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Published: 2023-10-11

Young Investigators Symposium achieves remarkable success

NEWS A vibrant symposium, organized by and for young investigators at Umeå University on 3 October, drew over 100 enthusiastic participants. The great interest highlights the strong need for meeting platforms focusing specifically on postdocs and PhDs at the university.

“We were all positively surprised by the enormous interest in the symposium! Our goal with the event was to provide a platform for postdocs and doctoral students of different disciplines and at varying stages of their career to showcase their excellent work and to network and discuss with their peers," says Laura Herzog, postdoc in the Department of Chemistry at Umeå University, active member in the Umeå Postdoc Society and project leader.

"I believe that specifically focusing on this group also contributed to the inclusive, warm and inspirational atmosphere during the event.” 

Idea from UCMR

The idea of a Young Investigator Symposium was originally pitched by Professor Yaowen Wu, director of UCMR, as a collaborative project between Umeå Postdoc Society and the UCMR Excellence by Choice Postdoctoral Programme in Life Science.

“We agreed that this would not only be a great type of event to bring together the postdoc community in Umeå but also a chance for postdocs to gain valuable project management skills by getting firsthand experience in organizing a large event. Of course, such a big task can be somewhat frightening initially, but we quickly found nine dedicated postdocs to bring this vision to life”, says Laura Herzog.

Umeå Postdoc Society has previously organized social events, such as hiking and board game nights, but also postdoc retreats, a postdoc day as well as dedicated postdoc sessions during the yearly conference KBC Days.

“However, this was the first time we organized a full-day scientific conference of this size. For me personally, it was an absolutely fantastic experience being involved in every aspect of planning and arranging a conference from beginning to end. It was hard work and I think we have all learned a lot in the process,” says Laura Herzog.

Alumni share experiences

As keynote speakers at the symposium, two Umeå University alumni brought their compelling stories to the forefront, shedding light on the multitude of pathways to research leadership. Karim Rafie has recently embarked on a new chapter in his academic career at Groningen University in the Netherlands, where he has taken the helm of his own research group studying the role of mitochondria during viral infection.

“It is a truly remarkable feeling to become an independent researcher, but it can also be quite demanding in the beginning. There is so much to consider and setting up a lab is quite a big undertaking. At the moment I am still alone in my group, but I am surrounded by amazing colleagues who are helping me along the way and the support I am receiving from my faculty and institute is outstanding, so I am certain that everything will be up and running soon.”

The invitation as a keynote speaker was a significant moment for Karim Rafie, providing an opportunity to reconnect with former colleagues and friends. And sharing his career journey with the audience was an experience filled with humbleness and introspection.

“It really reminds me of all the amazing colleagues, friends, opportunities, and research I encountered, but also all the struggles and difficulties PhD students and postdocs have to overcome. I always hope that by sharing the good and the bad moments of my career, younger fellows feel inspired as they are very likely facing similar scenarios. I hope everyone could take some insights from my experiences and that these can help them in their future career, no matter what they choose to do,” he says.

Competed for best presentation and best poster

One of the objectives of the symposium was to give all young researchers that signed up for the event an opportunity to present their work - representing a wide variety of subjects from forest ecology to infection biology and electrochemistry.

Although everyone had a chance to showcase their research project with posters during the mingle, time constraints required the planning group to choose some abstracts for oral 10-minute presentations or even shorter poster teasers.

“Incorporating poster teasers added another, fun possibility for some of the young researchers to highlight their work in a punchy and intriguing way. Alternating between sessions with longer oral presentations and sessions with poster teasers was also a way of keeping the audience focused and interested throughout the day,” says Laura Herzog.

The best oral presentation was won by Josephine Solowiej Wedderburn with the title ”How does the environment shape bacteria infections? Josephine is a multidisciplinary postdoc at the Department of mathematics and mathematical Statistics and Integrated science centre, Ice Lab, supervised by UCMR PIs Eric Libby, Peter Lind, Björn Schröder, and Ludvig Lizana.

The overall best poster was won by Luz María González-Castrillón, research assistant at the Department of integrative medical biology in Sara Wilson’s group. Her poster had the title ”Neurodevelopmental programs abnormally activated in cancers with a high incidence of perineural invasion”.

Biotech incubator sponsors

The prizes were sponsored by Umeå Biotech Incubator, UBI, in collaboration with the Innovation Office and Uminova Innovation. Not only applied research is important to bring innovations to market.

"Excellent basic research is essential for fostering future innovations. That is why we are interested to sponsor this initiative", says business coach Pia Keyser, UBI representative throughout the day.

Reflecting, Laura Herzog thinks the symposium went better than she had imagined being overwhelmed by fantastic feedback both from participants as well as senior researchers that passed by and were impressed by the vibrant atmosphere.

Will we be seeing another Young Investigators Symposium next year?

“I hope so! The great interest in the event and the fact that many participants stayed until the end combined with some new postdocs interested in becoming active member in the Postdoc Society and the positive feedback, we have received show us that this type of event is something young researchers are looking for. Umeå Postdoc Society would be more than happy to arrange a day like this on a regular basis.” 

The Young Investigators Symposium was sponsored by Umeå Centre for microbial Research, UCMR.

For more information, please contact:

Laura Herzog
Postdoctoral fellow