Future sowers' conference
Gruppenfoto der Plant Science Student Conference 2017 am IPB (Fotos: Annegret Laub/Michelle Kammel).
From June 6 to 9, PhD students met to „Sow (their) future!" during the Plant Science Student Conference (PSSC). The annual conference organized by PhD students has a long tradition at the two Leibniz Institutes IPB Halle and IPK Gatersleben. This time, it was the IPB's turn to host 74 participants, which were not only IPK or IPB students. About one third of the conference guests came from universities and research institutes across Germany. "That's a very positive trend that we aim to develop further in the future." says David Edeler, PhD student representative at the IPB (Dept. Bioorganic Chemistry) and PSSC organizer.
There is a good chance for such continued positive development, as this year's conference presented itself on an excellent scientific level. Prof. Jörg Bohlmann of the University of British Columbia, Canada, Prof. Dr. Wilfried Schwab from the Campus Weihenstephan of the TU Munich and Dr. Emmanuel Gaquerel from the Centre for Organismal Studies of the Heidelberg University could be attracted as keynote speakers. They lectured on bioorganic chemistry and plant secondary metabolism – topics that are central to the IPB's research as well. In topical sessions dealing with plant-based chemistry, regulatory and signaling processes or pathogen interactions for example, the participants presented their scientific results. In fruitful discussions, the students challenged each other's approaches or shared methodical experiences. Thus, many PhD students returned to their lab work with valuable input. Since recent years, PSSC workshops have grown to become a regular part of the program. In this year's workshops, IPB's junior professor Dr. Martin Weissenborn, Dr. Steffen Neumann, Sarah Scharfenberg and Hendrik Treuter, as well as Dr. Johannes Stuttmann from the Martin Luther University hosted interactive discussions ranging from latest technologies to crucial biostatistics know-how. As every professional conference, the PSSC also offered a poster session for students to practise the scientific discourse: On the one hand, they explained their research projects with the help of their own posters. On the other hand, in front of other presenter's posters, they trained their ability to follow the perspective of unfamiliar projects. "Such a poster session is always a win. You get fresh ideas and get to know people that work in similar fields." finds PhD student Michael Niemeyer, who presented a poster on biochemical processes in plant hormone sensing.
Rewarding learning experiences are not restricted to the participants. "You learn so much, and you always look back upon so many experiences gathered, when you organize a conference like the PSSC." David Edeler reflects and adds that this year's PSSC has not only been the most expensive but also the best funded at the IPB so far. Edeler and his team attracted sponsorship money and together with the institute's administrative department put up the conference infrastructure to facilitate smooth four days. Sponsorship, however, is only one of four organizational tasks that the PhD representatives typically share at the start of the PSSC planning. Ulschan Scheler (Dept. Cell and Metabolic Biology) and her team took care of the scientific aspects. They reached out to guest speakers, worked their way through abstract submissions and selected talks and posters. Sarah Scharfenberg (Dept. Stress and Developmental Biology) and her team organized communications and publicity, besides overseeing the registration process. Prior to the event, invitations were circulated at universities and research institutes, no least utilizing the recently established network of Leibniz PhD representatives. Last but not least, Ammar Jaber (Dept. Molecular Signal Processing) and team arranged refreshments and social events. He was applauded for his idea to offer a rallye through Halle on the day of field trip. Throughout that day, the participants had to work in little groups to solve quizzes that led them through the city center. Ambitiously and with much team spirit the PSSC attendees collected points and declared one group the winner at the end.
Also during the scientific program, participants strived to collect points, as the best poster and best talk award awaited. Four IPB PostDocs, Dr. Kristian Peters, Dr. Christin Naumann, Dr. Stephanie Werner and Dr. Katrin Franke, accompanied the PSSC as jury and awarded Ioana Lemnian (Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg) the best talk and Stephan Grunewald (IPB Halle) the best poster prize. The audience chose Mona Schreiber (IPK Gatersleben) for their best talk award. For the first time this year, the best discussion participant was selected. Clearly, Krishna Mohan Pathi of the IPK Gatersleben outstandingly contributed to the discussions and was pleased that his engagement was honored.
"We had a successful and scientifically excellent conference", Ulschan Scheler states, "also our keynote speakers praised the professional organisation, lively discussions and familiar atmosphere." No doubt, this year's PSSC set a high standard for future student conferences and was a rewarding experience of sowing into the future for everyone, that hopefully bears much fruit.