Last updated June 19, 2017 at 3:49 pm
We asked a bunch of young scientists who received the Lindau Nobel Laureate Fellowship to be our field reporters at the annual Science at the Shine Dome conference. In this report, Vini, a materials scientist, neuroscientist and engineer from Canberra, writes about the conference.
It was an exciting time during the last three days at the Shine Dome – three days full of inspiration, networking, workshops and food! Science at the Shine Dome, the annual event of the Australian Academy of Science, is one of the biggest gathering of academics in Australia. It’s where fellows of the Academy – old, new, and the future (early career researchers) – gather to celebrate achievements and discuss new frontiers in the Australian science research. All of this under one heritage building, sitting in a beautiful backdrop of trees and birds on bright, sunny winter days. What’s a better way to celebrate science?
The first day of the event started with a special award talk followed by short presentations by the newly elected fellows. The topics of the presentations ranged from atoms and molecules, genetics of diseases, galaxies and universe, sex and embryos to kidney regeneration, quantum entanglement, and cancer treatment. Translation of ideas across fields was quite noticeable in many of these presentations. Many of these fellows iterated the importance of mentors throughout their career, and also how working with a diverse group of smart and motivated people helped their teams to achieve success.
While many of these talks were pitched to a general audience, some presented deep technical details, and a few had just their personal stories to share. Some speakers reflected on how their career pathways were unexpected but being open to opportunities helped them. It was also interesting for me to hear the talks and simultaneously reflect on strategies for a good presentation.
Some of what I learnt are: Have story with a maximum of two take-home messages, avoid abbreviations and complex terminology, use big fonts readable to someone sitting miles away in the hall from you, show what you are excited about, and use pictorials – they depict a thousand words!
After the official program, I attended a briefing session about my upcoming trip to Lindau, sponsored by the Australian Academy of Science and the Science and Industry Endowment fund (SIEF) – we were given an overview of the meeting by senior academics who have led the Australian delegations in past years and other representatives from the academy, SIEF, and German embassy. We were also given tips on our travel to Lindau and about the meeting: be proactive, travel light, and do not run after the Laureates for autographs! I could already envision the atmosphere of the meeting and just the imagination of myself being in it felt so exciting. I can’t wait to be in Lindau in another 4 weeks!
The evening BBQ was hosted especially for the early-mid career researchers (EMCRs). Now this is my favourite part of this event – it is here that you can pretty much chat with any senior fellow of the academy over food and a glass of wine! The amazing part is whomever you talk to, they are interested in knowing about your research, happy to give their inputs and most importantly willing to be in touch and put you in touch with people who could help you. This session is the best time to find a mentor if you need one. Personally, I met a senior fellow who is going to help me in my next grant application, a fellow who put me in touch with my ‘possible future employer’, and a fellow who gave me tips on how to balance work with my life – what else can you ask for within 3 hours?
The next day’s talks became a bit more technical – they were delivered by high achieving senior and early to mid-career researchers (EMCR) who received prestigious awards by the academy. You can imagine how difficult it must be to summarise years’ of research work in 10 minutes! For me, the highlight of this day was the EMCR workshop: there were four workshops on developing skills in pitching research to media, storytelling, industry engagement, and grant writing. I participated in the workshop on industry engagement. I was impressed by the academics who conducted this: they are in fact the best people who could conduct it because they have been academics engaged with industry for years and they shared their personal experiences of how this connection has benefited their research career. The emphasis on industry engagement will continue to increase in the coming years and is something that is being pushed at all levels – policies and research grants. Most of the ECRs attending this workshop didn’t have much engagement with industry, but after an interactive discussion, all of us took something from it. I personally took the message that networking is the first step to put your foot into this engagement.
The annual dinner this year happened at one of the most beautiful venues – the National Arboretum. It is here I saw members of parliament, special guests, policy makers, academy fellows and their families all together. I met my own supervisors, mentors, and made some new friends on the table. Amongst this amazing ambience (and amazing food), I cursed, momentarily, the cold chilly winds in Canberra, which had almost convinced me to skip attending the dinner tonight!
From left: Prof. Chennupati Jagadish, Mrs. Connie Bachor, Prof. Jim Williams, me, Dr. Vidya Jagadish. Credit: Melanie Bagg
Day 3’s symposium this year was titled ‘life on the loose: species invasion and control’. I always knew about Australia’s strict biosecurity laws, but today I learnt about the immense efforts of scientists and researchers that go behind this goal. The experts in this symposium spoke about a range of invasive species of plants and animals, how they affect the native ecosystem and what measures have been successful (and unsuccessful) to prevent this alien invasion from adversely affecting the native species. The symposium closed with an open ended discussion on key issues that Australia might face in the next hundred years when our population will increase to more than 85 million and our average temperature will increase by at least 5°C. Conserving and protecting our environment is something close to my heart, and I not only enjoyed the symposium but appreciated the research efforts in this country towards this. Two of my favourite moments from the symposium are below.
This was the best slide title in all of Prof. Emma Johnston’s talk: it summarises the need to protect our earth. After all, Mars may not turn out to be what we imagine!
— Vini Gautam (@GautamVini) May 25, 2017