Professoriblogissa otetaan kantaa yliopistojen ja tutkimuslaitosten ajankohtaisiin asioihin.

Howy Jacobs

Professor of Molecular Biology, Tampere University

21.2.2020

Tango for Life

Together with EMBO and other members of the Finnish molecular biology community, I am organizing a major life sciences congress in Tampere in September 2020 (see Life-2020.org). As well as covering many of today's hottest scientific topics, the congress will be an opportunity to explore burning societal and professional issues, and will enable networking on a very broad scale. We are planning for 2500 participants from across Europe and beyond.

Although this is perhaps not the place for a naked 'pitch' for our congress, I would like to announce a few innovations that should make Life 2020 really attractive for the life-sciences community in Finland, as host nation. Hopefully many of you will get involved in this initiative.

The workshops programme will address diverse scientific topics in thematically linked series, thus creating a navigable pathway through the meeting for all of the interest groups attending, despite the fact that they span a very broad range of subjects (e.g. immunobiology, cells and tissues, development and evo-devo, nucleic acid and genome biology, metabolism, neuroscience, biotech, molecular medicine and even plant sciences). Creating such a pathway is vital for large meetings, where participants can easily feel 'lost' and that their interest area is under-represented. Others who prefer to dip into unfamiliar areas will also be able to select whatever takes their fancy. In addition to the scientific workshops, we are arranging several workshop series around themes of societal and professional interest of concern to researchers at all career levels, such as scientific entrepreneurship, diversity and inclusivity in science, the state of publishing and science journalism. 

Another important ingredient will be a half day, open to the general public, which we will aim mainly at high-school students, of whom we are expecting up to 1000 to participate. Many others will be linked by live-streaming to schools in various other countries. The topic of this session will be 'Future medicine: for people and the planet', and our intention is that the speakers - drawn from the international scientific experts presenting their work in the main congress symposia, will discuss the issues surrounding this theme, rather than just present a gee-whiz catalogue of hopeful inventions and technologies. We will also use this public event to showcase relevant innovations, services, startups and so on, from within the Finnish bioscience community, as a way of developing links that can help progress the field globally. 

One highlight of Life 2020 will be a grand fiesta in the centre of Tampere, to be held jointly with the 'World of Tango' music and arts festival. 'Tango for Life' will be partly open to the public, allowing us to marry together the worlds of science, music and popular culture. 

There is a lot of debate about the value of big meetings, although even larger ones are regular features of the scientific calendar in North America. Furthermore, the proliferation of scam conferences mounted by predatory publishers is gravely undermining trust in the entire process. Nevertheless, for an event backed by a major organization, there is a special importance in bringing such events to Finland, despite the fact that global communications now make it much easier for those located on the far icy edge of nowhere to feel connected to colleagues in the rest of the world. Making face-to-face contacts and discussing shared scientific interests is still important for young scientists based in far-flung places like Finland to find the next port of call in their career, as well as for more senior investigators to discover and attract new talent to their labs, and just talk through their ideas with a passionately interested community.

Scientists here are often far too reticent in projecting themselves in the competitive world of frontline research. They may consequently lose out on being properly credited for ideas and discoveries that they initiate. If we are to flourish in a world where original ideas and creativity count far more than just following the latest trend, we need to make a success of events like Life 2020.

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