curious nature and has helped my development as a scientist enormously, allowing me to acquire practical skills in a range of topics and biochemical/physical techniques. My NMR work with Prof T. Claridge has also nurtured my passion for research even further. These two along with former mentors at LAU, Profs S. Tokajian, C. Daher, R. Taleb, and S. Ammous, are people I look up to. They have inspired me to thrive.


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

At the undergraduate level, I started by learning biology to better understand physiological processes and their pathological implications. Soon after, I realised that biology and chemistry are complementary and that an understanding of both fields is important to achieve results of clinical relevance. Hence, I went for a secondary focus in chemistry, both at the Lebanese American University (LAU), from which I graduated with the President’s award for excellence and leadership skills.
The interdisciplinary doctoral programme in Chemical Biology at the University of Oxford caught my attention as I was excited to work at this interface. Coming from a minority background, I was scared of applying to Oxford because of how competitive and prestigious it is, but my mother was right – not applying is a definite rejection. I am glad I did. During my time there, I was provided with opportunities I never dreamt I would be lucky enough to have. Three years later, I graduated with a Thesis Commendation at the university divisional level, winning awards from both academia and industry.
Being Lebanese, another major challenge was securing funding. The government does not have support funds and most non-Lebanese funds are available to select nationalities. My doctoral studies would not have been possible without the support of the British Biochemical Society through the Sir Hans Krebs Memorial Award, college and departmental grants and prizes, and the guidance of my former and current mentors, to whom I am beyond grateful.
Having been granted a Junior Research Fellowship from Kellogg College, Oxford, last year, I am developing my skills further. I think basic research is important in understanding molecular mechanisms and I have enjoyed doing both proof-of-principle and applied studies. I am interested in enabling science, community, and policy to combat antimicrobial resistance and I am pursuing work on the metabolic enzymes involved in cancer with the aim of starting my independent academic group in the future.


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

During my doctoral studies, I worked on antibiotic resistance and, more specifically, on metallo-β-lactamases (MBLs) which degrade the β-lactam antibiotics: the most commonly used class of antibiotics. My method development using protein-observe 19F-NMR has provided new structural insights into MBL catalysis and the requirements for inhibitor development. My work with cyclobutanone shed light on MBL mechanism and showed that it may mimic the formation of the oxyanion tetrahedral intermediate in β-lactam hydrolysis. I have studied the susceptibility of avibactam, the first clinically useful non-β-lactam β-lactamase inhibitor, to MBL-catalysed hydrolysis. The results revealed that avibactam is not an MBL inhibitor and a poor substrate of most members of all three clinically relevant subclasses of MBLs.
I have also applied NMR methods to study the human prolyl hydroxylase domain-containing protein 2 (PHD2), which is crucially involved in the chronic hypoxic response. The hypoxic response is important under normal conditions, but also at high altitudes and in cancerous conditions. My work showed that the substitution of a single amino acid, as occurs with PHD2 variants linked to erythrocytosis and breast cancer, can alter the selectivity of PHD2 towards its substrates. Competition and displacement assays were designed and applied to investigate PHD inhibitor binding modes. Comparative studies on the activities and selectivities of PHD inhibitors in clinical trials should aid in the work on the therapeutic manipulation of the natural hypoxic response.


Eddy Fischer Lindau Fellow Martine Abboud with Nikolaus Turner, Managing Director of the Foundation Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, and Ernst Ludwig Winnacker, Director of The Vallee Foundation. Photo/Credit: Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

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

I was beyond thrilled to be selected to represent the university at the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting and to be named a Future Leader in my field by the American Chemical Society CAS SciFinder programme. Unlike traditional conferences, these two meetings were focused on what shapes a scientist and on the importance of science communication, leadership, outreach activities, interdisciplinary science, and global integration. All of these topics are close to my heart as I have advocated for them on internal committees in our department. My proudest moments have always been about lobbying and succeeding in introducing change to internal policies. My recent achievement, along with other committee members, was introducing management trainings for new principal investigators/group leaders. I believe that being great at science and people management are not necessarily related; these trainings will help to further create a better environment for graduate students, ensure their wellbeing, and encourage a culture of proper life-work balance.


What is a ‘day in the life’ of Martine like?

A day in the lab is never typical. It varies a lot depending on what types of experiment are being done. But one thing is common: we always encounter surprises! Working in a lab environment is flexible but never boring, and that’s an aspect I enjoy. A protein preparation, for instance, requires spending a few hours in a cold room (4°C) while protein NMR-ing takes an overnight run in the basement. I have spent so much time with these machines that I have even given them nicknames! Experiments do not always go as planned and this is okay. Life in research has taught me how to deal with failures, enjoy the small successes, and keep going. It is important to troubleshoot all the time as some of the most exciting discoveries in science come from mistakes. Determination, perseverance, and serendipity are keys in scientific research.
My day will, however, always include a cup of tea. Our group is very international and we enjoy sharing a dynamic environment. I end up learning exciting cultural aspects over tea most of the time. Other days in the lab involve writing or meeting with collaborators and these are as important as doing the experimental work. It is crucial to communicate our findings with the scientific community: it puts our science into perspective, shapes our future direction and, sometimes, even helps in influencing policy.


What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

I have come to realise that success in science is not an overnight effort. It is the accumulation of years of hard work. I would love to have an independent academic career and I aspire to meaningfully contribute to society. There is nothing better than leaving a legacy. My dream is to contribute back to my society by helping build a research centre in the Middle Eastern region. I have worked with Oxford Entrepreneurs earlier this year and helped in organising the Oxford Hackathon. Over 300 students from 90+ universities attended; there are so many bright minds and ideas out there that just need to be given the right opportunities. I hope to inspire the next generation of scientists through Oxford and build bridges between science and entrepreneurship in both regions as science has no nationality.


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

In my free time, I like painting and poetry writing. Science and art are complementary on various levels. Art sets me free; the alchemy of colours with no boundaries is very relaxing to me. I do enjoy attending events and talks which are stimulating and intellectually challenging. Recently, I have become interested in coding and computer science. Electronic information and machine learning are on the rise. Chemists are not meant to be lifetime technicians. Accordingly, we need to learn how to keep being creative in a technological era. Using the power of AI will help us with our daily tasks. I also write scientific articles to various magazines and blogs, contribute to different societies (including the Oxford Arab Society and Oxford Entrepreneurs), and run events and social media outlets. My ultimate guilty pleasures remain travelling and watching football though.


Martine Abboud in conversation with Nobel Laureate Walter Gilbert at #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings


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

As young women, we are more prone to being victims of implicit bias. We need to be more assertive in the workplace. Curiosity is the driving force of a scientist. The most exciting discoveries arise from mistakes. My advice is do not be afraid to make mistakes. Troubleshoot and think critically all the time. It might feel hard sometimes, but keep going. Do not lose confidence in yourself. Manage your time and do your tasks. There are networks of more experienced women who can help and support us; do not be afraid to speak out, reach out, and get involved.


In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in physiology/medicine?

Our understanding of the human brain and of driving forces in developmental biology is still very limited. Novel discoveries in these fields will definitely be breakthroughs. The same applies to developing novel and more powerful methods enabling quicker drug discovery and deeper biological understanding.


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

Encouraging women to become scientists is unfortunately not enough. If we do really want more women to be involved, we need to create the right environments for them to thrive. As much as mobility is important to provide scientists with wider perspectives, the current culture of “postdoctoral nomading” is very destabilising and difficult for people with partners and/or caring responsibilities. It should not be a prerequisite on fellowship applications; women should not feel pressurised into changing environments every couple of years. Another simple example for creating suitable environments is by not holding talks/seminars after 4 pm. People with caring responsibilities are directly excluded from these meetings and this can make them wrongly feel guilty and/or less dedicated than their colleagues. Proper life-work balance is important and nurturing; it enhances productivity and happiness.


Additional Note: A video interview with Martine Abboud at #LINO18 can be watched here.

New Friends and Research Partners From All Over the World

Marlene Heckl and Nobel Laureate Robin Warren at #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Marlene Heckl

A few years ago, I was asked the question: “Which important personality would you like to have dinner with?” My definite answer was: with a Nobel Prize winner! I have never imagined that this could actually become reality, and yet last week I found myself at a table with J. Robin Warren, who, along with his colleague Barry Marshall, won the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his research on the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its role in the development of gastric cancer. As part of this year’s Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, which took place from 24 to 29 June on the beautiful Lake Constance, 600 young scientists had the chance to meet 39 Nobel Laureates, to dine with them and even to have some more personal conversation. It was during this very Bavarian evening, where we were served plenty of beer, Leberkäse and other traditional delicacies, that the Australian pathologist Warren told me how his colleague Marshall had the idea for his famous self-experiment. “At first I thought he was crazy when he told me he wanted to drink a whole test tube full of bacteria to show that they could cause gastritis.” Fortunately, it all turned out well and Marshall could be cured with antibiotics afterwards. But Warren also admitted: “Sometimes you just have to be a little bit crazy to do good research… and to win the Nobel Prize.”

Marlene Heckl (middle) with other young scientists at the Bavarian Evening. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Marlene Heckl

In addition to Partner Breakfasts, lunches and dinners, there were many other opportunities to meet a true Nobel Laureate in person. In the mornings we could attend exciting lectures held by the laureates and in the afternoons we had the chance to ask them personal questions and discuss our research with them during “Agora Talks”, “Science Walks” and “Open Exchanges”. Furthermore, in the “Master Classes”, selected young scientists had the opportunity to present their research to the Nobelists and to receive helpful feedback on their presentations. Laureate Peter C. Doherty, one of the Master Class leaders and a lecturer of science communication, explained to us how important it is to tell people not just facts and figures but a story. “You should inspire the listeners of your research and draw them in – don’t put too much detail in your talk!”

A major theme of this year’s meeting, which was specifically addressed in panel discussions, was the large pressure to publish in science as well as the question what role journals with high impact factors and without an open access format play in the “Publish or Perish” debate. Many Nobel Laureates expressed critical views, and the young scientists saw the need to change the system. It was a very lively and exciting discussion, as the audience reflected upon the role of science in our society and dared to ask provocative questions.

Moreover, two of the current Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine 2017 were present in Lindau this year: Michael Rosbash and Michael Young, who both presented their brand-new research on the circadian rhythm. After their lecture, I just had to ask them the question that everybody had in mind: what do the laureates recommend to get over a jetlag and synchronize our internal clock with the day/night circle again? “We suffer and take medication, just like you,” was the surprisingly honest and humorous response of the experts. The most frequently asked question at the conference was certainly the one concerning the patent recipe for receiving a Nobel Prize. Hartmut Michel, who was awarded the highest scientific award in Stockholm in 1988, presented a very simple three-point plan: “First, answer an almost impossible question in biomedicine. Second, be aware of the significance of a serendipitous discovery. Third, develop a major new technology.” So that’s how easy it can be!


Nobel Laureate Michael Young and Marlene Heckl at #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Marlene Heckl

All in all, one can only say that the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting was an unforgettable experience, in line with its motto “Educate. Inspire. Connect.”. Not only has the exchange with so many inspiring Nobel Laureates been a full success, but also the opportunity to meet with like-minded young scientists from all over the world and make new friendships for life has far exceeded my expectations. The time in Lindau ended with a beautiful boat trip to the flower island Mainau, where the Nobel Laureates were once again fittingly celebrated and given appropriate goodbyes with standing ovations. I have left Lake Constance with enriching experiences, great pieces of advice, amazing new memories and new friends and potential future research partners from all over the world. If you have the opportunity to be nominated for the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, I can only recommend that you spend one of the best weeks of your entire life there and experience the “Lindau Spirit” first-hand.

Educated. Inspired. Connected.

Nobel Laureate Michael Rosbash was correct when stating during his 2017 Nobel Banquet that “scientific careers rely on inheritance, environment and random events like all biological phenomena.” Indeed, most laureates at the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting attributed their Nobel recognition to hard-work, good decision making and a touch of luck. Such attributes may be applied to my participation at Lindau as I have taken an interdisciplinary path. As an undergraduate I looked at the potential use of erythropoietin to stimulate wound repair in certain types of human endothelial cells at University College Dublin. A PhD on skeletal muscle physiology and adaptation to hypoxia in animal models at University College Cork followed. Next, I spent two years working in an Irish bar in Cologne. Eventually, I found my way back into science with an occupational and environmental medicine and research institute at the University Hospital of Cologne. Needless to say, after 1.5 years as a post-doc and still learning the trade, I did not expect to receive the invitation to participate in such a prestigious event as the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting!


Philip Lewis (second from right) and other young scientists with Nobel Laureate Elizabeth Blackburn (fourth from right) in Lindau. Photo/Credit: Courtesy of Philip Lewis

With excitement galore, preparation began almost immediately. After all, a scientist is what a scientist does, and the research must be done: websites, blogs, videos, tweets, profiles, even PubMed contains information on the Lindau Meetings! My research was geared toward answering the question: “What does one even say to a Nobel Prize winner?” Even after the meeting, I do not have a one-size-fits-all answer. However, a good place to start is to ask for opinions on scientific concerns beyond the lab bench. For instance, the laureates were happy to bare their experiences on navigating the academic industry including finding funding and publishing papers and to discuss each topic within the current academic climate.

I must admit that despite the excitement, it was difficult to keep the imposter syndrome at bay when reading about the work and achievements of the Nobel Laureates themselves. It quickly became clear, however, that the 600 invited young scientists from 84 countries were key to the meeting. Also, and more so than ‘traditional’ conferences, lab bench data receives equal footing alongside professional development, scientific history, collaboration, communication, global integration and scientific perspective. The imposter syndrome could, at least in part, be mitigated.

The most valuable research document is of course the programme published by the committee. Fittingly, the first words from the meeting’s Council in the welcome address of the programme take the form of a question: “Is post-factual the new normal?” The Council put forward a major challenge faced by the scientific community for the attendees to chew on: “The challenge may be to reconnect science to the public and to political decision makers.” Indeed, from my research of the meeting, it is clear that the science-society interface goes back a ways as an ingrained meeting thread. I count myself lucky that my first day in Lindau included some coaching and rehearsal in presenting my research to a non-scientific audience for a German television programme. Moreover, another of the attendees at this rehearsal, Arunima Roy, has written a blog post for the meeting on post-facts and communication issues. The meeting had not yet officially started, and I was already learning important lessons for scientists.

It gets better – the very first lectures were given by Michael Rosbash and Michael Young, joint recipients of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the work on the genetic basis of the circadian system in the fruit fly and other organisms. In other words, two of the top-dogs of the field I work in are presenting first. I couldn’t help but note the irony in these laureates being invited to give speeches all around the world, thus, being increasingly challenged with jet-lag which stems from perturbment to the very system they worked on to win the Nobel Prize! The lectures were stimulating and offered research into circadian systems as a basis to understand and eventually shape health and disease in coming years. That evening I was fortunate to sit at Michael Young’s table for dinner. There were exacerbations of my imposter syndrome but that was quickly eased. A laureate’s approval of your current scientific investigation can do that (who said you should never meet your heroes?).


Nobel Laureate Michael Young during dinner with Philip Lewis and other young scientists at the International Get-Together of #LINO18. Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

As the meeting drew on, it got better still. The young scientists were the key. Almost no one knew each other beforehand and we were outside of the traditional lab group comfort zone clique that can occur at some conferences. Interaction was inevitable, and the first question of “so what do you research” put people into their comfort zones from the start. It quickly became clear that when two or more scientists sit down and start talking research, everything in the background that could be a distraction disappears. Over six hundred people in one room having conversations and only being able to hear the person sitting next to you talking about their research is quite the physiological adaptation – I wonder is it just scientists who have adapted in such a way?

The laureate lectures and discussion groups ranged from bench science to life experiences and from improving science dissemination to flying the flag for important causes. Edvard Moser spoke about the mapping of the surrounding environment in rodent brains with grid cells which was fascinating from a scientific curiosity perspective. Ada Yonath gave arguably the best lecture with her explanations of ribosome functioning and targets for drug interventions both understandable and entertaining for the lay audience members (like me). She highlighted the number of top female scientists in her working group who have several children which shows that all working systems are able to allow for female scientists with families. In other words, if a working system does not allow for this, it can and should be changed for the better. Her talk extended beyond her allotted time but there was nobody in the audience rushing out of the hall to attend another session. She could have held the stage for the day and she definitely and deservedly got the longest applause of the week. Referring to antibiotics preventing ribosomal function showed that you don’t have to be big to be strong. She could have used herself as proof for the validity of this statement. Michael Levitt provided an assessment of funding struggles facing young scientists and emphasised values needed to be the right kind of scientist. Sir Richard Roberts led an impassioned and highly motivating discussion on the use of GMO’s to save several millions of lives around the world, and his use of the Nobel Prize status to provide a recognisable scientific voice to such campaigns. He had almost every young scientist in the room asking where we can sign up to join the cause. Chatting with Peter C. Doherty about his experiences after lunch on Mainau Island was another highlight.

Now, this may sound like a conference of stroking egos, but there was a fair share of controversy and contrasting views amongst the laureates themselves, the young scientists themselves and between the laureates and the young scientists. This, of course, is to be expected with frontier research, a wide range of age differences and experiences and having over 80 different countries represented. However, contrasting viewpoints served only to improve the scientific discussion. Indeed, many laureate views were challenged as being outdated or naïve. The panel discussion on “publish or perish” got quite feisty from time to time regarding ethics and responsibility, impact on scientific lives and asking what can be done to improve the process. Young scientist Amy Shepherd, who had already written an excellent blog on pressures in academia, provided a powerful voice for young scientists. She was not daunted in the verbal boxing match between Nobel Laureates Randy W. Sheckman and Harold E. Varmus who are pioneering ways for the dissemination of information in the life sciences, CEO of Springer Nature Daniel Ropers and EMBO director Maria Leptin.


Panel discussion ‘Publish or Perish’ at #LINO18 (from left): Alaina Levine, Daniel Ropers, Maria Leptin, Randy Shekman, Amy Shepherd and Harold Varmus. Photo/Credit: Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Overall, it was a long week but a great one. This event was a unique experience that I wish every young scientist had the opportunity to benefit from because they undoubtedly would. The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting 2018 has surpassed all expectations and then some. There is so much more I could potentially include in this blog, from lunch with Elizabeth Blackburn to the dancing on the boat from Mainau, but there would not be enough space in a novel for everything.

From this meeting, I can take away friendships from all over the world, new potential collaborators, an increased sense of responsibility to confront and discuss the most important issues facing our society, and confidence that we have young scientists all over the world with the capabilities to address these major issues both in the laboratory and in conveying the appropriate messages to society. The Federal Minister of Education and Research, Anja Karliczek, stated at the outset, “If we want to save the world, we need researchers who stand up and speak up.” I have been motivated to do so, and I know the other young scientists have as well.

Lindau is a special place and the meeting is a special time. I have been educated, inspired, and connected and I now understand what is meant by the Lindau spirit! There is something at this meeting for everybody. To everyone involved in making the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting possible, thank you!

Strategies for Science Communication in a Post-Factual Era

A panel discussion about science in a post-factual era engaged young scientists who travelled to Mainau Island on the last day of the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. The large amount of information available on the internet, combined with opinions easily shared through social media, fuel doubt about the authority of scientists and their knowledge when it comes to topics such as evolution, renewable energy and climate change.


The closing panel discussion of #LINO18 on Mainau Island: moderator Adam Smith, Arunima Roy, Peter Doherty, Adam Whisnant, Stven Chu and Brian Malow (from left to right). Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings


The panellists, which included two Nobel Laureates, two young scientists and a science communicator, agreed that sharing the process and the human side of science to non-scientists was important to combat doubt. Strategies for successful communication that emerged from stories the panellists shared included speaking a common language and building trust.

Adam Whisnant, a young scientist studying virology at the University of Würzburg, grew up in a small town in North Carolina. Most of the town’s 400 inhabitants had one of four common surnames, and pastors were the community’s accepted authorities, he said. While teaching community college, a student visited Whisnant with questions about the theory of evolution. Knowing that the student had attended seminary school, Whisnant approached the discussion by speaking the student’s language first, using philosophy and biblical references to explore the root of the question. As the discussion progressed, Whisnant found the student became more receptive to talking about scientific aspects of evolution, such as DNA damage and replication. What Whisnant learned from that experience is that scientific facts aren’t always necessary to discuss questions about scientific topics.


Young scientist Arunima Roy. Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Speaking the same language is a strategy that worked for Nobel Laureate Steven Chu, too. After his time as U.S. Secretary of Energy, Chu spoke at a gathering of rural electric providers. He expected the group to receive him with anti-government and anti-regulation views, so Chu started his talk by saying, “I hate regulations as much as you do.” Regulations occupied much of Chu’s time when he was director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “The audience started to listen after that.”

Getting to know a community well enough to speak their language can be challenging for young scientists who move frequently during their training. But that mobility can be also useful, said Arunima Roy, young scientist from West Bengal studying molecular psychiatry at the University of Würzburg. Living in new cities or countries provides an opportunity to get to know other cultures. An important part of community building is getting to know people through activities outside of the lab and politics, Chu added.

A shared language also contributes to building trust, which was another strategy for successful science communication that emerged from the panellists’ experiences. When Chu worked in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2013, he found that building personal trust over time was important to convincing sceptical politicians to accept scientific information. Part of trust building included not talking down to someone or delivering facts authoritatively, he said.

Laureate Peter Doherty also wants to help non-scientists understand that science is not an “authoritarian priesthood.” An author of six books about science for lay audiences, he is now working on another book that shows how science is a way of thinking about evidence and reality.


Steven Chu. Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Young scientists also share Doherty’s interest in communicating the process of science. When science communicator Brian Malow talks to young scientists during the Lindau Meetings, he asks what they wish people understood about science. Often, they want others to understand that there will be mistakes in science, but the process is inherently self-correcting.

“The great triumph of science is wisdom built up over time,” Chu said. Experiment and observation are the final arbiter of debates over conflicting hypotheses. And when sceptics question uncertainties inherent in science, “new ways of making measurements win the day.”

During a question and answer session, audience members challenged the panellists with direct questions:

Strategies for science communication mentioned during the panel included tweeting, putting good visuals on YouTube, and publishing articles online. How do we communicate science in the developing world, specifically rural Africa, where many people are illiterate and do not have internet access?

And instead of talking about challenges in science communication from an arrogant perspective that centres on what the public doesn’t understand, why don’t scientists try to approach the challenges from a different angle?

Both questions brought audience applause, and the young scientists continued the discussion during lunch. With their engagement and critical thinking about science communication, perhaps they could be the ones to answer these questions through experimenting with efforts to communicate science to the public and policy makers.


Watch the #LINO18 panel discussion:


Wie sieht die Zukunft des wissenschaftlichen Publizierens aus?

#LINO18 panel discussion ‘Publish or Perish’. Photo/Credit: Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings


Publish or perish – jeder, der in der Forschung oder im akademischen Bereich tätig ist, kennt diesen Ausspruch nur allzu gut und hat schon einmal den damit verbundenen Druck und die Angst gespürt. Ursprünglich bestand der Sinn der Veröffentlichung neuer Erkenntnisse darin, Wissen zu verbreiten und zu erhalten. Schon immer war der Wissensaustausch ein wesentlicher Bestandteil von Forschung und Lehre. Aber die derzeitige Art der Wissenschaftler, sich dabei gegenseitig zu überbieten oder, noch schlimmer, ihre Ergebnisse so zu gestalten, dass sich daraus ein erfolgversprechendes Narrativ für eine Publikation in einer der angesagten Fachzeitschriften ergibt, ist untragbar. Dabei sind die Gründe hinter dem Wunsch nach einer „großen” Veröffentlichung nur allzu verständlich: Die Publikation eines Manuskripts in einem Fachjournal mit hohem Glamour-Faktor (eng mit dem Impact-Faktor der Fachzeitschrift verbunden) wie beispielsweise Nature, Science oder Cell verspricht eine große Öffentlichkeitswirkung für die Hauptautoren des Artikels und steigert vermutlich ihren Wert und ihre Aussichten bei der Bewerbung um ein neues Forschungsstipendium oder Fördermittel für Projekte.

Der Impact-Faktor wird jedoch für alle Artikel, die eine Fachzeitschrift in einem bestimmten Jahr veröffentlicht hat, gemittelt. Also bedarf es nur einiger weniger, sehr guter Artikel, die von der Community oft zitiert werden, um den Impact-Faktor der gesamten Fachzeitschrift und damit den wahrgenommenen Wert der anderen im selben Journal veröffentlichten Beiträge, die möglicherweise von einem vergleichsweise geringen Wert für den Fortschritt der Forschung sind, zu erhöhen.

In letzter Zeit gab es allerdings zunehmend Versuche, dieses System zu verändern und einen anderen Bewertungsansatz für wissenschaftliche Leistungen als über den Impact-Faktor zu finden. Aber was genau muss eigentlich passieren, um den Status quo zu verändern? Und wie lässt sich dieses Ziel erreichen? Das sind nur einige der vielen Fragestellungen, die bei der 68. Lindauer Nobelpreisträgertagung während der Podiumsdiskussion am Mittwochnachmittag erörtert wurden.

Das Podiumsgespräch selbst war nichts weniger als ein verbaler Schlagabtausch, bei dem die Moderatorin Alaina Levine ihr Bestes gab, um jede/r zum Zuge kommen zu lassen. Die Sparringpartner im Einzelnen:

  • Daniel Ropers, CEO of Springer Nature, Deutschland
  • Maria Leptin, Direktorin der EMBO, Deutschland
  • Randy W. Schekman, erhielt 2013 den Nobelpreis für Physiologie oder Medizin für die Entdeckung von Transportprozessen in Zellen; früherer Chefredakteur von PNAS und seit 2011 Herausgeber von eLife 
  • Amy Shepherd, Masterstudentin an der University of Melbourne, Australia
  • Harold E. Varmus, erhielt 1989 den Nobelpreis für Physiologie oder Medizin für Untersuchungen der genetischen Grundlage der Krebsentstehung

Die erste Podiumsrunde begann harmlos: Ropers wies darauf hin, dass er relativ neu in der Welt der naturwissenschaftlichen Publikation ist, betonte aber, wie sehr er diese Welt und insbesondere die harte Arbeit der Forscher schätzt. Die anderen Podiumsteilnehmer fassten kurz die Geschichte des wissenschaftlichen Publizierens zusammen und Schekman hob dabei hervor, wie viel sich verändert hat: „Während meiner Studienzeit lagen alle Artikel als gebundene Exemplare vor und ich konnte sie in der Bibliothek nachschlagen. Heute ist alles online!”


Moderator Alaina Levine und Daniel Ropers. Photo/Credit: Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Aber es dauerte gar nicht solange, bis die Podiumsteilnehmer schon beim heftig umstrittenen Thema der Impact-Faktoren angelangt waren. Schekman warf ein: „Der Impact-Faktor stellt eine Simplifizierung dar und ist häufig eine Fehlmessung der Wissenschaft!” Hierzu ergänzte Varmus:

„Wir dürfen nicht zulassen, dass der Publikationsprozess zu einem Surrogat für die Feststellung wissenschaftlicher Relevanz wird!” Man könnte einwenden, dass dies ja bereits der Fall ist, insbesondere aus der Perspektive von Nachwuchswissenschaftlern, die gerade erst am Anfang stehen. „Unsere Mentoren und Kollegen erzählen uns ständig, dass wir ein impact-starkes Papier brauchen, um unsere Karriere voranzubringen”, meinte Shepherd.

Wie könnte denn überhaupt eine alternative Messung von wissenschaftlicher Kompetenz aussehen? Obwohl das Thema schon seit vielen Jahren diskutiert und kritisiert wird, wurden bisher keine oder nur wenige Lösungen vorgeschlagen, wie John Tregoning, Immunologe und Senior Lecturer am Imperial College London, in einem kürzlich in Nature erschienene Kommentar schrieb.

Im Laufe der weiteren Diskussion schlug Varmus vor, den Impact-Faktor und die Zitierhäufigkeit für einzelne Artikel statt für die gesamte Fachzeitschrift zu ermitteln. Viele Verlage machen das auch bereits, aber die Anwendung dieser Metrik hat sich bei Bewerbungen um Stellen oder Stipendien noch nicht als gängige Praxis durchgesetzt.

Eine andere von Varmus und Schekman angesprochene Möglichkeit wäre es, Wissenschaftler um eine narrative Zusammenfassung der Relevanz ihrer neuesten Ergebnisse für ihr jeweiliges Forschungsgebiet in einem einzigen Absatz zu bitten. „Jede/r hat doch wohl die Zeit, einen einzigen Absatz zu schreiben oder zu lesen”, meint Schekman.

Leptin brachte eine weitere Initiative ins Gespräch, die empfiehlt, sich weniger auf den Impact-Faktor zu stützen und stattdessen bei der Beurteilung von künftigen Bewerbern durch Geldgeber und Institutionen andere Aspekte ihrer Arbeitsergebnisse, bspw. ihre Lehrtätigkeiten oder ihre wissenschaftliche Reichweite, stärker zu berücksichtigen: die San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), die von einer Gruppe von Herausgebern und Verlegern für wissenschaftliche Fachzeitschriften während des Annual Meeting der American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) im Dezember 2012 in San Francisco initiiert wurde.

Alle Podiumsteilnehmer waren sich einig, dass sich etwas in der Art und Weise ändern muss, in der die Forschungsqualität gemessen wird. Leptin ergänzte: „Wir (d. h. der Fördermittelgeber EMBO) wissen natürlich, dass nicht jede/r am Ende seines Promotionsstudiums mit einem hohen Impact-Faktor aufwarten kann. Bei der Beurteilung potenzieller Kandidaten spielen für uns die persönlichen Aussagen und die Motivationsbeschreibungen der Wissenschaftler eine wesentlich größere Rolle als ihre Publikationsgeschichte.” Auch andere Förderer wie der Wellcome Trust Fund und Howard Hughes stützen ihre Entscheidungen immer weniger auf den Impact-Faktor.


Alaina Levine, Maria Leptin, Randy Schekman und Amy Shepherd. Photo/Credit: Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Kurz darauf wurden die Themen Open Science und Open Access in die Diskussion eingebracht. Das löste eine lebhafte Debatte darüber aus, dass sich eine Handvoll Verlage als Hochburg der gesamten wissenschaftlichen Veröffentlichungen geriert. Hier wurde Ropers, bildlich gesprochen, in den tiefen Teil des Beckens geworfen und bekam die geballte Frustration eines Raumes voller junger Wissenschaftler, die um ihre akademische Zukunft bangen, und von erfahrenen Wissenschaftlern ab, die immer wieder zur Kasse gebeten und mit obskuren Veröffentlichungsmethoden konfrontiert werden.

So einfach es auch ist, ihn und sein Unternehmen zu verunglimpfen: Man sollte sich daran erinnern, dass Nature Springer mit Sicherheit nicht der einzige Verlag ist, der versucht, satte Gewinne zu erzielen – auch Wiley oder Elsevier, um nur einige zu nennen, sind keine Non-Profit-Organisationen. 

Das wissenschaftliche Verlagswesen insgesamt ist eine Milliarden-Dollar-Industrie. Geld zu verdienen ist nicht an sich schlecht, aber es ist schwer, der Forschungsgemeinschaft zu erklären, warum sie sowohl riesige Beträge für die Veröffentlichung als auch für das Lesen eines Artikels zahlen soll. Natürlich muss jedes Unternehmen Geld verdienen, denn schließlich arbeiten dort Menschen und muss eine gewisse Infrastruktur für den Betrieb vorgehalten werden. Aber die Frage ist doch: Warum soll das aus der Tasche der Wissenschaftler finanziert werden – und dann gleich zweimal?

Gewinnmargen und Open Science schließen sich aber nicht gegenseitig aus. Sie sind noch nicht einmal unbedingt zwei Seiten derselben Medaille, sondern zwei Aspekte eines gigantischen Wissenschaftsbetriebs. Während einige sagen “Open Science ist einfach Wissenschaft, die richtig gemacht wird”, meinte Ropers, dass die wissenschaftliche Gemeinschaft wahrscheinlich akzeptieren muss, dass der Umstieg auf ein komplett offenes Publizierungssystem nicht so einfach sein wird. Darauf gab Leptin eine emotionale und leidenschaftliche Antwort: “Nein, die Stunde ist jetzt gekommen! Die Politiker haben bereits entschieden und die großen Verlage müssen sich so schnell wie möglich anpassen, um zu überleben!” Sie bezog sich dabei auf eine kürzlich verabschiedete EU-Richtlinie, nach der alle Ergebnisse, die aus öffentlich geförderten Projekten stammen, in einem Open-Access-Journal veröffentlicht werden müssen.

Dies ist zwar ein großer Anreiz und ein begrüßenswertes Beispiel, aber auch hier spielt Geld eine Rolle. Denn viele Open-Access-Journale verlangen ebenfalls viel Geld für die Einreichung eines Artikels, das ein unabhängiger Postdoc-Wissenschaftler nicht immer aufbringen kann. Die Lösung: Wenn finanzierende Agenturen solche Veröffentlichungen zur Auflage machen, müssen sie das auch in ihrer Finanzierung berücksichtigen.


Amy Shepherd  und Harold Varmus. Photo/Credit: Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Ein weiterer Aspekt von Open Science ist der Bewertungsprozess, der lange Zeit hinter verschlossenen Türen erfolgt ist – die Autoren erfahren kaum jemals, wer sie begutachtet. Um diesem Problem zu begegnen, hat Schekman vor kurzem ein Experiment mit dem Journal eLife gestartet, bei dem die Peer-Reviews – einschließlich der Namen der Reviewer – mit dem Forschungsartikel zusammen veröffentlicht werden.

Kurz vor Ende der Debatte wurden weitere Probleme aufgeworfen: Die letztendlich in einem Artikel veröffentlichten Ergebnisse repräsentieren normalerweise nur einen Bruchteil der erfassten Daten. Üblicherweise gehen den „veröffentlichungsfähigen” Resultaten mehrere „negative“ Ergebnisse voraus. In diesem Fall bedeutet „negativ” nicht notwendigerweise ein gegenteiliges oder unerwartetes Ergebnis, sondern dass bestimmte Ansätze oder Modelle schlicht und einfach nicht funktioniert haben. Derzeit besteht die Tendenz, solche Daten unter Verschluss zu halten. Das Problem ist allerdings, dass dann jemand anderes versuchen könnte, exakt den gleichen Ansatz erneut auszuprobieren, und wieder damit scheitert, was zu unnötiger Zeit- und Geldverschwendung führt. Deshalb drängt Shepherd: „Wir sollten einen Weg finden, auch negative Ergebnisse zu veröffentlichen, um uns immense Summen an Geld- und Zeitaufwand zu ersparen!”

Schekman und Varmus votierten erneut dafür, Forschungsarbeiten direkt nach ihrer Fertigstellung in Preprint-Archiven zur Verfügung zu stellen. Solche Archive sind nicht unbedingt als Speicherort für negative Ergebnisse zu verstehen, aber die Bewertungen und Kommentare sind von unschätzbarem Wert.

Hier schloss sich schließlich der Kreis. Als erneut die Tatsache zur Sprache kam, dass viele Mentoren der Nachwuchswissenschaftler im Publikum ihren Studenten nach wie vor Artikel mit hohem Impact-Faktor empfehlen und diese als das oberste Ziel beschreiben, bringt Varmus das Hauptproblem auf den Punkt: „Veränderungen im Publikationsprozess müssen von der wissenschaftlichen Gemeinschaft selbst angestoßen werden. Wir können von unserem Nachwuchs erst erwarten, das Richtige zu tun, wenn wir selbst das Richtige tun!”


Sehen Sie sich die #LINO18 Podiumsdiskussion ‘Publish or Perish’ an.

What Will the Future of Scientific Publishing Look Like?

#LINO18 panel discussion ‘Publish or Perish’. Photo/Credit: Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings


Publish or perish – anyone working in research or academia knows that phrase all too well and has felt the pressure and dread caused by it. The original idea behind publishing new results was of course to disseminate and archive knowledge. However, while the exchange of knowledge has always been an integral part of research and academia, the current way of researchers climbing over one another or, worse yet, molding their results to fit a promising narrative to get a publication in one of the glamour journals, is unsustainable. The rationale behind wanting a “big” publication is simple: A paper in a journal with a high glamour factor (which is closely correlated to the impact factor of the journal) such as Nature, Science or Cell promises high visibility for the leading authors of the paper and presumably heightens their value and prospects when applying for a new fellowship or grant.

The journal impact factor, however, is averaged over all papers that a certain journal has published in a given year. Meaning: it only takes a few, very good articles that are highly cited by the community to increase the impact factor of the entire journal and thereby the perceived value of the other papers that are published by the same journal, which might be of comparatively little value to the progress of the research community.

Recently though, there have been more and more attempts to change that system and find a new way of measuring scholarly achievements other than via the impact factor. But to change the status quo, what exactly needs to change and how can this be achieved? These are just three of the many issues that were discussed during a Panel Discussion on Wednesday afternoon of the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting.

The panel discussion itself was nothing short of a verbal boxing match with host Alaina Levine doing her best to ensure everyone gets a fair shot. The sparring partners:

  • Daniel Ropers, CEO of Springer Nature, Germany
  • Maria Leptin, Director of EMBO, Germany
  • Randy W. Schekman, received the Nobel Prize in 2013 in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of machinery regulating vesicle traffic; former editor-in-chief of PNAS and editor of eLife since 2011
  • Amy Shepherd, graduate student at the University of Melbourne, Australia
  • Harold E. Varmus, received the Nobel Prize in 1989 in Physiology or Medicine for the studies of the genetic basis of cancer

The first round of the discussion started innocently enough: Ropers pointed out that he was fairly new to the world of life science publishing but stressed how much he values this world and especially the hard work of the researchers. The other panellists briefly summarised the history of scientific publishing and Schekman highlighted just how much it has changed: “When I was a student, all the articles were in hardcover copies, and I could look at them in the library; now, everything is online!”


Moderator Alaina Levine and Daniel Ropers. Photo/Credit: Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

However, it wasn’t long until the panellists hit on the heavily debated topic of impact factors. Schekman proclaimed: “The impact factor is a simplification and often times a mismeasurement of scholarship!” To which Varmus added: “We can’t allow the publishing process to become a surrogate for measuring scholarly value!” Some might argue that this is already the case, especially from the perspective of a young scientist who is only just starting out. “We are constantly told by our supervisors and our peers that we need a high-impact paper to advance our career,” Shepherd argued.

So, what could be an alternative measurement of scholarly prowess? Although it has been debated and criticized for many years, few, if any solutions, have emerged, as immunologist and senior lecturer at Imperial College London John Tregoning points out in a recent comment in Nature.

During the discussion, Varmus suggested assessing the impact factor and the citations of a single paper, rather than for the whole journal. Many publishers are already doing this, but it is not yet common practice to use this metric for job or fellowship applications.

Another option mentioned by Varmus and Schekman would be to ask the researchers to write a single-paragraph narrative summarising the importance of their newest results to their respective fields. “Everyone has time to write or read a single paragraph,” argues Schekman.

Leptin introduced yet another initiative recommending to rely less on the impact factor and more on other aspects of a researcher’s work output, such as teaching or science outreach, when funding agencies and institutions are assessing future candidates: the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), which was developed by a group of editors and publishers of scholarly journals during the Annual Meeting of The American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) in San Francisco in December 2012.

The panellists all agreed that something has to change in the way research quality is assessed, and Leptin added: “We (i.e., EMBO funding agency) know that not everyone can have a high-impact-factor paper at the end of their PhD. When we assess prospective candidates, we value the personal or motivational statement of the researcher far more than their publication history.” Other funding opportunities like the Wellcome Trust Fund and Howard Hughes also rely less and less on the impact factor for their decision-making process.


Alaina Levine, Maria Leptin, Randy Schekman and Amy Shepherd. Photo/Credit: Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Soon after, however, the topics of Open Science and Open Access were brought up, sparking a very lively debate about the fact that a handful of publishers have a stronghold on all of scientific publishing. Here, Ropers was very much thrown into the deep end of the pool and experienced the full brunt of frustration of a room full of young scientists worried about their academic future as well as experienced scientists who have come up against paywalls and obscure publishing policies time and again.

Yet, as easy as it is to vilify him and his company, one must remember that Nature Springer is certainly not the only publishing endeavour making a sizeable profit – Wiley and Elsevier for instance are no non-profit organisations either, just to name a few. 

Academic publishing in general is a billion-dollar industry, and although making or earning money is not inherently bad, it is difficult to explain to the research community, why they should have to pay huge sums of money for submitting an article as well as to read it. Obviously, a business needs to make money – after all, there are people working for it and a certain infrastructure needs to be maintained. But again, why does this have to come out of the researcher’s pocket – twice?

However, profit margins and open science are not mutually exclusive, they might not even be two sides of the same coin but rather two aspects of a gigantic scientific enterprise. While some might argue “open science is just science done right,” Ropers brought up the point that the scientific community probably has to accept that it is not going to be that easy to move to a completely open publishing system. To this, Leptin gave an emotional and impassioned response: “No, the time is now! Politicians have already decided, and the big publishing houses will have to adjust as fast as possible in order to survive!” She was referring, of course, to a recent EU guideline which demands that any results coming out of a publicly EU-funded research grant have to be published in an open access journal.

While this is a great incentive and an applaudable example, again, there is the issue of money. Because many open access journals also charge a lot of money for the submission of a paper that an independent postdoctoral researcher might not be able to afford. The solution: if grant agencies demand these kinds of publications, they have to account for it in their funding.


Amy Shepherd and Harold Varmus. Photo/Credit: Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Another aspect of open science is the review process, which, for a long time took place behind closed doors – authors rarely get to know who reviews them. To counter this, Schekman has recently started an experiment with the journal eLife, in which the peer-reviews – including the names of the reviewers – are published alongside the research paper.

Towards the end of the debate, a couple of additional issues were raised: The results that end up being published in a paper are usually only a fraction of the data that has been collected. Usually there are several “negative” results that precede the “publishable” results. And in this case, negative doesn’t necessarily mean the opposite or unexpected result, but that certain approaches or models simply don’t work. The current tendency is to hide these data away, the problem however is that then someone else might try the exact same approach, which again, won’t work – wasting time and money in the process. Therefore, Shepherd urges: “We need to find a way to publish negative results in order to save immense amounts of money and time!”

Again, Schekman and Varmus both argued for putting research papers also on preprint archives as soon as the papers are ready. These archives are not necessarily meant as a storage for negative results, but the reviews and comments by fellow researchers are invaluable.

Coming full circle, when confronted again with the fact that many of the supervisors of the young scientists in the audience still push high-impact-factor papers on their students and praise them as the ultimate goal, Varmus sums up the main issue: “The change of the publication process has to come out of the scientific community. But we can’t expect our trainees to do the right thing, unless we do the right thing!”


Watch the #LINO18 panel discussion ‘Publish or Perish’