The EMBL Events team has been working harder than ever during the coronavirus pandemic, figuring out new ways to bring our scientific programme online and trying out new technologies to make our virtual events a valuable experience for all.
Tim Nürnberger was the first event organiser to lead the EMBL transition into the digital world, organising the EMBO | EMBL Symposium: The Four-Dimensional Genome. Tim did an outstanding job (as always!) in a very short amount of time, gained a great deal of experience and is now helping the rest of team with the upcoming virtual events. So, in this Meet the EMBL Events Team edition, we are more than happy to introduce you to him.
At EMBL since: 2010 Number of organised conferences/courses: 73 (!)
First thing you do before a conference/course starts and first thing you do after it finishes:
Before: Take a deep breath, have a cup of coffee and expect the unexpected!
After: Just relax!
If you weren’t a conference officer, what would you be doing?
Travelling around the world.
What is the strangest/funniest thing that has ever happened in a course/conference?
A coach with a large group of registered conference participants drove up just outside the ATC main entrance, all of them taking pictures in front of and inside the ATC like being on a sightseeing trip, and left just a few minutes later without taking part or being interested in the conference at all.
If you were a superhero what power would you like to have?
Time travel would be kind of cool to witness some historic moments, or to travel to the future!
The EMBL Advanced Training Centre (ATC) turned 10 on 9 March! This astonishing building has been an ideal venue to train scientists, foster networking events and has been the starting place for many fruitful collaborations.
The ATC’s architecture is inspired by the DNA’s double helix, and as soon as you step inside, you’ll want to snap a few shots (#EMBLatc #justsaying 😉). Finding your way around the building can be a bit tricky! — to be honest after two years I still get lost sometimes. The easiest way to get to your destination is to walk up and down the helices, where the poster sessions of our events are usually held.
If you feel like relaxing with a coffee and a great view, the ATC Rooftop Lounge is the answer with the beautiful scenery of the Rhine Valley. You may even get lucky and enjoy an evening up there with jazz and drinks— the night lights make for an incredibly chill atmosphere.
We are happy to celebrate this 10th Anniversary with you and thought we’d share some cool facts from our events from 2010-2019.
52,003: The total number of attendees at EMBL courses and conferences
474: Number of EMBL courses and conferences
2,130: The number of Corporate Partnership Program Fellowships. These have been granted to delegates with 91 different nationalities and 82 countries attending 348 different conferences and courses
764: Additional fellowships provided through EMBO, Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds and various societies. These were given to delegates from 73 nationalities and 64 countries to attend 185 courses and conferences.
In case you are feeling curious, here are a few more facts about the ATC.
There’s a lot more to organising events than just the logistics. The marketing team makes sure that you find out about all of our events, you don’t miss any deadlines and that all the feedback you share with us is taken into consideration for improvement — oh yeah, and they also get to organise fun competitions!
Julie is the Marketing Team Lead. She’s great company, always has super helpful tips and a big, big smile on her face. She’s the team’s scientist and the statistics guru. Julie is always willing to lend an ear if you need it and she’ll be sure to cheer you up with some optimistic vibes.
At EMBL since: June 2014
Favourite place in Heidelberg:
“Halle 02 Im Freien” on summer evenings (Thurs – Sat). When the weather is nice, they have DJs and other live shows outside on a little sandy beach. It’s a super relaxing way to spend an evening.
First thing you do before a conference/course starts and first thing you do after a conference/course finishes:
Make sure the camera is charged before the meeting and make sure to save all the pictures afterwards!
If you weren’t a marketing statistics guru what would you be?
Something in science education — perhaps a teacher or even working in a science museum.
What is the strangest/funniest thing that has ever happened at a course/conference?
We had ordered new lanyards for the name badges so that they would not flip around as easily. The first time we used them was for a big conference with hundreds of people in the auditorium. During the first session someone tweeted that it sounded like Christmas time with all the jingling going on in the auditorium!
If you were a superhero what power would you like to have?
Some sort of healing power, or the ability to change body size depending on the situation — sometimes you just need to be a little taller (or shorter!)
Favourite recipe – Shakshuka (free style cooking)
Book – Harry Potter series (Prisoner from Azkaban if I had to choose)
You’ve just found the perfect training to help you in your research or career. You excitedly scroll through the programme looking at all the relevant topics and big names, and already envision the breakthroughs you are going to make after attending the training course or conference. You can even make the application deadline! Just one last thing – how much will it all cost? Can you or your lab even afford that? This is where we come to the rescue!
EMBL offers various types of financial assistance in cooperation with the EMBL Corporate Partnership Programme, EMBO and Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds. We support scientists wishing to attend our events by waiving their registration fee, reimbursing part of their travel and childcare costs or providing onsite childcare. In 2019, a total of 410 fellowships were granted to help train scientists from around the globe. So, prepare your conference abstract or course motivation letter well and your chances to be awarded a fellowship are pretty high.
For our virtual conferences and courses organised by EMBL Heidelberg, there is also the possibility to apply for a childcare grant provided by the EMBL Advanced Training Centre Corporate Partnership Programme, to offset childcare costs incurred by participants or speakers when participating at a virtual event. Eligible costs include fees for a babysitter or childcare facility or travel costs for a care giver. For more information visit the Financial Assistance website of the respective virtual conference or course.
For a more detailed overview of the types of fellowships EMBL offers, go to our website. And if it so happens that your application to receive a fellowship is unsuccessful, consider approaching your institute, as well as other organisations that can support your attendance. A list of some of these organisations is available here.
Here is what some of the past fellowship awardees have to say about their experience:
“It was an honour to receive a fellowship from such an important scientific organisation. By attending the Organoids symposium, we acquired a snapshot of the current advances in the field and also a flavour of what would be the future technologies. We realised that the next step in terms of methodology for our organoid work was the development of robust imaging and drug screening capabilities. Our Institute is located in Australia, which means the cost of attending conferences in Europe is very high. Receiving financial support to attend a scientific conference is critical, especially for early-mid career researchers with limited funding capabilities.”
“I study activity mediated translation in neurons with focus on the role of RNA binding proteins such as FMRP in regulating translation downstream of glutamate receptors such as mGluR and NMDAR.
While I was at The Complex Life of RNA symposium in 2018, held at EMBL, I was able to present my work as a poster to several researchers. One such researcher from Norway got interested in my work and offered to host me for a short term in his lab to enhance my current project. After several correspondences, I was able to design a project that could also potentially start a collaboration between my home lab in India and his lab in Norway. I applied for the EMBO-STF (Short Term Fellowship) and I was successful in securing this grant for my visit to Norway. So, I believe attending this conference was a great boost for my scientific career.”
“My research focus is on genetics of DNA repair and meiosis. As faculty of a teaching-focused liberal arts college (undergraduate only) I am reliant upon conferences to keep up-to-date with recent discoveries in my field, to develop new collaborations and to gain valuable feedback on my research. I consider these experiences pivotal to my success as a researcher, both for training our next generation of scientists (most of my students I work with go on to get PhDs) and for my ability to secure grant funding. By far the most stimulating conferences I’ve been to as a PI have been EMBL and EMBO-sponsored.”
“My research is focused on understanding the role of exosomes in the progression of glioblastoma. While working on this particular area, I found significant difficulties in getting a pure population of exosomes as it is often contaminated with other biomolecules. As a result, we were in delusion whether the data which we were getting was the effect of exosomes or other biomolecules.
Fortunately, I found this course focusing on the isolation and purification of extracellular vesicles, which was extremely important for my research work. We were trained to use cutting-edge research tools for extracellular vesicles and learned bioinformatic analysis of biomolecules that are present in exosomes. I also got an opportunity to interact with world-leading researchers and discuss my research. ”
“Financial support for scientists within my institute is vital in ensuring we are able to travel overseas to make new connections and learn more about the happenings within our respective fields. New Zealand is geographically isolated, so travel can be expensive which means all financial support is beneficial in helping us to travel beyond Australia and New Zealand and learn more.”
“The Liquid Biopsy course gave me plenty of new insights for different applications of the technique in cancer research. I learned new techniques, discussed my project with top peers and met a lot of highly motivated young professionals. I incorporated the learned applications in my research and this really improved my current project.”
“I study how changes in chromatin during ageing regulate transcription and cell survival in Drosophila photoreceptor neurons. I attended the ATAC-seq course, which helped me get a hold of a new genome-wide technique that we have not used in my lab before, and I got to apply it to my PhD thesis. Also, thanks to the course and meeting one of the course instructors, I will go back to EMBL in April to take part in the scientific visitor programme.”
Meet Matthias Spiller-Becker, Key Account Manager at Active Motif Europe. Matthias acquired his PhD degree in Biology at the Centre for Molecular Biology Heidelberg (ZMBH) where he focused on chromatin and the regulation of the centromere in Drosophila. Now in his 7th year at the company, Matthias is one of the most familiar faces at our conferences on transcription, chromatin and epigenetics – always friendly and welcoming. The popularity of the Active Motif booth at these events has not gone unnoticed, so we asked him what the secret to this success is and what tips he can give to conference attendees when approaching exhibitors.
How many events does your company exhibit at annually?
In general we participate in about 50+ conferences and meetings/workshops each year, globally. But it’s not only the big and medium-sized conferences that are important to us. We often try to be present at more intimate, local events. Sometimes we sponsor chromatin clubs where only a couple of students and postdocs come together to share their latest research. And we also do a lot of tech talks where we discuss cutting-edge techniques to study gene regulation.
In the era of digital advertising, why do you still choose to be physically present at conferences?
Talking to people face to face changes EVERYTHING!
I think that’s a statement of holistic truth in life! You don’t trust companies in the first place – you trust people. You don’t buy your antibodies or reagents from companies. You buy from people!
And even more: you don’t give away your scientific baby (aka outsourcing your project) to strangers – you give it to people you know and trust. Sure, it happens a lot that folks in the lab search an assay on the web and inform themselves about alternatives on the market before making their “informed” decision, but that is often not the end of the story. It turns out that students and postdocs mostly need to get in touch with us at some point during the experimental process to further discuss their project. And surprisingly often, this first interaction happens at conferences as in “hey, are you working for Active Motif…I think we used your antibody. Can I ask you something?…”. Moreover, being physically present at the conferences is the only way to stay current with cutting-edge research. We discuss with people at their posters and also join the conference sessions in order to see the latest and future trends in chromatin and gene regulation research.
Apart from presenting their newest technology and developments, what else can exhibitors offer participants?
Networking, distraction, fun, and a “Staun-Anlass” (hard to translate that word but probably a reason to positively wonder nails it). Basically, you want to be the red bean in a jar full of green beans. You want to be distinct and recognised among others, leaving a positive impression that lasts.
During my PhD, I always liked companies that didn’t come around too stiff at conferences, but were more “approachable”. As a student it takes courage to cross the invisible boarder at a company booth – you don’t want to end up in the web of the sales spider. You are afraid that the company representative might talk you into buying something you never really wanted.
I know this feeling personally – so I try to avoid that when talking to people. My daily goal (whether at a conference or elsewhere) is to be able to help people a bit further. Having a chat at the conference booth can do many things. For example, you may learn that the problem you are discussing with the exhibiting company is indeed a bigger one that’s not to be solved easily. That’s great information! You may also hear that your problem is actually easy to address and solve – even better! You may get info about peers in the same boat as you => networking!
And last but not least, you may simply want to use the chance of talking to people in industry to get an idea about their journey in life & science => career chat!
I try to offer all the above to the people that get in touch with me during a conference!
What tips can you give participants on how to approach exhibitors?
DON’T BE SHY! Just go and talk to them.
Of course, you need to choose your battles. Often it helps to orient yourself first. Do you already know the company? Is there an overlap between your research and them? If not, just read their banners and roll-ups. Sounds trivial but many people don’t do that. A company would hopefully try to have the most prominent and distinct features of their capabilities written or otherwise sketched out on their banners. If you don’t find any overlap there, I would not necessarily approach them.
But beware: company roll-ups can be like lab websites. Some truths are stated, and some are hidden, so even if your fancy new technique is not mentioned there, as long as the company topic seems to fit your science, go check them out.
If you just want a pen or some chocolate but otherwise, they don’t interest you – simply tell them upfront. You will still get your sweets but honestly, how many pens does a single person need?! 🙂
Can you give an example of a mutually beneficial collaboration that has arisen at your booththrough your presence at a conference as an exhibitor?
There are so many examples. It frequently happens that conference participants approach me and tell me that they have an issue with a given technique, mostly Chromatin IP. It turns out that talking them through the experiment step by step often yields at least one weak spot in the setup.
A classic is that people often use the same amount of antibody for ChIP, independent of the varying targets and the respective antibody clones they may use. This is (like many protocol-related “facts” in the life sciences) a dogmatic – or nearly a religious – topic. People can be determined to use “always 2 µg of antibody”. Then you ask them “but did it work when using 2 µg?” and they may need to admit that “no, it didn’t”.
This is a good example that talking with a person outside your own lab can help you to critically re-consider an established protocol, and see things from a new angle.
Another example is that some projects can truly benefit from outsourcing parts of it. Everybody does it in academia but they mostly call it a “collaboration”.
You can take it a step further and outsource parts of your work to a company that offers paid scientific services. This “commercial relationship” can truly boost creativity and assay development. A company that does ChIP-Seq as a paid research service for years will always see more model organisms, more common and uncommon obstacles and more antibody targets than any other lab working only on their own project.
What approach do you use to get into contact with participants?
“It’s just me, myself and I” LOL…
No, it’s not 100 % like that but mostly…you need to simply engage the people!
I try to see every interaction with a person as the most important one in my life at that specific moment. I tend to call that my “Dalai Lama approach”.
How else can you do it!? At Active Motif, we often use our chromatin-related T-shirts to break the invisible barrier between conference audience and the booth. People usually like nerdy science shirts and ours are no exception to that rule. I mostly play a game where people can win the shirts or at least have some distraction from the packed conference program. Often, I implement a little quiz session: people need to give me one or two lines about their research and I create a question around it. If they can answer it, they can play the game to win a shirt. This shows them that we belong to the chromatin community and they often feel more encouraged to talk about a given experiment or planned project.
Is there anything you always wanted to try out at a conference but didn’t do yet?
YES! In a perfect world, I would want to sit in a tweed jacket in my very British armchair, a boiling tea kettle next to me…people can sit down in my little chromatin tea room called “The Nucleosome” and have a relaxed chat around gene regulation and epigenetics with me, or do some networking with others.