21st century digital boy: The Kiel Young Investigators’ Meeting

The children of the genomic revolution. There aren’t many possibilities for young researchers in epilepsy research to get together independently. Accordingly, we were in the fortunate position to host the first meeting for young researchers in pediatric epileptology in Kiel last week. I was asked by some participants to write a post on this. There were, however, two very specific instructions. First, I was asked to write about “Generations X and Y” and the resulting conflicts in science. Secondly, I was told not to write an ordinary meeting report, but something different…

The stage. Kiel is a medium-sized town at the Baltic Sea, the capital of Germany’s northernmost state and the place where we hosted the first Young Researcher meeting in pediatric epileptology with 48 participants from all over Europe. The idea of this meeting came up following a call from the Hamburg Academy of the Sciences. We are grateful for their support and for the support from the Wolf Foundation and UCB/Desitin. Also, we would like to thank Olivier Dulac and Kristien Hens as our keynote guest speakers and Ulrich Stephani, who –as the director of the Department of Neuropediatrics- provided us with useful advice and comments before and during the meeting. He also guaranteed that this meeting could happen the way it did as the financing was not clear in the beginning. The idea of this meeting was unusual to start with. We asked the question: what happens when you bring young people in the field together for two days?

The event. The overarching theme of this meeting was childhood epilepsies. It was interesting to see that virtually all aspects of the field can be more than sufficiently covered and represented by Young Researchers. This fact is important, as several discussions evolved around the question how the field might look like in ten or twenty years. The bottom line is that the future is probably safe. There is already a large number of Young Researchers to carry this field forward. Sticking to my promise not to write a conventional meeting report, I do not want to list all talks and presentations, even though all contributions and talks were very valuable. I just want to point out a few things that I considered my personal highlights.

Young Researchers in Pediatric Epileptology. The first meeting for young researchers took place in Kiel on August 23rd-25th, 2012. The HDW shipyard is one of the Kiel icons.

The genetics session. We covered a broad range of issues with several aspects of original research that were new to me including Corinna Hartmann’s preliminary results on gene panel studies in fever-related epilepsies, Roland Krause’s take on “linkage-free linkage” using full genome data and inheritance state analysis and an interesting twist in the PRRT2 story by Angela Kropp. A genetics session at a national or international meeting could not have been much better.

The neurophysiology session. My personal highlight in this session was Martin Puskarjov’s study on calcium-activated cleavage of KCC2 through calpain. I simply wasn’t aware that mechanisms like this even exist. Also, Phillipe Coulon’s talk on the electrophysiology of absence seizures and the role of various calcium channels and gap junctions was great. Many of the presentations in the sessions were eye openers to me who hasn’t really followed this field closely in the last few years.

The functional imaging session. I particularly liked Yuaing Wang’s presentation on modeling of absence seizures. Modelling studies can be extremely helpful to predict changes on a system level. And the Central Nervous System and the way it oscillates is often beyond easy description and requires these approaches.

The bench to bedside session. Knut Kirmse’s talk on the effect of GABA in the neonatal brain was noteworthy. I had naively thought that this story was clear and textbook knowledge, but there are many different sidelines to this issue that Knut pointed out.

All the presentations I didn’t mention. Putting together a meeting report in a blog format is virtually impossible without omitting many interesting talks. This is something that makes me feel very uncomfortable and I would apologize to the all the participants that I couldn’t mention in my brief summary, which is of course biased on the genetics side. Everybody did a great job and I believe that we all took something away from this meeting. We are considering a similar meeting next year and it would be great if we got your input on this (click here)

X vs. Y, finally. I promised Szesana Maljevic to write about generational issues in science. Generation X versus Generation Y was partly the topic of my presentation, and this stirred up an interesting discussion. Classifying people as belonging to a certain generation is of course a gross simplification. However, on a larger scale there might be broader trends that can already be noticed. In brief, young people in science belong mainly to two generations. Scientists born before 1980 are considered Generation X with a strong focus on individualism, scientists born after 1980 are Generation Y or the “Millenials”. The generation of the “bosses” and “outgoing bosses” belongs to the so-called Baby Boomers. Generation Y is characterized by a stronger focus on social networks, family and friends and lacks some of the open competitiveness of Generation X. This is sometimes perceived as a lack of enthusiasm or motivation by Generation X (“they simply don’t stay in the lab until 11PM anymore”). While Generation Y scientists are sometimes brandmarked as less motivated, driven or focused, I tried to emphasize that we are simply looking at two sides of the same coin: the underlying motivation is the same, the generations only differ in the way they show it. The complexity of these issues can hardly be fully addressed in this post. However, there are some good write-ups on the work ethics of the different generations.

Is this really all you have to offer? Our discussion on X vs. Y ended with a debate on “intrinsic” motivation. While some participants suggested that intrinsic motivation is a resource that cannot be enhanced or manipulated, other participants agreed that enabling scientist through autonomy, connectedness and competence might generate some of the motivation important for research. Finally, to explain the cryptic title of this post, the difference between Generation X and Y is adequately summarized by Bad Religion in their song “21st century digital boy“:

And then you told me how much you had to suffer. 

Is this really all you have to offer?

Ingo Helbig

Child Neurology Fellow and epilepsy genetics researcher at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), USA and Department of Neuropediatrics, Kiel, Germany

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