Dr. Adele Gabba’s Diary of the 71st Lindau Laureate Meeting
Posted: 8 August, 2022
Dr. Adele Gabba (NUI, Galway and MIT) was recently chosen by the Irish Research Council as one of three Ireland-based researchers to attend the 71st Lindau Laureates Meeting on the topic of chemistry. Her diary of the experience gives a brilliant and informative introduction to the world of Lindau Laureate Meetings and provides helpful insights on networking and engagement at academic events.
Tell us about your academic research and how you were selected for the Lindau Nobel Meeting?
I’m currently a Marie Sklodowska Curie funded Postdoc between MIT and Galway University. My project focuses on the interaction of carbohydrates with receptor located on cells of the immune system. The overall aim of my project, LectiNet, is to reveal how cooperative engagement of multiple receptors with pathogenic carbohydrates influences antigen internalization, trafficking, and presentation. The findings of this project will have major impact in vaccine development.
I applied for the Lindau Meeting when I was still a PhD candidate. In 2019, the school of chemistry graduates students and postdocs received an email from the head of the department with a call for application. I immediately sent over my best polished CV and a motivation statement. After an internal selection, my application was directly sent to the IRC, then they decided to offer me this amazing opportunity!
What did it mean for you to be selected for Lindau?
I had been dreaming about this meeting for a really long time! I applied in the past and always failed to be selected. But you know, resilience and determination are what keep pushing you during the darkest times in research, and this is true also in conference rejections, so I applied again!
What is the island of Lindau like, where are you staying?
Lindau is a picturesque place on the lake, it really reminds me my home town, Luino. It is impossible to get lost wandering around. Life seems to move slower than in other places, perhaps is the “lake effect”? It is the perfect place to host a meeting like this: we were in a kind of time bubble, one week seemed a month and every single exchange, with Nobels and young scientist, was rich as if it had happened during a lifetime.
I was staying on the island, at the Hotel Garni Brugger, 2 minutes away from the main center, a great place to enjoy not only the meeting but also pre and post conference life!
What is your daily schedule like at Lindau, what kind of activities and meetings are offered?
There are four main kind of sessions:
- Lectures: 30 min talks given exclusively by Nobel Laurates. No questions after the lectures are allowed and this session is typically offered during the morning time. Lectures are always a surprise because the Laurates can choose a topic of their liking, Nobel prize related or not!
- Agora Talks: a moderator leads this session that is flexible and interactive. Depending on the moderator, it can be like an interview—a short presentation followed by questions from the students or a moderated group discussion on various topics chosen by the Laureates.
- Open Exchanges: student and Laureate only, one Laureate at a time! Open exchanges are run as parallel sessions, therefore, you need to pick which one to attend among several offered. Compared to the Agora Talks and Lectures there are less young scientist per Laurates, so the exchange is more dynamic and personal. The open exchanges I liked the most are the ones that had a discussion format, where young scientists not only asked questions to the Laureate but actively gave their opinion.
- Panel Discussions: several Laureate panelists and other scientists jointly discuss one topic for a while, then the floor is open for Q&A. My favorite panel discussion this year was “Scientific Collaboration in Challenging Times”, where Laureate Randy W. Schekman shared his experience in the collaborative project Aligning Science Across Parkinson’s (ASAP).
My daily schedule starts with a short run around the island and, weather permitting, a swim in the lake. Once or twice a week the meeting offers breakfast while a Panel Discussion is running but most of the time I had breakfast at my hotel, sharing the meal with other young scientists. After breakfast, I’m headed to the main building, Inselhalle, where typically the morning starts with Nobel Lectures followed by Agora talks. Lunch breaks are all together in the same building, where some really kind Laureates also join, renouncing their beautiful lunch in a fancy restaurant to eat canteen food and spend some extra time with us. The afternoon time is typically dedicated to open exchanges until 6.30 pm. The dinners were hosted by different sponsors and the majority of Laureates were present. We had a BBQ in a park, a British dinner and a Bavarian dinner—great times to socialize not only with the Laureates but also with young scientists. To conclude, how can I fail to mention the post conference Irish Pub followed by an improvised swim in the lake under the full moon?
Have you attended any notable meetings and can you give an account of them?
Just before the beginning of the meeting I was selected to take part at the Summer Festival of Science hosted by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Germany). There I met the minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger and I had the pleasure to share the table with Klaus-Christian Kleinfeld, CEO of Arconic, and Ben Feringa, Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2016 for the design and synthesis of molecular machines. I was sitting next to Prof. Feringa and we had a long exchange. I feel that somehow the science he does totally reflects his personality—he is a really dynamic person. He stressed how important it is for him having a friendly environment in his group, where every member feels valued and can thrive to do the best science they can. We spoke also about the difficulties young scientists face now when running for an academic position and about the academic environment in my home country, Italy. We share a love for chemistry and for ski! Despite the fact that he has never skied in Italy he promised me he will visit the Dolomites at some point.
Did you participate in any meetings and, if so, can you tell us how you participated?
I think the traditional way to participate in meetings is to ask questions and offer your perspective on a discussion. This is also what I do. I have to admit that asking questions with a big audience is scary for me, but I force myself to ask a question or speak up! Participating in a meeting is a skill, and if it does not come naturally for you, it can be trained.
I may share another way to participate in meetings, a way that best suits my personality. I personally enjoy one-to-one exchange, and for me, breaking the ice and introducing myself to strangers, Laureates and non-Laureates, is not as scary as asking questions. I benefit from these types of exchanges, and they come natural for me but I recognize that a one-to-one exchange does not benefit the community as an open question!
What I do to make up for this is to act as a vector for others. Let me explain—numerous times, I had chats with graduate students that really wanted to talk with a Laureate, but did not feel confident enough to approach them directly. What I would do was to offer my help in making the first connection. I would go with the graduates to chase the Laureate and introduce them to the Nobel, say a few words about them and what are their research interests, and in some cases, just openly say they were looking for a postdoc position and were interested in joining the Laureate’s lab. I would catalyze the first few minutes of the discussion and after the ice was broken, leave the floor to them!
Have you met any Nobel Laureates during your time at Lindau and, if so, what was the experience like?
I had meaningful exchanges with several Nobel Laureates. Among my favorite ones was the discussion about open science and collaboration with Randy W Schekman, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2013 for the discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells. I spoke several times during the discussion presenting the perspective that the current evaluation system in academia prizes individual work rather than collaboration and open data sharing. Our conversation kept going after the discussion panel. I was really inspired by his personal story. After his wife died from Parkinson’s, he started a collaborative project with the aim of doing basic science to better understand and cure Parkinson’s disease. The project is called ASAP, and the scientists in the network share openly all the data they have with others.
I also had a nice exchange about the education system across countries with Prof. Brian P. Schmidt, Nobel prize in physics 2011. This chat casually happened at the barbecue, during dinner time. It was fascinating discussing our views about how to improve public third level education and what we believe works well in the states we lived in and what we value less.
Have you met any fellow researchers, what was the experience like?
I cannot count how many amazing young scientists I met! If I have to be totally frank, meeting them was the best part of the meeting.
I encountered a lot of researchers that applied, as I did, for the 2020 meeting. They were postdocs back then, and now many of them just started their own group. They shared a lot of info about grant application, negotiation for positions, and supervising students. Academic careers change a lot with time and I found some of the tips I received form the Nobel Laureates not really applicable in recent years, whereas the suggestions from young scientists were really helpful, since they know the current academic system best and also have fresh memories of how it felt being a PhD candidate.
I was really pleased that the majority of young scientists have a common vision on how the academic environment should change: we want an environment where collaboration is prized, where there is more than your h-index and how many papers you publish and where your race, gender, religion and sexual orientation is an added value to your science, no matter what it is! I also met a lot of “glycofriends”, scientists that work in the glycan community and just last week I started an email exchange with one of them to start a collaboration.
Can you sum up your experience at Lindau and why do you think it is important?
The Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting is for real a unique opportunity to educate, inspire and connect. I feel that the most important reason to attend this meeting is to experience that, despite titles and recognition, there is always a human being behind the science. A human with all the strengths and weaknesses. A human that can inspire you to dare and ask hard question, and/or a human you may disagree with!
The next meeting, the 7th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences (also postponed from 2020) will take place on the 23-27th August 2022.