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Published: 2023-02-16 Updated: 2023-06-15, 08:10

A novel successful way of organising a scientific meeting

NEWS Two amazing days of life science in the unorthodox format of "unconference" gave a memorable experience to more than 50 researchers and a good shake-up to a representative sample of the Umeå life science community.

Text: Anna Shevtsova and Ingrid Söderbergh

"A well-known secret of every conference is that the most important scientific exchange happens after the formal sessions are over. Those lucky ones selected for oral presentation by the conference organising committee get the most exposure and benefit the most. With this meeting, we wanted to reduce the usual emphasis on formal talks and give exposure to as many participants as possible," says Yuri Schwartz, associate professor at the Department of Molecular Biology at Umeå University and one of the organisers.

On 7-8 February 2023, the "CU4 a Life Science Shake-Up" meeting took place in Sollefteå as the first event launched by the new, creative, and enthusiastic steering group of the Coalition Umeå for Life Science (CU4LS).

CU4LS was launched in 2021 as a platform to help highlight the strength, cutting-edge, and richness of Umeå life science research activities. It is currently represented by over twenty research centres/units and infrastructures that perform life science research at the university campus in Umeå.

The new steering board, as a first action, decided to invite the Umeå life science community to a "come together" event to discuss science, interact and create innovative and collaborative research constellations. To stimulate scientific exchange, the organisers decided to test a new concept suggested by one of the members, Yuri Schwartz, who, in turn, was inspired by his experience of a European LifeTime initiative meeting held in 2019 in Montpellier, France.

In this new format, all participants, from professors to first-year PhD students, were offered an opportunity to give a short talk about their scientific hopes and dreams: a problem they wish to solve, a conceptual idea that needs a boost to be implemented, or a paradoxical observation that they struggle to explain. The programme with several parallel sessions was self-organised at the start and during the meeting – the participants just posted post-It notes with titles on a whiteboard.

"It was easy and very efficient! We named this concept "unconference" – like Lewis Carroll's "unbirthday" – and, following this logic, referred to ourselves as a "disorganising committee," says Yuri Schwartz.

In addition to the spontaneous post-It programme, two keynote speakers gave inspiring lectures!

During the "unconference", the participants were exposed to many interactive and mingling opportunities, starting with "blind dates" during the three-hour bus drive from Umeå to Sollefteå. A break dedicated to winter sports activities helped keep the participants energised.

"It was a brilliant and very intense, in a good way, event!" commented Kate Bennett, research coordinator from the Department of Chemistry and one of the organisers.

With good experiences of the gathering in mind, plans are already in place for a new meeting for the Umeå life science community - next year at a new destination.

Teresa Frisan, Professor at the Department of Molecular Biology and one of the most energetic members of the disorganising committee, concluded:

"This was a very inspiring unconference, away from constraints of formalities, enriched by the freedom to share what are your scientific wishes, dreams, problems, in a relax self-organised mode, and great possibility to mingle with a broad cross-disciplinary expertise palette. All the participants built the unconference and contributed to its success! Please stay tuned for the next unevent ….. coming sooooooon!!!"

More information:

Coalition Umeå for Life Science (CU4LS)