Chutzpah, Zen and Fahrvernügen – the 2013 Sde Boker workshop

Desert Dessert. Cold temperatures, streets closed because of snow – this is not what you expect when traveling to Israel. You also do not expect to have the chance to taste traditional Bedouin food and to see a beautiful canyon every morning. The biggest surprise is that you do not expect this during a workshop. From Dec 12-15th, the European epilepsy genetic community gathered in Be’er Sheva and Sde Boker, Israel for a combined epilepsy genetics workshop and a Young Researcher Meeting. This is a brief attempt to capture the atmosphere of this workshop for everybody who could not attend. By the way, “desert dessert” is a port wine produced in the Negev desert.

Some impression from the 2013 Sde Boker workshop.

Some impression from the 2013 Sde Boker workshop.

One thing we forgot was a group photo. I didn’t hear my alarm yesterday morning and slept through until 9AM. I am still pretty sleep deprived from one of the most intense scientific meetings I have ever experienced. In Sde Boker, we covered everything related to epilepsy genetics, epigenetics and related fields of autism research and neuroimaging. One core event was the Young Investigator workshop on Saturday, which consisted of back-to-back five-minute presentations in combination with poster sessions and a panel discussion. Discussions lasted until late at night and Sde Boker with its combined kibbutz/youth hostel flair provided the ideal backdrop for this. On the flight back, we realized all the things we didn’t do including a proper group photo. However, I have uploaded some of the photos as an album on the EuroEPINOMICS Facebook page. Rather than providing a chronological report, here are three personal impressions from the Channelopathist authors.

Dennis (epilepsy genomics geek). “As an early stage researcher I was really proud to have the opportunity to have a talk in an international meeting and to get feedback from experienced scientist in the field. From my perspective in genetics, it was great to get to know the related disciplines in epilepsy research. This is something that I don’t usually listen to. For me, the workshop was the third epilepsy meeting this year. I am at the point in my career that I know most people working in the field, however I also feel that I am increasingly recognized. During this meeting, the non-scientific events were perfect opportunities to get to know senior scientist and to profit from their knowledge. I also met younger scientists who had just started their MD or PhD and I was happy to pass some of my experience on. From my point of view, being isolated in the desert with limited access to the internet was the key feature of the meeting, which facilitated discussions until late at night.”

Katja (epigenetics enthusiast). “As I am mainly working on epigenetics in symptomatic epilepsies, it was encouraging to see that epigenetics was part of the program. The link between genetics and epigenetics was just one example of interaction between different fields that is difficult to establish. Geneticists, epigeneticists, clinicians and basic scientists for different generations were engaged in lively and sometimes controversial discussions. One question was what a career in science should look like. Is it something you plan or is it something that happens to you? Is it obligatory to do three different postdocs in three different labs or is this view obsolete? How can we promote young women in science, who want to live their dream as a researcher but still have a family? Well, there are no uniform answers to these questions. Everybody has his or her own way. But maybe it helps you to know, that there are many of us who entered the field of epilepsy research by chance, however got interested and are by now fully devoted to solving the disease and help patients. If you have a chance to choose your lab or your mentor, you are very lucky, but if you can’t chose as you want, still try to make the best out of it. Eva Anderman also gave a nice example of how to organize yourself in science when you also have three kids. Work efficiently and make sure to take your chances. What else? We experienced rain in the desert and snow in Jerusalem. Not that the meeting was already exceptional enough!”

Ingo (wannabe motivational speaker). “Chutzpah, Zen and Fahrvergnügen related to the topic of my brief motivational talk that I gave on Saturday. This title relates to the three qualities of a successful young investigator:  audacity (chutzpah), patience (zen) and passion (Fahrvergnügen, referring to a 1990 Volkswagen campaign). Genetics becomes a more collaborative field and the career track for a young researcher may be completely different than in the past. Basically, we (the senior scientists) need to think of new ways to reward enthusiasm and effort as it will become more and more difficult to follow the traditional career trajectory that is based on high-impact first authorships. I think that it is difficult to talk about the future of science without referring to differences in generations. I referred to the Fourth Turning by Strauss and Howe to point out that the upcoming generation of researchers might be a hero generation that will accomplish great things in science. I also acknowledge that I forgot to mention mentors as a further important factor that shapes a career in research. Therefore, I was very happy to see four generations of researchers in the field represented at this meeting. I would particularly like to thank Zaid, Sarah, Alon and Amos for the organization of this meeting.”

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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