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.
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.”
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.