2012 CMB retreat: a review

This year, the first week of December doesn’t only kick the Nobel Prize Ceremonies (program here), but also sees the annual retreat of Cell and Molecular Biology (CMB) department of Karolinska Institutet. More then 150 scientists and workers from CMB met for two days to mingle, exchange researches, ideas and possibly fasten collaboration on December 6th and 7th.

Sundbyholms conference center (in summer time!)

This year retreat took place at Sundbyholm conference center, 1.5 hours south Stockholm. The overall organization of the retreat was more then good, with a tight but respected schedule. The idea of a costumed dinner was also excellent: it’s so rare to see so many different realities from CMB do something exclusively fun together. This gives us an excuse to approach each other in a friendly environment. I encourage those who discredit such way of spending department money to see the humane potential behind this. I’m very open to discuss this point.

Me and Ingrid Lilienthal in 18th-century costumes hosted the CMB winter party 2012

As part of the scientific program, we had a lecture on the history of the Nobel Prize by CMB head of department Christian Höög. This was also very good! The high engagement of the audience revealed the great interest in the “behind scenes” of the prize, which is worth discussing.

No good post lacks constructive critics, so here we go.

The two sessions of two hours of talks in a row (for the scientific program) it’s definetly a challenge! Could we get more breaks? Breaks let the audience mingle and discuss the lectures they just went through, helping to fix the home-taking messages. It’s good for both brain and legs!

A missed occasion, in my view, was also the poster and the talk prize. I do like the idea of a selected committee rather then just popular vote, but principal investigators and professors should be joined (in these two committees) by PhD students and post-doc. I would like to challenge the idea that “professors’ know best” when it comes to science review (ops, I will be punished for this).

The Nobel Medal spell “Alfr” instead that “Alfred” on its front

Additionally, the criteria for the prizes were not spelled out, which made people (or certainly me) uncomfortable. I did hope that precise guidelines were given to both committees, but sentence like “we follow our gut feeling” were discouraging in that sense. Gut feeling is not what we follow (primarily) when we do science: we prefer to base our judgement on data or reasoning.

I openly and friendly suggest to the next year organization to include at least one PhD student in the conference organization, to lose a bit the program and to provide clear guidelines to the prize committee to follow. Such guidelines should also be open access.

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