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“More of everything” at the EMBO Meeting in Amsterdam

14 Oct 2013

Jerome Korzelius, a new F1000 Specialist, guest posts on his experience at EMBO 2013.

The EMBO Meeting 2013 was held in the vibrant city of Amsterdam. This annual event covered the breadth of the life sciences in Europe. With a more general focus, instead of concentrating on a single field, the meeting is ideal for gaining an overview of current research across the different disciplines. I was able to attend as part of my EMBO Long-Term Post-doc Fellowship and report for the F1000 Blog.

The meeting started on Saturday with several workshops and special interest symposia. I attended the Career Day, co-organized by Barbara Janssen of the DKFZ Career service, picking up many useful tips on CV writing and job interview skills; I even had an on the spot interview. A lunch was then organized for the participants of this session to allow people from different fields such as science publishing, science policy and industry, to come together and share their experiences. This was a very useful networking opportunity to start the conference.

The official kick-off was later that afternoon with the keynote lecture by Kai Simons. Looking back on his long career in science, he noted that the most important change was the increase in numbers: “More of everything”, more proteins, more papers and more researchers, studying proteins. His presentation on cell compartmentalization by lipid rafts was followed by talks from Tony Hyman and Tim Mitchison. They presented work on the cytoplasmic organization of germline P-granules and the gigantic spindle asters in Xenopus oocytes, movies of which drew oohs and ahhs from the crowd. The day ended with a great Indonesian dinner in the heart of Amsterdam with the rest of the EMBO Fellows. It would be another big day tomorrow…

Sunday was exciting; I presented my own work on drosophila intestinal stem cells in the exciting “Stem Cell Signaling” session in the large auditorium. This session, chaired by Cedric Blanpain, provided a broad overview of the many different model organisms (mice, plants, fruit flies and cells) in which stem cells and their remarkable capabilities can be investigated.

Also that afternoon, Bernd Pulverer (EMBO Journal Editor in Chief) gave his vision on improving the scientific publishing experience. Three ways in which EMBO Journal aims to make papers more rich and reliable are making reviewer reports publicly available, adding source data within online papers and more rigorously controlling how data is generated. The necessity for data control was demonstrated by showing a pain perception graph that was once received as part of a publication. The graph had an added sub-note “n=8 post-docs”. I shuddered quietly in my seat and rejoiced in not having worked in a neurobiology lab.

More of everything in science? – Unfortunately, we know this is not the case for everything. The number of undergraduate and graduate students has risen, explosively. The number of positions for tenured scientists, however, has not. Therefore, the chance of securing a stable position as a scientist in academic research is now lower than ever before. Stefano Bertuzzi, the Executive Director of the American Society for Cell Biology, addressed this issue in his talk ‘Replumbing the Academic Workforce Pipeline’. This session was very interactive, with PhD students, post-docs, science policy associates and senior investigators all chipping in to provide solutions for this problem. The discussion was not nearly finished, and the problem not nearly resolved, at the end of the 45-minute session. After a long day, it was time to explore the famed Amsterdam nightlife at the “PhD Meets Postdoc Party”.

Without a doubt, the next day was of the slow-starting kind, but the talks by Dutch scientists Hans Clevers and René Bernards brought enough excitement for the sleep-deprived. Their work on intestinal stem cells and synthetic genetic screening for targeting oncogene pathways in cells clearly showed that from small countries can come great science.

As at any meeting, there were more posters to see than viewing time allowed. However, the organization found a very elegant solution for this – flash talks. These were short, 3-minute talks given by selected poster presenters about their work, an ideal way to see a lot of science in little time. These exciting flash talks were a great opportunity for young researchers to learn to communicate their science in a pitch-like manner.

The last day was filled with yet more posters, lectures and flash talks, whilst trying to catch up with old colleagues from my grad-school days at Utrecht University before heading home.

All in all, the EMBO Meeting was a great place to catch up on current European life science research in the broadest possible sense. The closing address by EMBO director Maria Leptin announced that the next EMBO Meeting will be held in Paris. I guess it’s time to dig out my French beret; I hear Paris is lovely in autumn.

14 October 2013

Click here to view the full article which appeared in F1000 Research