The choice of Brussels as the venue for the Third TRAIN Workshop event was a surprise for many (we do not have a Brussels based Beneficiary) but it was taken up enthusiastically by the ESRs and PIs alike, who were keen to come together in the place where the means and inspiration for the TRAIN Programme were centered. It was also a highly practical choice because it coincided with the mid-term review meeting for the programme; where better to hold it than close to the center of operations of the REA. There was also the incentive of a generous offer from The White Rose Consortium, of which the University of Sheffield is a member, to use their offices on Rue de Luxembourg in the heart of the European Quarter. So it was that on 16th September 2018 the full team of TRAIN ESRs and PIs came together once again to catch up and take part in another intense and intriguing set of lectures and activities that would help to broaden their knowledge base and develop their complimentary skills, things that are an essential part of the Marie Sklodowska Curie ITN process.
Day 1. Monday 17th September
An early start for the PIs who kicked the day off with a quick Supervisory Board Meeting, discussing general progress, future training events and excitingly the arrangements for the final TRAIN Conference in 2020. They were joined mid morning by the ESRs ready to take part in the Session that was intriguingly titled “Career Paths”. The objective of this session was to illustrate the many choices that the ESRs might face as they embark on a career path after qualifying with a PhD. We were pleased to welcome two external speakers to deliver the content of this session; Dr Lynn Turner from Worldwide Cancer and Dr Alexis Barr from Imperial College London (formally from the Institute of Cancer Research). Both presented highly informative and interesting accounts of the important and in some cases difficult choices they had faced in their careers as scientists to date. This generated a lively Q&A session from the ESRs who disovered that a) an academic career is not at all as straightforward as many think, b) that a non-academic career can be highly relevant and rewarding and c) career choices are often unplanned and depend on circumstance or taking the opportunities available at the time. Much food for thought.
After lunch in the very welcoming Brussels sunshine it was time for the afternoon session that was billed as a Core Training module on Lipidomics and Drug Development, but in a surprise to all of us the invited speaker, Dr Johan Swinnen from the Laboratory of Lipid Metabolism and Cancer at KU Leuven gave a presentation that was not only highly informative about the field of lipidomics but truely inspirational as he recounted his highly personal experiences of cancer and his quite staggering journey to raise awareness of cancer research. It is well worth tracking down the video presentation that Johan showed, it was truely inspirational.
Day 2. Tuesday 18th September
The whole day was given over to the formal Mid-Term Review of the TRAIN programme. All ESRs and PIs were in attendance to present the progress of the projects and programme as a whole and hear feedback from the EC Project Officer and independent expert. After an introduction from Endre Kiss-Toth and Graham Hughes and then from Laurence Marrama-Rakotoarivony for the REA the ESRs were on stage to each present a 10 minute overview of their projects and experiences within the network to date. Even Sumeet, stranded in Sheffield by visa issues joined in via videolink. All presentations were convincing, coordinated and very well delivered and received very positive comments from the reviewers. The ESRs then spent 2 hrs in a private consultation with the reviewers during which they were able to talk about all aspects of their experience to date. Feedback from the reviewers after a very intensive day were on the whole very positive.
Day 3. Wednesday 19th September
Today was given over to the theme of Scientific Publications and to start with the ESRs were set a task that was designed to help them discover the right way and wrong way of conducting multi-disciplinary research and developing joint publications. Splitting into three teams, each was encouraged to pick a published paper of interest and critique it from the point of view of how well it deatlt with and represented the inputs from multi-disciplinary groups. This was a challenging but very informative exercise that reflected the reality of modern day publication strategies, something that the ESRs are at the point of considering themselves.
The second part of the day continued the theme with an entertaining workshop on the tricks and pitfalls of academic publishing from Maria Jose Jerez from the Publications Office of the European Commission and formally editorial director of the Nature Publishing Group Iberoamérica. This complemented the morning’s exercise perfectly and was appreciated by the PIs in the audience as much as the ESRs.
The final evening together was spent touring a few of the best bars and beer halls in Brussels, it had to be done!
Day 4. Thursday 20th September
After three very intense days, the final day of the workshop was designed to be more relaxed, with the morning given over to the ESRs preparing and practicing their presentations for the conclusion of the publications exercise as well as presenting the work they had achieved to date on a video project set three months proviously – as a precursor to an official TRAIN outreach video to be completed before the end of the programme. At the finish of the formal work it was time for goodbyes to those who were leaving and a short walk down Rue de Luxembourg for the 20 remaining TRAINees to the European Parliament where we were given an entertaining talk about the history, workings and importance of the European Union, a perfect way to round off a week in Brussels.
Our thanks go to our Project Officer at the REA, Laurence Marrama-Rakotoarivony and our independent reviewer Dr Tobias Bauer for their very helpful input and feedback both during the meeting and afterwards. Also, we must thank Dr Phil Holliday and his team at the White Rose Consortium Brussels Office for letting us take over their office space for four days. It worked perfectly for the whole group and ensured a very smooth running workshop.
Tribbles gang & The Mid-Term Review: Brussels 2018
Brussels Workshop was definitely a success. And before saying anything, I want to thank Graham, Endre and Carol who have worked night and day to make it possible.
Then…..Where do I start?
All the time in Brussels I kept thinking of our first workshop. And I realised how much we have learnt, how much we have grown so far, both professionally and personally. We are not the same “shy” ESRs we were back in Sheffield in March 2017.
The main aspect of this 3rd Workshop was the Mid-Term Review. We had to present our project progress to EU reviewers, sharing our experiences within the network to date and discuss issues, if any. I was honestly a little bit nervous about it, like everyone I guess. But this time, I must say it….we were totally engaged!
We all did a very good job. I was surprised how “professionally” we dealt with time and questions. Feedback from both PIs and reviewers was really positive. We couldn’t be prouder.
Brussels also gave us the unique opportunity to meet Dr Johan Swinnen from the Laboratory of Lipid Metabolism and Cancer at KU Leuven. He gave a fantastic presentation about lipidomics but above all, he reached our hearts, sharing his personal experience with cancer. It was a really intense, emotional moment that none of us will ever forget.
The Mid Term Review and the third of the bi-annual meeting took place in Brussels, where the whole consortium as well the EC Project officer and EU representatives met. We presented our progress summaries and in-turn, received constructive feedback from both fellow ESRs, supervisors and the external representatives, motivating us to strive further.
The meeting was an enriching experience. We had talks helping us advance in knowledge and build understanding on a wide array of topics, ranging from the choice of career path- academic or non-academic to academic publishing to a real-life father/researcher of a cancer survivor giving us his true and inspiring story.
Overall the meeting was a grand success. Beautiful weather with the last of the autumn sun, the sessions very informative and special each in its own way. To top it off special mention to the wonderful waffles, flavorful frites and the bubbly beer: a wholesome Belgian experience! Not to forget that it’s always a pleasure meeting with the other members of the network! Already looking forward to the next one!