Getting ready to celebrate European science

The Academic & International Scientific Affairs (AISA) Office at IRB Barcelona is supporting the students in their endeavour.
The Academic & International Scientific Affairs (AISA) Office at IRB Barcelona is supporting the students in their endeavour.

The first ENABLE Scientific Symposium “Breaking Down Complexity: Innovative Models and Techniques in Biomedicine”, is gearing up to welcome more than 250 young researchers to Barcelona from 15 to 17 November. The Symposium is mainly organised by and for PhD students and Postdocs from four international institutes, including IRB Barcelona. Covering a wide range of topics, from synthetic biology to translational medicine, the event will involve eight high-profile invited speakers, 16 short talks and 100 posters presented by attendees, and will offer opportunities for career development and outreach initiatives.

The EU Horizon 2020’s ENABLE (European Academy for Biomedical Science) project is an ambitious collaborative effort aimed at providing training opportunities for the next generation of leading European scientists working in biomedicine, setting up a network of young researchers that is sustainable beyond 2020, and engaging in active dialogue with society. To achieve these objectives, the four partner institutes, namely IRB Barcelona, the Radboud Institute for Molecular Life Sciences (RIMLS) in Nijmegen, the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research (CPR) in Copenhagen, and the European School of Molecular Medicine (SEMM) in Milan, will host a symposium every year. The Madrid-based communication agency Scienseed also participates in the project.

The first ENABLE event will take place in Barcelona in November, and students from IRB Barcelona have high hopes. “I expect an exciting scientific festival, where hundreds of young researchers will gather to talk about science, not only with great international scientists but also with a non-scientific public,” says Gianmarco di Mauro, PhD student with IRB Barcelona’s Chromatin Structure and Function Lab and a member of this year’s Scientific Organising Committee.


Organising a Scientific Symposium

Xenia Villalobos, Academic Officer in the Academic & International Scientific Affairs (AISA) Office at IRB Barcelona, is supporting the students in their endeavour and shares her thoughts on the organization of ENABLE.


Xenia Villalobos. I joined the IRB Barcelona nearly a year ago. During my first weeks, Clara Caminal, the Head of the Academic & International Scientific Affairs (AISA) Office (and mastermind behind this project), got me up to speed to help in the organisation of this project.

During the organisation of this year’s symposium the students involved were worried, their heads full of questions: How are we going to get more than 300 people to come? Will we have time to do ALL this? Half the invited speakers are not answering, what are we going to do? But I also saw their determination, pragmatism, and excitement about the challenge of launching the first event. I can now say that after months of hard work, especially by the PhD students, we will be able to offer a symposium that is interesting not only for researchers, but also for companies related to the scientific sector (consultancy firms, editorial companies, or start-ups, among others), and for citizens drawn to science. 

So far, young researchers from 19 countries have signed up to come and we have been able to give 70 travel grants. In addition to the invited speakers, short talks and posters, the event includes a Career Day, which offers workshops, chats with professionals and an Opportunity Fair, so attendees have the chance to talk to representatives of different companies related to the scientific sector. Finally, our outreach events will actively seek public engagement through activities specifically tailored to children, adolescents and adults. Of course, things haven’t always been simple, as Gianmarco explains, “the most difficult part of the organisation has been the coordination. To set up so many activities and move forward together can sometimes be very difficult. We have to find the way to balance the many responsibilities for organizing a conference with our busy research schedules.”

One question that comes into my mind is why students would want to get involved in the organisation of such a complex event. After all, they have enough to worry about with their demanding PhD studies. Asked about this, Gianmarco told me that during the first year of his PhD at IRB Barcelona he had the opportunity to attend the 4th PhD Symposium organised by peers at the institute.  “Talking to the people on the organising committee, I realized what an incredible amount of work there was behind the event and how demanding and exciting it was to set it up. I knew ENABLE was going to be a great opportunity to get to work alongside PhD students from other institutes and to gain experience in the organisation of a scientific event at the European level,” he highlights.

From the Academic Office, we have witnessed an outstanding organisational capacity from all the students involved, which undoubtedly will be reflected in the quality of this year’s symposium and will help in the execution of the events that will follow in Copenhagen (2018), Nijmegen (2019), and Milan (2020). For me, that is one of the key challenges of the ENABLE project: to do everything we can to ensure continuity and pass the baton to the other partner institutes and a new group of students each year.

Now, as the date approaches, the initial hesitancy has been replaced by excitement and nervous chit-chat. But one thing is certain, the objective that led to the launch of the ENABLE project is sure to be met, namely celebrating European science.