Zooming into the PhD Symposium: “It’s about different scales of life, and not even just life on earth.”

Each year, a bunch of PhD students from EMBL join forces to organise a large symposium for their fellow PhD students across the globe. This year’s (virtual) PhD symposium is the 23rd of its kind. The Big Picture: Zooming into Life is taking place from 16 -17 December.

Around 30 first year PhD students are part of the organising committee for the symposium. Amandine and Dewi, both in Heidelberg, are two of the main organisers. Amandine is a joint PhD student at the University of Heidelberg (Kuner lab) and EMBL (Alexandrov lab)  on neuroinvasive cancer, and Dewi is working at EMBL in the Steinmetz lab, where she is working on developing a CRISPR/Cas9 screen in primary immune cells.

Dewi Moonen
Amandine Prats

How did the team come up with the theme of this symposium?

Amandine: “We wanted to have an interdisciplinary topic that is interesting for a lot of people. We all have such different research backgrounds, but it should be interesting for everyone. We tried to include more than just biology.”

Dewi: “I really like that this topic is about different scales of life, and not even just life on earth, we also have a talk about astrobiology.”

Amandine: “It is a very broad topic, but the talks themselves are not general. They are accessible, but they will be in-depth and connected to the bigger picture at the same time. We are hoping the talks will spark ideas and new collaborations.”

What are you personally excited about?

Dewi: “For the talks, amongst others, I am looking forward to Christoph Bock. His group performs interdisciplinary research at the interface of immunology, cancer and precision medicine, and develops new technologies to support this. This technology development is especially an interest of mine.”

Amandine: “We selected really great speakers for this symposium. Not just because of the research topics, but also because they are really good at giving talks. I am very enthusiastic about the astrobiologist Dr. Lynn Rothschild. It is not my field at all, and I never thought about it before, but I am very curious to find out more about bringing life to other planets.”

You are calling for abstracts for short talks and posters. What topics are you looking for?

Dewi: “This symposium is really made by and for PhD students, so we are giving PhD students the opportunity to share their research. We will have a virtual poster session and selected short talks, divided into different categories. It can be about any topic related to life science, but it would be great if you are able to place your research into the bigger picture.”

Can you tell us a little bit more about the programme elements?

Dewi: “We want the symposium to be interactive, so besides the talks, we are organising different workshops and social activities, like virtual lunches and coffee breaks. Because the organisers are all PhD students, the workshops reflect our interests. We have a career workshop and a scientific workshop on imaging. We also have a workshop on mental health that I am looking very much forward to.”

Amandine: “With regard to the workshop on mental health: it can be hard being a PhD-student, as we can be under a lot of stress. Not just due to the current pandemic, but also just in general. The pandemic just made it more visible.”

What was your experience with organising this virtual symposium?

Amandine: “In the beginning, we had to figure out a lot. Most of us have never met each other in real life due to the pandemic. We’ve never organised a large-scale event like this before. But it feels really good now that it is all coming together.”

Dewi: “I think working together in teams is going really well. We have eight different committees, but there is also overlap between them, so we stay connected and up to date.”

A group picture taken on Zoom, with the organisers of this years PhD Symposium. Around 20 people are on screen, with the visual of the symposium as their background.
The PhD Symposium Organising Committee

You have put a lot of effort and time into organising this symposium. When do you think it will be a success?

Dewi: “For me, it will be a success if the participants are actively engaged, and not just having their computers open and listening to the talks. We want to organise a truly interactive meeting.”  

Amandine: “I am hoping that people will talk to each other and make some longer-term connections, and maybe even collaborations.” 

The Big Picture – Zooming into Life takes place on 16 – 17 December 2021.
Submit your abstract by 10 October

To stay updated:
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Meet the Trainer – Varsha Kale

PHOTO: Varsha Kale

Meet Varsha Kale, a Bioinformatician in the Finn team: Microbiome Informatics at EMBL-EBI and one of the trainers at the EMBL Course: Metagenomics Bioinformatics (08 – 12 November 2021).

We virtually sat down with Varsha and quizzed her on where she thinks the field of Metagenomics is heading in the future; and some inside information on what you can expect from the course.

What is your research focus and why did you choose to become a scientist?

Using metagenomics to characterise the chicken and salmon gut microbiome and its functions.

I enjoyed learning about bacteria and how they thrived in various environments. This opened a world of different microbes from symbiotic, commensal to pathogenic and highly resistant. It was exciting! When working in a lab, we would receive pre-analysed sequencing data from bioinformaticians. My mentors at the time were supportive to indulge my curiosity as to how the analysis was performed and hence I chose to study bioinformatics. At EMBL-EBI I have the opportunity to learn about new tools and analysis methods frequently.

Where do you see this field heading in the future?

The continued expansion of novel genomes and annotations deposited in public archives will give us more and deeper insight into some elusive environments. Additionally, as statistical modelling becomes more popular, many of the methods we use for annotation are adopting machine learning techniques. The challenges will be the integration of different data types, judging the optimal cutoffs for accurate annotation, and continuing to ensure that all of these new types are easily available through community-adopted public repositories.

How has training influenced your career?

I have been lucky to have opportunities to attend training courses which helped tremendously with understanding the basics of a new subject. Also, a field such as metagenomics is progressing so fast that training gives a great snapshot of the recent updates and methods that others are using for similar research.

What is your number one tip for people looking for scientific training?

Keep up to date with upcoming courses which are interesting to you. Twitter or LinkedIn can be useful for this, or even the webpages of some of your favourite institutions. However, I found that asking colleagues and peers about training courses they have attended is most informative.

If you weren’t a scientist, what would you be?

To be honest, I went home one day from school and startled my parents with the news that bacteria are the new “cool” – so I’m not sure that I would have done something else! I enjoy singing and it might have been fun and challenging to pursue that.

Which methods and new technologies will be addressed in the course?

There is currently a lot of interest in generating metagenome assembled genomes (MAGs) from microbiome data, so we will work through this process including potential tools you might use for the various steps, as well as things to consider in controlling the quality of your data. An introduction to MGnify will also highlight the specialised pipelines used to analyse different types of microbiome data: amplicon, WGS reads, and assemblies.

What are the highlights of the course?

The course will give an overview of metagenomic data analysis including, browsing public data, quality control, and assembly of sequenced metagenomes, tools, and methods to analyse metagenomic data and submission to public archives. There will be a mixture of live and recorded talks, practicals, and Q&A’s with lots of opportunities for discussion. A personal highlight is the chance to learn about the research projects of others attending the course!


Interested in this course? Apply by 03 September.

For more upcoming events on cancer research take a look at our event listing.

10 tips on how to make your virtual conference sponsorship a success!

For the past year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual sponsorship has become the norm rather than the exception at scientific conferences. With most events taking place exclusively virtually, companies are seeking alternative ways to stay connected to their users and potential customers. One way is supporting a scientific conference as a virtual sponsor and companies have increasingly been taking advantage of the benefits these packages offer. Undeniably, sponsoring a virtual conference is an entirely different experience from sponsorship at in-person meetings. Therefore, based on a year of experience, we have put together a list of tips and tricks to help you make the best out of your virtual sponsorship.

1. Define your goals and set priorities

Sponsorship goals may vary from company to company. While one company may aim for wider brand recognition, others may look for ways to generate leads or introduce a new product. Taking this step back to reflect on your goals will help you choose the best package for your needs and define your overall approach to achieve these goals.

2. Find out more about the virtual event platform

There are various virtual conference programs in use throughout the event industry. Inquire in advance about the software features that are relevant to your goals and do not shy away from asking the organisers about what worked previously and what didn’t. We pursue open communication with our sponsors and are happy to clarify all details in advance.

3. Choose your sponsorship package

Now that you have set your goals and know more about the virtual event platform, it is time to select the most suitable sponsorship package – it can either be a set package or one specifically tailored to your needs. Get in touch with the organisers to discuss the options.

4. Get ready for the event

Depending on the package you book and the opportunities the virtual conference platform offers, prepare all the necessary materials and content. For instance, if your goal is to generate more leads, prepare a sign-up form on your webpage and link your virtual booth to it. Keep in mind the deadlines so as not to miss any networking opportunities with the attendees.

5. Be creative

Understanding the format and the needs of the virtual audience is essential for your success. We now know that more interpersonal interaction and networking is something that many participants wish for at virtual events. You could address this need by offering quizzes or games at your booth with the chance to win prizes such as attractive merchandise products, discounts, or vouchers. Many of our participants are interested in career opportunities, so this is also a good way to engage them.

6. Highlight your sponsorship

Your participation at the virtual conference is not only a possibility to reach out to attendees but also the opportunity to create digital marketing content for your own audience. You can highlight your sponsorship and your support of the scientific community in your social media, newsletters, and website posts. Make sure to use the event hashtag in your post and don’t hesitate to ask us to provide you with the event visual.

7. Be curious, get involved

Take an active part in the conference, visit talks and posters to understand the participants’ research-associated needs and problems. This way you will be able to offer suitable solutions by your company.

8. Use networking opportunities

Your participation at networking activities can be the first step in engaging virtual participants. This is important to gain visibility and could encourage more visits to your booth. Make use of as many conference platform features as possible for better networking, e.g. fill out your profile, write about your interests and put in relevant keywords for better searchability. If you are interested in meeting specific people, request a virtual meeting with them via the platform. Once you’ve made a new acquaintance, do not forget to send them your virtual business card.

9. Request analytics

After the conference, do not hesitate to ask the organisers to provide you with some post-event analytics. For data privacy reasons, no personal details can be shared, but you can still get some anonymised statistics about the traffic at your booth or talk views. This will help you evaluate the success of your campaigns during the conference and will show if you need to make any tweaks for future events.

10. Give feedback to the organisers

For us, virtual conferences are a new domain so we rely heavily on the attendees’ and sponsors’ feedback to help us improve our services and their experience. We are eager to receive your feedback so please do not hesitate to pass this on to us. You can do this by either filling in the feedback surveys circulated at the end of the conference, or communicating it directly to our sponsorship and conference officers. We carefully look into the feedback provided by our sponsors and see which suggestions can be implemented in the future.

In times of restricted face-to-face interaction, it is important to stay in touch with the scientific community. Engaging relevant audiences in the scope of a virtual sponsorship is one way to keep their interest and stay abreast of any research developments. Do you feel ready to give it a go? Get in touch with us or check our sponsorship brochure to find out more about the sponsorship opportunities at our upcoming conferences.

 

EMBL is looking for scientists with artistic talent!

Are you a scientist who is interested in structural biology and bioinformatics and passionate about arts?

This is your chance to showcase your talent!

EMBL is looking for scientists with an artistic vein who can transform scientific theories into art.

What do you need to do?

Create an original piece of art representing scientific and/or societal concepts relating to a structure in the Protein Data Bank.

Need some inspiration? Look here: http://www.wwpdb.org/

If your artwork is selected, it will be hosted on www.artsteps.com, an innovative, web-based application targeted at the PDB research community.

“This art exhibition is part of the EMBL Conference: Bringing Molecular Structure to Life: 50 Years of the PDB run by our team, the Protein Data Bank in Europe. Through this project we aim to provide new interpretations of molecular structures through artwork. And this allows the introduction of complex scientific themes in a more accessible form to the general public,” explained David Armstrong, Scientific Database Curator from EMBL-EBI.

You can create your artwork using any technique or media.

And why should scientists submit their artwork?

“The exhibition will allow scientists to present their area of work or interest in a new context through the medium of art. This will also help them to think about how to communicate their work, particularly to people from a non-scientific background,” said David Armstrong.

Please bear in mind that we will need a high-resolution image of the artwork to be able to present it in the virtual exhibition.

Together with the artwork, the following data provided by you will be displayed:

  • Name of the submitter
  • Affiliation of the submitter
  • Research stage
  • Which protein the artwork is linked to
  • What technique/tools were used to create the final piece
  • Short description about the artwork.

The opening of the exhibition will take place on 13 October 2021, during the launch of the virtual conference platform for the EMBL Conference: Bringing Molecular Structure to Life: 50 Years of the PDB and will stay open for one year.

We are looking forward to getting to know the artist in you!

More information and submission details can be found on the conference website.

 

 

 

 

How to get your abstract selected for a short talk

by Nicola Vegiopoulos, EMBL Alumna, marketing expert and pianist

So, you’ve registered for a conference – be it virtual or onsite – and you reeeeeally want to present your work? It’s got everything going for it – it’s a hot topic and you have some great results to show. There’s just one little problem – you haven’t made a name for yourself in the field yet, so of course you haven’t been invited as a speaker. Never fear! There are some short talk speaking slots available. But how are you going to make sure that the abstract you submit is selected for a short talk?

Follow these steps to give yourself an edge over the others, and increase the chances of your abstract being selected to present your work.

  1. Get to the point – quickly

Generally you will have a word limit for your abstract. Don’t waste valuable words making your abstract flowery – enter straight into the subject, your problem or research question. Scientific organisers have to read a lot of abstracts, so make sure you put the most important information at the beginning.

  1. Make sure you answer 4 important questions

– What problem are you addressing and why is it important?
– What methods are you using to research the problem?
– What data have you been able to produce or process?
– What (preliminary) findings will you be able to discuss?

  1. Make it clear why your work is important

Be sure to clearly emphasise the approach and importance of your findings and theorisation. Make a concise statement that outlines the purpose, context, approach and significance of your work.

  1. Clarity, clarity, clarity!

Make sure you give strong conclusions and clear outcomes. Don’t leave anything open to misinterpretation, and make it clear if the work is finished, or at least nearly finished.

  1. Make it relevant to the research field

Outline how your research has made steps forward in the field, and what impact it will have.

  1. Make it relevant to the conference topic

Take a look at the conference programme and relate your work to areas of interest covered at the conference, as well as session titles. Have an idea of which session your short talk could fit into.

  1. Avoid dull titles

Make sure the title is catchy and informative – it will be the first thing that anyone reading your abstract will see, and will also be the topic of your short talk should you be successful in your goal.

  1. Find the balance

It’s not the easiest thing to do, but try to bring across enthusiasm for the topic across whilst remaining professional. This is one of the hardest things to do, so take your time with it and don’t try to do it at the last minute.

  1. Get feedback before submitting

Ask others to read and review your abstract before submitting, for example your colleagues or PI. They can provide you with valuable feedback which you should take on board!

  1. Follow the guidelines

It sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how many people contact us to ask if they can submit their work after the deadline. Late submissions won’t get considered for a short talk, and there is a chance that they will not be accepted at all. In addition, stick to the word limit, and make sure you include all authors and co-authors in the correct format.

So, to sum it up, aim for precision, linearity of thought, and succinctness, and you‘re in with a good chance of getting selected for a short talk at your next conference.

Original video by EMBL Photolab and EMBL Events, EMBL Heidelberg