Hello from Germany! In the last post, I described my expectations for greatness from this conference of Nobel Laureates and young researchers. After four days of inspiring lectures and stimulating conversations, I can say with certainty that this will be a defining week of my life. I will attempt a succinct summary of events leading up to and in Lindau, but forgive me if I lack brevity or eloquence, because my brain has been on “go” mode every hour of the last week. I will share more stories in another post, but here I will try to explain the structure and the basic schedule of this week. Considering we have about 2 hours/day that are non-conference related, I know that will take up more than enough page space!
I arrived in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, June 22, followed by a day of meeting up with old friends and trying to avoid the oven of Mid-Atlantic mugginess. (I am now more grateful than ever for our mild spring/summer in Portland!) Friday morning at 6:30 am began a day of orientation with about 60 other American students. We were given speeches by the sponsoring institutions and were told what to expect once we arrived. We didn’t have much time to process the information, as we boarded a bus to Washington Dulles and were in the air by 5 pm. After an overnight flight and a three hour bus ride from Munich to Lindau, we checked into the hotel and vowed to stay awake until dark in order to combat jet lag. Despite our slap-happy grogginess, we took full advantage of the opportunity to get to know the other students (a diverse group of biology, chemistry, and biomedical engineering students from programs all across the country). And of course, to drink our first pint of German beer.
Before I discuss the content of the meetings, allow me to set the stage regarding the location. The conference is on the island of Lindau in Lake Constance, or Bodensee, as the Germans say. The banks of Lake Constance are shared by Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, so as you stand on the banks of Lindau, you can see all three countries, including the stunning Swiss Alps. In fact, I joined a group of students on our first morning here to run to Austria (only about 3 miles) and back. To include Switzerland on the run, we would have had to run a marathon – we weren’t quite up for that. The island is small and quaint, lined with cobblestone streets and sidewalk cafes. You cannot walk 10 minutes in any direction without seeing water. I will include some pictures in a later post when I have better internet and computer access.
The format of the meetings is similar from day to day. The morning is filled with 5-7 talks by the Laureates, followed by parallel afternoon plenary sessions in which the students have about two hours with a Laureate of their choice (normally about 50 students per Laureate). This is an informal session in which students may ask follow-up questions about the lectures in the morning or, for advice for young scientists as we enter this career. We take full advantage of these sessions and questions range from “What do you think the biggest challenge facing science in the next ten years is?” to “Do you have any advice for a woman in science who also wants a family?” to the more detailed “In 2004, you published a paper that said ‘…’ Can you comment on that?” It’s pretty much a free-for-all and allows for a more intimate knowledge that cannot be gained from a 30 minute lecture. The days are filled out with breakfasts, lunches, and dinners hosted by various countries. These provide an informal atmosphere to interact directly with the Laureates and with students from around the world. I have met students from Germany, Armenia, Spain, China, Cuba, Italy, Egypt, Israel, just to name a few. We will all come away from this meeting feeling inspired by the Laureates, but perhaps more important are the connections we have fostered this week with our future colleagues.
Tomorrow (Friday), we will travel to the island of Mainau for a farewell celebration hosted by Countess Bettina and Count Bjorn, the children of Count Lennart Bernadotte, founder of the Lindau meetings. Even just reviewing what I just wrote in the last two paragraphs confirms that this entire experience is surreal. I will write more later after some reflection on the most impactful parts of the meeting, and I’ll be sure to add some pictures! Also, if you are interested in reading more, Nature has been reporting on the meeting daily, here.