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’

Welcome to the Lindau Alumni Network

Last year, in time for the 67. Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, we launched the Lindau Alumni Network. The Lindau Alumni Network is the exclusive online community for alumni of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings. A digital space to keep the “Lindau Spirit” alive. Now, after a year of interactions and more than 1000 active users, we would like to announce the launch of the updated and redesigned Lindau Alumni Network!

Photo/Credit: Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Login for Lindau Alumni and 2018 Young Scientists

Lindau Alumni who already had access to the Lindau Alumni Network, including all alumni of the 2013–2017 meetings, have a profile in the new community. They will be invited by email to activate their profile.  In order to foster online interaction prior to this year’s meeting, access to the Lindau Alumni Network is already open for #LINO18 participants. They, too, can login by activating their profile by clicking on the link in their invitation email. Other Lindau Alumni can now easily request an invitation to join the community on the public login page.

Features of the Lindau Alumni Network

The Lindau Alumni  Network still has all the core features, some were considerably expanded. Here are some of the improved features that wait for you in the Lindau Alumni Network:

  • Search the alumni directory for fellow scientists: A world map gives you a quick overview of Lindau Alumni near you. Use search operators including name, home institution, home country, alma mater, work group, year of the attended meeting and more. As the Lindau Alumni Network grows, so will the search directory.
  • Find alumni events: The Lindau Alumni Network is the place to find announcements and invitations for local and global Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings alumni events. The next event Lindau Alumni can register for is our first Lindau Alumni Workshop with Alaina Levine on 10 July 2018 in Toulouse, France. In the new Lindau Alumni Network, it is easier for Lindau Alumni to create and promote their own events! The trips feature lets alumni easily inform others about their upcoming travel, making informal meet ups easier to organize.  
  • Expanded personal profile: A personal profile page is created for every alumnus or alumna based on their submitted data from the application process. Every Lindau Alumni Network user has control over the information that is shared, and can add details on, e.g., research interests or personal background. As a new feature, users can now add information to their profile by importing their LinkedIn or Xing profile.
  • Exchange ideas: The Lindau Alumni Network offers a number of ways to exchange ideas, plans and anecdotes with others. The “Activity” stream offers a timeline similar to that of popular social networks, with options to easily share interesting links, fascinating videos and evocative images. A news section will include exclusive blog articles and interviews with Lindau Alumni. The trips feature lets alumni easily inform others about their upcoming travel, making informal meet ups easier to organize.    
  • Organise with other alumni: Users can create or join groups and this way organise with fellow alumni around shared interests and experiences. Groups administered by the alumni and communications team are a unique way to stay up-to-date with all things revolving around the Lindau Meetings.   
  • Peruse the job and calls board: The Lindau Alumni Network includes a job board that will be updated with select, high quality job offers and calls for papers and nominations to conference. The job board offers a space to find qualified, skilled employees and partners who are already part of a select group: The Lindau Alumni.
Picture/Credit: Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Picture/Credit: Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Users can find more information on how to use these features within the Lindau Alumni Network. For any questions or suggestions regarding the Lindau Alumni Network and other alumni activities, please contact Christoph Schumacher, the Alumni and Community Manager.

 

>>Log-in to the Lindau Alumni Network Here

 

Final Preparations: Lindau Calling! (#LINO18)

In just a few days, Lindau’s newly renovated meeting venue Inselhalle will open its doors to a week full of science, inspirational exchange and education. We, the organising team of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, are very much looking forward to having this incredible number of bright minds here on our small island.

 

Picture/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

By now, you’ve probably gone through the numerous different phases of preparation, perhaps even packing. So let us give you some last minute guidance and lists for repacking your gear.

 

The Programme

Perhaps you’ve already gotten around to checking this year’s meeting programme. If not, don’t worry – here’s the link to the full programme.

 

Nobel Laureate Dan Shechtman during #LINO17. Picture/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Getting Here

As there will not be any shuttle buses to Lindau that are organised by us, you will have to organise your trip to Lindau by yourself.

Most likely, you’ll be arriving in Lindau by train. All airports you might be flying into offer connections to “Lindau Hbf” (the train station to head to) via train. You can either buy a ticket at the train stations or via www.bahn.com. You have arrived in Lindau as soon as you see water to your left, to your right and in front of you. Welcome to Lake Constance!

If you plan on coming to Lindau via Munich please make sure to double check your train connections online at www.bahn.com. Due to ongoing construction work on the route, there are no direct trains from Munich to Lindau and vice versa. You will have to change trains in either Augsburg or Ulm, and in some cases take a bus between Geltendorf and Buchloe, which will prolong your total travel time. Alternatively , you can also take a direct bus from Munich to Lindau.  You can check connections and book your bus ticket at www.flixbus.com. In order to get to the Munich bus terminal, you will have to take the S1 or S8 train from Munich Airport to Munich Hackerbrücke (tickets for those trains are also available at bahn.com) and then walk two minutes to the bus terminal called ” München ZOB”. 

 

Registration

In order to take advantage of everything Lindau has to offer, you need to register with us and get your conference materials. Upon registration, you will receive your name badge, which gives you access to the various programme events, your personal agenda, the final programme and more.

Registration will take place on Saturday, 23 June, 15.00-18.00 hrs.  and on Sunday, 24 June, 10.00-20.00 hrs. Please note that you will have to show a valid ID at the registration desk. Make sure to register early in order to take your seats in time for the Opening Ceremony.  

 

Everything Else You Need to Know

The Opening Ceremony starts on Sunday at 15.00 hrs, so please make sure you are registered and seated by 14.45 hrs. For security reasons, you are not allowed to bring any large bags. For your convenience, there is a depository truck, where your luggage will be securely stored. You will have to have your name badge and valid ID-card with you for access.

For a Google Map with all the important places in Lindau, please click here (or check the meeting app):

 

 

What to Bring & What to Wear

There is no dress code for the regular scientific sessions. For invitational dinners, you may want to bring something more festive (suits, cocktail dresses). As the lake is great for swimming, you may want to bring swim wear. Some of the local swimming pools even offer free entrance for the participants of the Lindau Meeting. Sunscreen and mosquito repellents are a good idea as well. 

Make sure to bring comfortable shoes that are suitable for cobblestone roads and different weather conditions. A hairdryer may be useful as well as a voltage converter (220 volt) or adapter as German socket-outlets vary from those abroad.

Over the last years, one of the events has become particularly popular among all participants: the “Bavarian Evening” hosted by the Free State of Bavaria. For this, it is a great idea to wear a traditional festive costume from your home country. Those of you who own a traditional Bavarian costume (a Dirndl dress for women and Lederhosen for men) are more than welcome to wear that instead.

 

At the Bavarian evening, everyone is invited to wear the traditional outfit of their home country. Photo/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

At the Bavarian evening, everyone is invited to wear the traditional outfit of their home country. Photo/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

Morning Workouts

For those of you participating in the morning workouts: please bring comfortable sportswear, a towel and sturdy sneakers. Water bottles will be provided upon registration.

 

Internet & Phones

The meeting venue is equipped with wireless LAN (WiFi). 

It’s always helpful if you bring along your mobile phone so that we will be able to contact you easily. To use a mobile phone in a German network, it needs to support the GSM standard (used all over Europe). The German country code is +49.

 

Money

The currency used in Germany and many European countries (except Switzerland) is the Euro. Money can be exchanged at airports or at local banks. Credit cards (e.g. Visa, Mastercard) and Maestro/EC cards can be used to withdraw money from ATMs (called “Geldautomaten”) using your PIN. Please check the map to see where to find the nearest ATMs. Cheques and traveller cheques have become rather uncommon and are hardly accepted anywhere.

 

Nobel Laureate Steven Chu talking to young scientists at #LiNo16. Picture/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Nobel Laureate Steven Chu talking to young scientists at #LINO16. Picture/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

Emergencies

In case of an emergency at the main meeting venue, please contact the staff. Please note that our staff is not authorised to hand out any medication. A paramedic team is present at the meeting venue and can help with all health-related issues. If you have an emergency at a different location, please either contact any of the staff if present, or call 112, the official emergency number that will work in all of the EU countries and in Switzerland. During the meeting, all young scientists will be covered by a health insurance policy provided by the organisers.

 

The Meeting App

There is a conference app for #LINO18. All the information from this post can also be found in there (…and more!). For an in-depth explanation on how to get started with the app, please refer to my colleague Christoph’s guide.

 

Last but Not Least

If you want to get a taste of the “Lindau spirit” prior to the meeting, you are invited to take a look at our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter (@lindaunobel) and Instagram (@lindaunobel). Throughout the week of the meeting, we will try to post as much interesting content as possible via #LINO18, this year’s official hashtag. Do join the conversation – we’d be happy!

My colleagues and I will be happy to assist you at the Young Scientist Help Desk, should you have any questions. It is going to be a great week, so let’s make the most of it!

And finally, if you haven’t seen them yet, take a look at our new bags, which will soon be yours ;-)

 

Nesrin, Kai, Karen and Nadine (left to right) from the Young Scientist Support team are looking forward to welcoming you in Lindau very soon. Our #LINO18 Meeting Bags are already here waiting for you! Photo/Credit: Lisa Vincenz-Donnelly/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Developing Scientists in Developing Countries

Astronaut Franklin R. Chang-Diaz on the International Space Station (ISS). Photo/Credit: NASA (CC BY-NC 2.0)

 

Growing up in Costa Rica in the early 90s, I remember seeing Costa Rican astronaut Dr. Franklin Chang Diaz in newspapers, televisions and billboards across the country. Seeing him in the media, as he floated around a space ship and tinkered with its mechanics, inspired my generation to believe nothing is out of our reach and motivated many, including myself, to pursue a career in science. Ultimately, I discovered my passion did not lay in aeronautics but rather in understanding the rules that govern biological systems and in particular the human body. However, without a clear role model paving the way for me, I am not sure I would have pursued a career in this field.

Science has given me the opportunity to move across four countries and meet scientists from all around the world. For many of them, a clear role model has been fundamental in their decision to pursue a career in science. Particularly for people in developing countries or minorities and people from low income communities in developed countries, a lack of representation in science often makes it hard to understand what steps are needed to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). It can also be very discouraging when you cannot identify people from your country or communities working in the jobs or fields you are passionate about.

Beyond strong role models, there are many ways in which scientific interest in developing countries can be expanded. Together with my colleague Kevin Alicea Torres, we recently started a podcast titled “Caminos en Ciencia” (Pathways in Science). Here, we interview Latin American scientists at different career levels (undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral, professors, industry and government) working across the world, with the hope of making scientific careers more tangible and accessible for people within our region. Through these interviews we have learned a lot about how developing countries can develop scientists and I summarise some of the most valuable lessons here.

 1.    Early exposure

 Starting early is crucial.  In the United States, programmes such as “Upward Bound Math Science” aim to provide early exposure and training in STEM fields to low-income and first-generation college students. Through easy experiments, high school students learn about the scientific process and what steps are required to pursue a career in a STEM field. Similar projects have grown in developing countries; however, there are still many opportunities to further expand these programmes, for example, universities in developing countries could form stronger partnerships with local high schools, to expose students early on to laboratory work and scientific thought. Additionally, non-profit organisations can fill many gaps. Science Slam Festival Uruguay, an event sponsored by UNESCO, brings science to children and adults through art and interactive activities.

Science camps, high school internships, stargazing events, science pub talks, and kindergarten programmes can be implemented at low cost to expose people from different age groups to science. A great example is “Integrating Science in the Philippines” a group started by Filipino high school students. Co-founder Paulo Joquiño explains, “we identified a wide gap in STEM training between science high schools and other schools in the Philippines and thus founded ISIP to try to bridge this gap by bringing scientific opportunities and lab exposure to underprivileged high school students all across the country.”

 2. Identifying and growing talent

 In many developing countries, the quality in educational training in STEM differs greatly between public and private schools. To counteract this, public vocational and technical schools have emerged as a great opportunity to capture and grow scientific talent. Dr. Darel Martinez, from the Center of Molecular Immunology (CIM) in Cuba, attributes part of Cuba’s strength in forming scientists to vocational high schools that emerged in the early seventies. “The focus of these institutions has been to identify students with high affinity to STEM fields early on and provide them with strong scientific training throughout high school” explains Darel. “This has allowed the country to achieve important scientific breakthroughs while working with relatively lower resources. One such discovery is the lung cancer vaccine CIMAvax,” he adds.

 3. Role models and mentors

 Role models play a key role in sparking scientific interest. Role models can be family members, scientists, engineers, teachers, neighbours, friends, etc. “I had no concept of what being a career scientist meant until a friend of mine mentioned it to me in college” says Mariel Coradin, a Dominican scientist who is currently working on her PhD at the University of Pennsylvania. “Without the mentorship of Prof. Gary Toranzos, with whom I worked with during my undergraduate studies, I wouldn’t have further developed my interest in science and I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she adds, underscoring the importance of role models and mentors in developing scientists.

4. Funding science when resources are limited

 Limited funds for science and research can be a strong deterrent towards pursuing a career in STEM fields. Developing countries often must allocate their funds to other priorities, making it challenging to fund basic research. However, many alternative mechanisms have emerged to allow science to be funded in these places. In Costa Rica, the Central American Association for Aeronautics and Space tapped into crowdfunding to send the region’s first satellite into space. The satellite bearing the name Irazú in honour of one of Costa Rica’s main volcanoes was launched earlier this year. Further, international collaborations are an excellent way not only to fund but also to advance science. “We are part of an international collaboration funded by the Medical Research Council that includes Costa Rica, Scotland, Nepal and Malawi. Our aim is to combine genetic and epidemiological risk factors to understand how they influence mental health,” says Dr. Henriette Raventós Vorst from the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology at the University of Costa Rica. These international collaborations not only allow for funds to reach countries with less resources but also provide novel and unique scientific insight to advance scientific fields. Non-profit organisations, public-private partnerships and start-ups are also alternative ways to fund science. “At CIM in Cuba we fund a great part of our research through ciclo cerrado (closed cycle), this is a strategy in which we sell kits, compounds, vaccines and other products that we develop to fund new research in our institution,” explains Dr. Darel Martinez.

 5. Governments and media

 Lastly, to develop scientists in developing countries a concerted effort is also required from media and government to promote science. Sections in the newspaper or in daily TV news highlighting different national and international scientists, as well as their scientific findings are key to bringing science closer to the public and making scientific careers more tangible. Further, highlighting science as a tool for development is crucial. In Costa Rica, the government recently announced that they would work together with astronaut Dr. Franklin Chang Diaz to introduce hydrogen buses in an effort to become carbon neutral by 2021. It is not the first time that the Costa Rican government has worked with scientists to provide novel technological solutions to our country’s challenges.

I continue to follow and feel inspired by the portrayal of scientists in Costa Rican media, and it is very encouraging to see how the astronaut that inspired me to follow a career in science can continue to inspire new generations of scientists in Costa Rica.

To conclude, while many of these lessons are crucial for developing scientists in developing countries, most of them can also be applied to spark scientific interest in low income and underprivileged communities in developed countries. Promoting scientific diversity, international collaborations and developing scientists worldwide not only provides means to allow communities and countries to further develop and prosper but also enriches and advances science by introducing novel ways of thinking, ideas and solutions.

Stressed, Depressed and Unexpressed

The idea that mental health issues are prevalent in academia is not a new one, with more and more articles and studies focusing on this issue coming out in recent years. Approximately 30–80% of PhD students and academics (depending which study and which subpopulation you look at) have either anxiety or depression, which translates to a six-times increase over the general population (based on a cross-country study). No matter how you look at it, clearly, academia has a problem with mental health – but why?

 

Photo/Credit: aydinynr/iStock.com

 

While naysayers purport that academia has always been hard and previous students just ”toughed it out” (which, honestly, isn’t a good reason to keep it how it is anyway), the reality is the academic environment has changed; there are more people than ever receiving PhDs, while the number of tenure track positions has stagnated. With only 0.5–16% of people with PhDs becoming professors compared to 41% in 1980 (and 95% of them wanting to be, at least in the life-sciences), and the short, low-paid contracts most postdoctoral researchers are on, it’s no wonder that job security is a major player in people’s mental health. In fact, the biggest predictor of graduate student well-being at UC Berkeley was career prospects, with students who felt positive about their career options ranking higher in happiness and lower in depression.

Another factor is workload; horror stories of PhD students expected to work incredibly long hours (the infamous Mu-Ming Poo letter being a good but not exceptional example), living of just a small stipend, postdocs applying for grants to keep both their salary and their research funded and all the extra work that comes with being an academic (mentoring, outreach, etc.), early career researchers have high job demands and financial instability, and with these increasing demands, large increases in stress are seen. Conversely, having a good work-life balance has shown to be protective in a cross-country study.  

So what can we do? The first thing is to decrease the stigma around mental health problems; one report documenting a prevalence rate of mental health disorders of 37% states that only 6.2% of academics disclosed a mental health condition to the university. No-one would be ashamed to admit they had a cold, a common occurrence when a person is under high stress, but the negative effect of that same stress on the brain is stigmatised. Second, it is important to improve principal investigator training, so they can identify when someone needs help, as well as making sure they are setting realistic workload expectations on their employees (as in, you shouldn’t be expected to work more than 40 hours every single week). These same realistic expectations should be communicated to the early career researcher, too; people shouldn’t have to run themselves in the ground, neglecting family and friends, to survive in science. Finally, we need to start discussing what careers there are outside of academia, and stop viewing them as a second class options: when training early career researchers, universities and academic institutes should understand there are not enough academic jobs for the number of new PhD graduates, and need to start teaching and promoting skills that are translatable to industry, science communication and outreach, policy and much more.

Academia is not unique for being a stressful career; many jobs require occasional, non-flexible long hours, are pursued by perfectionists or have low success rates. What is unique, though, is the mix of stressors with the air of smugness around it – suggesting that if you can’t hack a PhD, it’s your fault, not the systems. If you can’t work 70-hour weeks as a postdoc to pump out the papers you need to get that academic job, it’s your fault, not the systems. If you can’t afford to stay in academia for money/time/lack of job opportunities/you don’t actually want to and pursue an alternative career path – fine, but know that is a failure. We need to stop treating academia as the be all and end all, expecting people to sacrifice their lives at the scientific altar and treat it for what it is – a job.

Networking at Conferences, or How to Win-Win at Lindau

 

There’s nothing like a good conference. I am a certified conference addict and I attend as many as I can each year. I love hearing the exciting presentations, meeting new people, gaining insight about new trends and innovations, and discovering novel ways to look at problems. From attending conferences, I have been able to move my career in new directions as I have met interesting people who have given me amazing advice and ideas.

I would have to say that my success – that is, the fact that I am in a career and job that brings me both joy and intellectual challenge – is a direct result of networking at conferences.  

And it should come as no surprise that one of my favourite conferences is my beloved Lindau (#NerdHeaven). It is hard to believe but the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting (#LINO18) is about six weeks away. Did you know that this conference, which this year will be focused on physiology and medicine, will feature a staggering 40 laureates and 600 young scientists from across the globe? That is a lot of potential networking.

If you are planning to attend, you may be wondering how you can effectively leverage your time at Lindau to meet and greet as many people as you possibly can. But like many early-career professionals, you might also be new to networking and concerned that you might be overwhelmed by both the quantity and the quality of all the brilliant brains with whom you may come in contact.

Fear not, Fellow Nerd! I am here to help and ease your mind as you jump into this networking paradise. 

The first thing you should know about networking is that it is not a dishonourable activity, akin to selling a used car that is a piece of junk. In fact, networking is the exact opposite of this and is the most honourable action you can take in your career. The reason this is so is because networking is not about what can I take or get from you – rather, it is about what can I give to you, and what can I contribute to your team, organisation and project.

 

Young scientists during the 67th Lindau Meeting. Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Here’s a very simple and clear definition: Networking is a spectrum of activities that starts with the first point of contact I have with someone and aims for a mutually-beneficial alliance, where we are both providing value in various forms and functions over time. The win-win aspect of networking can last a lifetime, and is especially important, because when you look to offer something to someone in a networking partnership, you will find that hidden opportunities will be offered to you. Many of these opportunities are not necessarily measurable or even tangible (it could be something as simple as having a conversation with an established star in your field), but they can lead to critical career opportunities such as fellowships, jobs and awards. The key to networking is to endeavour to help the other party in some way over time. When you do this, they see you as honourable and are more likely to offer you tangible experiences which have the potential to be game-changers in your life and profession.

On 24 May 2018, I presented my second webinar in collaboration with the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings on “Optimising Your Time at Conferences: Networking Strategies to Advance Your Profession, Career and Field (Especially at Lindau!)”. Although Lindau was the focus of this webinar, I also discussed networking tactics that are applicable to any conference you will ever attend for the rest of your life. Talk about high ROI (Return on Investment)! (A video recording of the webinar is available in our mediatheque.)

 

  1. Know that everyone is there for the same reason. It helps to understand that everyone who attends Lindau (or any other conference) is there to network with everyone else. And at Lindau in particular, this goes for the laureates as well as the young scientists. I have interviewed more than a handful of Nobel Laureates who participate in Lindau year after year and have inquired why they attend and keep coming back. And over and over, their answer is the same – they want to meet and interact with other nerds, especially those who are just launching their careers. The Nobels know that networking is noble, so take a hint from them. And knowing that we all attend Lindau to network can help to ease your mind and relax. We are all in it together, and we all want to Network!

 

  1. Prepare. If you simply show up at a conference and participate in whatever events catch your fancy, you’re likely to miss the best networking opportunities. Before attending the conference, familiarise yourself with its programme. Start reading the programme now (or about a month in advance) and get to know the speakers and their backgrounds and the special events. This will help you make the most of the experience and arm you with intelligent questions to ask not only the laureates but the other young scientists as well.

 

  1. Plan ahead and make connections now. In general, it is fine to reach out to other attendees and even speakers who will be presenting at conferences. If you know you’d like to meet with fellow attendees, request appointments with them at least two to three weeks before the conference. They are busy, too, so it’s wise to get on their calendars beforehand. And even if the person you want to meet is not on the programme, it’s OK to reach out to ask if s/he will be attending, and, if so, whether her schedule would allow a short meeting. Ask for only 15 minutes, because most people attending conferences generally can’t afford to meet for a full hour for lunch, but they almost always can squeeze in a brief coffee appointment.

 

  1. Arrive early to talks and talk to those around you. Before coffee breaks are over, migrate back into the auditorium and sit near someone you don’t know. This is a great opportunity to network, especially for introverts, because there is a reason to speak with the other person: You are both here to attend the session and you can ask them if they have ever heard this presenter before. Furthermore, this networking has an expiration date and time – when the speaker begins their presentation, you have to stop talking immediately. This is a fantastic exit strategy and one that helps networking neophytes ease into networking because you can be completely certain that you won’t be stuck making conversation indefinitely.

 

  1. Tweet and use the conference app. Lindau has an especially robust and useful app that allows you to plan your schedule and get background information about the laureates and other participants (you will be notified once this year’s app is available for download). Most major conferences now use apps, and some even allow you to contact other participants through the app itself. Download the app before you leave home so you can make sure you know how to navigate it. And then once you are at Lindau, tweet away! The hashtag is #LINO18. Twitter is especially useful for conference networking because you can tweet and follow tweets with the conference hashtag. You’ll get incredibly useful insight about leaders, hot topics and popular sessions. Often, this information isn’t shared anywhere else. You’ll also discover who the trendsetters and other established leaders are in the community and get a sense for potential collaborators. You can retweet these individuals’ tweets to help establish and amplify your brand and demonstrate your dedication to the community. And by doing all of this, you’ll have a reason to contact your newfound colleagues after the conference.

 

  1. Look for “Action Nodes”. I define an action node as anything at a meeting that people can talk about, such as the queue for the food, drinks, registration and so forth. All of these nodes give you something to immediately discuss. For those who are unsure of what to say when you first meet someone, this can provide the spark.

 

I look forward to networking with you at Lindau and beyond!

 

Author’s Note: Excerpts and some of these concepts have appeared in other works by the author, including her book, Networking for Nerds (Wiley, 2015), career columns in Physics Today, Chemistry World, SPIE Professional, and NatureJobs, and other publications.

Submissions for #LINO18 Poster Sessions and Master Classes

Poster Flash during the 67th Lindau Meeting. Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

The submission period for both the poster sessions and the Master Classes is now closed. The Council for the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings has received a record 380 poster applications this year. Over 180 young scientists have applied for the Master Classes. Over previous years, both programmes have been established as key components in sharing and supporting the young scientists’ research.

30 young scientists will be selected to present their work to Nobel Laureates and other participants at the poster flashes and poster sessions during the 68th Lindau Meeting. In each Master Class, 3-5 young scientists will have the unique chance to profoundly discuss their research with Nobel Laureates. The selected young scientists will be informed shortly.