contact: Dr. Ines de Castro

To make science even more fun … – A report from the PhD/postdoc initiative

The primary task of the PhD/postdoc initiative is to get the topics of PhD students and postdocs on the agenda of the SFB committee in order to make a positive change. But what can such a positive change be? Just because of the presence of a PhD/postdoc initiative there will not be more successful experiments. But what if science would be more fun? The so-called “fun-theory” summarizes the thought that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better. Diverse projects have adapted this principle for example to make recycling more attractive or to use the stairs instead of the escalator ( Could we also apply the “fun principle” to science within the SFB1129?

The question was, if people would more likely join a seminar and be active in a scientific discussion if it was more fun. We therefore started the “Think & Drink” seminars. To these seminars people can come with a question, they would like to discuss, and gather with others in a relaxed atmosphere without PIs. No presentation is required, but with snacks and drinks, students and postdocs can discuss science or other questions of the lab life. After initial struggles when to have these meetings, we now have it once a month on Thursday afternoons at 5 pm – alternating with the official SFB1129 seminars.

Another project of the PhD/postdoc initiative was to organize a VIP speaker seminar. Nobel Laureate Stefan Hell came for a round table discussion with PhD students and postdocs. In order to enable discussions, the number of participants was limited to 25. In a relaxed atmosphere with food and drinks, Stefan Hell gave private insights into his scientific career and the questions that move him. It was an interesting discussion about ups and downs of the scientific community, the struggles for discoveries and the inspiration and satisfaction a pursued idea can provide.

The annual retreat is meant to foster scientific discussion between the groups. As in the previous year, PhD students and postdocs could discuss their science in a poster session. Additionally this year the retreat was preceded by a whole session organized by the PhD/postdoc initiative. The morning started with an Impulse talk by two young EMBL scientists, Lars Steinmetz and Judith Zaugg. They gave insight into their careers and turning points in their lives, things that worked out, but they included also detours and experiences, they would have loved to miss. The presentation evoked a vivid discussion and both speakers were very open to diverse questions.

What followed was a bit of an experiment. We went outside to be active. The overall question was, if the whole retreat would be more fun if people would get to know each other better, if the idea of collaborating would become concrete and tangible. We therefore had a team event in form of a chain reaction. Similar to domino day, an initial impulse had to be propagated and amplified over some distance up to the final confetti canon. 35 PhD students and postdocs were assigned by chance into 7 groups. Within these groups they built several stations to spread the impulse and then to transmit it to the next group. Diverse material could be used to build the chain reaction: balls, rockers and tunnels and the classic dominoes up to electric equipment such as hairdryers or record players. The building process started communication within the group and neighbouring groups. Participants described the chain reaction as a “great opportunity for students to get to know each other and break the ice” and appreciated the chance to do something practically before all the theory. In general, participants said they would appreciate a recurrence of a similar event and would recommend it for other SFBs and Transregios. It was great to see how doing something together “just for fun” could release a lot of positive energy. Everyone was involved in an activity where the overall effect is more than the sum of its individual parts. And that is what an SFB is all about in the end.

Andrea Imle, Representative of PhD/postdoc initiative of SFB1129

Impressions from the team event at the Retreat in July 2016: