Experiencing the 2018 Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Left: Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Michael Levitt Right: UChicago student Ana Beiriger

Alfred Nobel signed his last will and testament in 1895, leaving much of his fortune to support what we now know as the Nobel Prizes. These have arguably become the most prestigious prizes in the world, honoring the remarkable achievements of Nobel Laureates from around the world. Each year, a group of science Nobel Laureates convene at Lindau in Germany to meet the next generation of budding leading scientists. This June, the 68th Annual Lindau Nobel Laureates meeting, which focused on physiology and medicine, brought together 39 Nobel Laureates and about 600 exceptional science students from over 84 different nations for a six day conference. Two PhD students from the University of Chicago, Julio J. Miranda Alba, a first year graduate student, and Anastasia Beiriger, a fifth year graduate student, both in the Development, Regeneration and Stem Cell Biology program, were selected through a multi-step process to attend the meeting. The central theme of the Lindau meeting is summed up by three ideas: Educate. Inspire. Connect. These three words not only foster new ideas, they also lead to reflection. These concepts, unique to the Lindau Meetings, are what set the meeting apart from other scientific conferences. Both Julio and Ana found them to hold true.

“For me, this experience was a reminder that although academic science is tough, it’s absolutely worth all the hard work,” wrote Julio. “As biomedical researchers, we have a unique opportunity to make a significant contribution to humankind.” And while many people find themselves imagining themselves as a winner, Julio reminds us that, “in fact, most Laureates had never thought about winning the Nobel Prize until they actually did it. They were just focused on doing good science and making a contribution to society.” “Meeting other early-career scientists from across the globe was a definite highlight for me,” Ana expained. “I learned about how Western scientists can work to make science more inclusive and scientific knowledge more accessible,” an incredibly important idea in a world where information (fact or fiction) travels widely and rapidly. “Two main takeaways were that 1) international collaborations can move science forward at a faster pace globally, ensuring that innovative work does not get stranded due to a regional lack of resources and 2) open access publishing can help ensure that crucial scientific findings are accessible to researchers worldwide, including those at institutions that are unable to afford journal subscriptions.”

Both Julio and Ana were inspired by their experiences in Lindau. “I’d never felt that motivated in my life," Julio explained "And I think that was the main goal of the event: To motivate and give useful advice to the next generation of biomedical researchers.” The meeting fostered this in several different ways, which included, “lectures given by the Laureates, and discussions and open tables with them. Some people also had the opportunity to present their research in public and get feedback from 2 or 3 Laureates (these were called master classes.)” The students even had the opportunity to attend “private events to interact better with our favorite laureate (lunch or walks for 10 young scientists and 1 laureate). We also had some special workshops in which they talked about important (and some controversial) topics in science: Diversity in science, how to successfully get a post-doc position, the detrimental effect of the journals’ impact factor, open-access publishing, etc. it was a great experience!”

Ana noted, "I was attracted to the field of developmental biology in part because it is highly interdisciplinary, so naturally the Lindau meeting was an exciting prospect for me since it brought together scientists from across so many biomedically-relevant disciplines.” “Many of the Laureates’ lectures, and my one-on-one discussions with them, focused on the importance of scientists taking an active role in the communication of their findings outside the university. This was particularly meaningful for me, as I’ve been involved in science education outreach in Chicago for many years. I came away from the Lindau meeting with a wealth of new ideas on how to improve my own communications practices and become a more effective teacher when talking about science with non-scientists.” 

To solidify both the education and inspiration of the attendees, the Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting followed through on the promise to connect as well. Both Julio and Ana had the opportunity to speak with not just one, but multiple, Nobel prize winners. Julio talked with multiple prize winners, but found that his “favorite part was when I talked to Elizabeth Blackburn,” Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine 2009. “When I was in my freshmen year of college (in Peru), I had to present a paper from her lab for one of the courses I was taking, and that was the first time I heard of her,” remarked Julio. “Elizabeth motivated my first years in science and became a role model for me. She said it was also motivating for her to learn that her work and career were inspiring young scientists and I should keep working hard so maybe one day I could become a role a model for other people in the way she was for me. Inspiring, the best moment of the week for me,” Julio concluded.

“I had the chance to have one-on-one discussions with several laureates,” remembered Ana. These included Michael Levitt, Nobel Laureate in 2013 in Chemistry, Louis Ignarro, Nobel Laureate in 1998 for Physiology or Medicine, and Walter Gilbert, Nobel Laureate in 1980 in Chemistry. “We talked about research but also a host of other ideas, ranging from career trajectories to global politics to the role of science in society.”

Both Julio and Ana found the meetings to be particularly meaningful because they held true to their theme – Educate. Inspire. Connect. This multi-faceted approach brought about a once in a lifetime experience for these students to meet, talk to, and learn from Nobel Prize winners. 

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