What is the Societal Impact of Infectious Disease?

There is no question that COVID-19 will have a profound and lasting impact on the world as we know it. For most of us, the pandemic is as unprecedented as it is distressing. I have a strong visceral image when I think of the current state of affairs – it is as if an unwelcome, shadowy presence has resolutely taken a seat at the head of the table, and is refusing to leave.

We are clearly not the first generation to witness the societal fallout of a devastating infectious disease, nor will we be the last. It feels to me that this pandemic has affected every area of our lives, but I often wonder how accurate this interpretation is. How can one measure the social, economic and political consequences of this virus? Is there really a ‘before’ and ‘after’ COVID-19, or are we simply repeating history? And how does the impact of the current pandemic compare with other infectious diseases – throughout time, or across different geographies or groups of people?

New seminar series

These questions both complement and contextualise the many scientific discussions which have taken place at EMBL since this pandemic emerged, and they provide insight into the ethical, legal, and social implications of scientific research into infectious diseases.

In light of this, the Science & Society Programme is launching a special seminar series, “Infectious Disease and Society” to explore these issues through the lens of the life sciences. The series will consider the scientific and societal impact of infectious diseases, examining not only the COVID-19 pandemic from a number of angles, but also other infectious diseases such as salmonella and malaria. The first six of these talks are outlined below, and the page will be frequently updated with new seminars over the coming months.

Infectious Disease & Society: Seminars 

As the Science & Society Programme has explored the issue of infectious disease many times over the years, we are staggering the re-release of a select number of related talks from our archive. We will also complement these previous talks with a series of new virtual lectures, reflecting on the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Selected talks from the archive:

The links below will transfer you to our Mediasite catalogue, where you are able to revisit these talks in your own time.

1) “Why have we not been able to eradicate Malaria’ – Prof. Dr. Friedrich Frischknecht, Department of Parasitology, Hygiene Institute, Heidelberg University School of Medicine [recorded May 2014]

2) “The open source outbreak: how can data prevent the next pandemic?”-  Jennifer Gardy, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Deputy Director of Surveillance, Data and Epidemiology (formerly of BC Centre for Disease Control, and the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health, where she held the Canada Research Chair in Public Health Genomics) [recorded November 2018]

3) “1918 to 2018: a hundred years of influenza pandemics”- Prof. Kanta Subbarao, Director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza, Doherty Institute [recorded November 2018]

New infectious disease & society talks:

These new virtual lectures require registration, and are limited to 500 live participants. After the event has taken place, the talks will be added to our Mediasite catalogue, and can be accessed at any time.

1) “International frameworks for infectious disease control: past, present, and future” – Claire Standley, Assistant Research Professor, Center for Global Health Science & Security, Georgetown University Medical Center, Georgetown University [21st August at 14:00 CEST], REGISTER HERE

2) “Salmonella & Society” – Olivia Steele-Mortimer, Deputy Chief of Laboratory of Bacteriology, Chief of Salmonella-Host Cell Interactions Section, NIH Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases [8th September at 16:00 CEST], REGISTER HERE

3) “Livestock, the Global Environment, and COVID-19: a reflection on Livestock Systems before and after the Pandemic” – Alessandra Falcucci, Lead Geographic Information Systems Analyst, Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model (GLEAM), Food & Agricultural Organisation of the UN [11th December at 11:00 CEST], REGISTER HERE

We want to hear from you!

Future Infectious Disease & Society talks will cover a variety of topics – from economics to the environment and beyond. If you have any ideas for future talks as part of this special seminar series, or have any wider feedback about the Science & Society Programme, please email me at lucia.von.bredow@embl.de.

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How speed networking could work at your next virtual conference

With events going digital, professional training has become increasingly convenient and accessible. While getting the latest scientific research developments from the comfort of your home has never been so easy, sitting alone in front of a screen significantly diminishes the chances of meeting new people and collaborators – a benefit of on-site meetings that is considered one of their most important assets.

Most meeting organisers realise that and offer various networking opportunities and socialising incentives as part of the programme. One of the methods we have implemented to facilitate social interaction at our onsite as well as virtual conferences is the so-called speed networking – a networking session where people swap conversational partners every 5 minutes with the aim to meet as many people as possible and exchange information about their research or the project they are currently working on. The session is normally scheduled  for the first day of the conference so that participants can later go back to the people they have met during the speed networking session and continue the discussion.

What should you talk about during the speed networking?

5 minutes doesn’t seem like a long time, so it is important that you focus on the essentials. Start by introducing yourself then go into more detail. Are you looking for collaborators? Or maybe a new job or a postdoc position?

How can you do that in just 5 minutes?

  • Prepare a 20 second blurb about yourself
  • Keep aware of the time factor – there should be a countdown on your screen
  • Stick to the vitals
  • Make sure to take notes next to their name so that you can later go back to them for reference
  • Most importantly, have fun and relax! 🙂

What if you don’t finish your conversation within the allocated time slot?

  • Before the time is up, make sure you suggest the next step
  • Message them directly on the available discussion platform with a suggestion for a follow-up meeting
  • After the meeting, be sure to e-mail them with a suggestion for further exchange.

Why not check out our list of upcoming virtual events to see where you can try out your speed networking skills!


For tips on how to do speed networking at onsite events, check out this video.

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A sneak peek into the upcoming training programme

It’s safe to say that 2020 has been – and continues to be – a strange year! We have all been forced to adapt the way we live and think, and at EMBL it is no different.

Download our 2020 / 2021 poster!

Traditionally we would now be presenting a sneak peek of our 2021 training programme. However, since we have had to make a range of changes to adapt our programme to the current circumstances, we are doing things a bit differently this year! Our new poster includes the updated 2020 events (virtual of course!), as well as the planned training courses and conferences for the first half of 2021.

We hope to welcome people onsite in 2021, but have back-up plans in place should this not be possible! Our EMBO | EMBL Symposia series continues, and we continue to offer a range of EMBL Conferences, EMBO Workshops, and Courses – both established and new.  Ever wondered what all these different event types are? Here’s an explanation!

Our online training offerings are more popular than ever, so you also have the option to learn at your own pace with our train online and webinars to make sure you stay up-to-date with the latest scientific techniques!

The complete 2021 EMBL Course and Conference Programme will be published in November – if all goes to plan!

If you’d like to keep up-to-date with the latest news from the EMBL Course and Conference Office, please sign up to our mailing list. You can also follow us on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn or Facebook.

Download our 2020 / 2021 poster here!
To see the full list of upcoming events, please visit our events website.

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Meet the EMBL Events Team: Rebecca

This week we meet Rebecca Nicholl, Events and Marketing Officer at EMBL-EBI. Rebecca is responsible for the marketing of the EMBL-EBI Training programme as well as running some of the on-site (and now virtual!) training courses. She also attends exhibitions to represent EMBL-EBI Training.

Rebecca on Rebecca Street in Hamilton, Canada
Rebecca on Rebecca Street in Hamilton, Canada

At EMBL since: April 2019
Number of organised conferences/courses: 11-ish! Some of these I had started but sadly had to cancel as they were due to run during the early stages of lockdown.

Favourite place in Hinxton: It’s got to be the Red Lion pub just outside the campus gates. Especially the beer garden in May/June when the wisteria is in full blossom. We usually have one dinner at each course here, and the delegates love the history of the traditional 16th-century British pub.

This picture shows an english pub garden with wisteria plants in full purple bloom
The wisteria in bloom PHOTO: Red Lion, Hinxton

Since lockdown began. EMBL has had to change the way we offer events. What are the challenges/differences of organising a virtual conference?
For me, it’s the constant video calls that are involved in preparation, tests and meetings involved in virtualising a course. I never really paid much attention to the way my face looks or my mannerisms in face-to-face meetings, but now I am going over the top to show I am enthusiastic and engaged in the content, which felt very unnatural at first.

How have you adapted your role during lockdown?
I am lucky to have a split role, and so during this time, I have focussed more on my marketing skills rather than my events role (especially when my first few events got cancelled during the early part of lockdown in the UK). I ended up joining a cross-EMBL comms channel to help support each site during the #EMBLatHome social campaign, and met some colleagues (virtually of course) I hadn’t previously worked with.

Rebecca celebrates World Chocolate Day during her virtual course
Rebecca celebrates World Chocolate Day during her virtual course

And the other challenge of working from home I am sure we have all found, is the endless eating, snacking and grazing!

I couldn’t help tucking into this chocolate box selection to celebrate #WorldChocolateDay during our Cancer genomics course tea breaks! (Don’t tell my husband, these were part of his birthday present!)

 

 

Back in the time before virtual courses were the norm, what was the first thing you did before a course started and the first thing you did after it finished? 
First thing I did is fill up my water bottle and put on my Fitbit – with such long hours it’s important to stay healthy. No longer can I survive on coffee and carbs alone! Although since lockdown, those have been my diet staples… Last thing – catch up on the all-important sleep I missed out on.

If you weren’t an event and marketing officer what would you be?
At school I wanted to train to become a town council planner; I guess I always wanted to organise something!

What is the strangest/funniest thing that has ever happened in a course?
I did have a phone call from someone asking for a refund for an upcoming course her mum had signed her up for without her knowing as a surprise birthday present. The girl was still studying for her A-levels rather than the masters’ students audience we are advertising at.

If you were a superhero what power would you like to have?
The ability to be in two places at once; so I can be in the room making sure my speakers are keeping to time, as well as being at the event desk or checking catering, coaches and so on.

Favourite TV show?
The Great British Bake Off, and I do try to bake along with the show. But in the 2019 series, I bowed out at the quarter-finals, who wants a savoury Tarte Tatin anyway!

Upcoming virtual events in 2020 Rebecca is organising:
Cancer genomics
6-10 July

Mathematics of life: Modelling molecular mechanisms
28 Sep – 02 Oct 2020
Applications now open

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