Inspiring New Generations of Scientists – NICB – The Irish-French Connection

BRIDGING THE SCIENCE-TO-SOCIETY GAP FOR THE YOUNGER GENERATIONS

On March 16th 2017, the NICB hosted 49 high-school students and 4 teachers coming from the Lycée Jean Jaurès in Châtenay-Malabry, which is located in the suburbs of Paris, France. The visit was organized by two of the teachers, Eve Grandin (English) and Isabelle Bouvier (Biotechnology), and the initiative was very welcomed by the NICB team, as part of the current outreach policy, which aims to promote the work done in the centre.

From an NICB perspective, this visit was not only a way to promote the centre and the research we perform here, but it was a wonderful opportunity for our staff and students to add their two cents to the essential training of a new generation of scientists; by giving international high-school students the chance to learn the kind of research we perform in Ireland and to strengthen and broaden their basic knowledge about biotechnology.

The visit started with an overview presented by NICB Director Dr. Niall Barron, in which the main areas of research currently underway at the Institute were introduced to the audience.

Following that, the next two presentations; by Ricardo Valdés-Bango Curell and Kevin Kellner, PhD students from the CHO Cell Engineering Group, provided a snapshot of the CHO cell factory and the use of microRNAs as engineering tools to improve growth and productivity phenotypes.

         

The session continued with a presentation by Orla Coleman, PhD Student from the Proteomics Group, on the use of proteomics techniques to investigate novel biomarkers for pancreatic cancer. Finally, postdoctoral researcher Shane Kelly, from the Diabetes Group, closed the session with an overview presentation of the DRIVE Project, which aims to investigate cell-based approaches to improve the efficacy of islet cell transplantation.

         

After the different talks, the students had the chance to participate in a tour of the Institute’s laboratories and Core Facilities and share some refreshments and chat with NICB students and staff members.

         

We received some very positive feedback from both presenters and audience showing that this activity had a big impact and was a great success.

Eve Grandin said that they “really wanted this trip to be an opportunity for them to learn more about biotechnology” and that they were very happy that “NICB quickly accepted [their] project “. In addition, she highlighted the fact that the good organisation and support coming from NICB, providing “precise information about the talks our students would listen to, […] was great as it gave their biotechnology teacher a chance to anticipate some of the topics in class (and in French!) which facilitated their understanding once we got to NICB”. It was also appreciated that the speakers “presented their works to make their talks accessible to beginners thanks to diagrams, comparisons, and a great deal of dynamism!”. One of the most “striking moments for many” was when “a group [of students] met a French Erasmus student who told them where she came from and how she had had this opportunity. This was a very striking moment for many of them that made them realize it is indeed possible and think "what about me?". As a final quote, despite the language barrier for some of our students who struggle a little bit with the English language, despite the scientific level of some of the talks, the whole organisation made this visit a memorable one for our students who took the most of it and were proud to tell their classmates what they had seen and heard when they came back”.

From the presenters’ side, the feedback was also very good. Orla Coleman said it was “a great experience explaining [her] work to an enthusiastic younger audience and making the science accessible to both their level of education and English". For Kevin Kellner “it was great to explain to potential future scientists how we work in a laboratory and how we try to reduce costs of therapeutic proteins”. I myself think this was both, a challenge to summarize complex research in a short and understandable way for non-expert audience, and an opportunity to collaborate in motivating young student to follow a scientific career.

Thanks to all volunteer NICB members, Orla, Kevin, Shane, Peter, Alan, Gemma, Antonio, Laura, Neil, Nicola, Shannon, Charles (and myself), who made this event possible. A special mention to Mairead Callan and Emer Walsh for wonderfully organising and coordinating the visit, to Dr. Niall Barron, for welcoming the Group and to Gillian Smith for her assistance on the day.

THE RAISING IMPORTANCE OF OUTREACH IN MODERN RESEARCH

In the more and more competitive landscape of high-level research, public funding agencies as well as private investors are looking closer at grant applications and collaboration proposals are examined for “broader impacts”. This term refers to how research, besides having the potential to advance knowledge, benefits society. Broader impacts can be from “training the next generation of high-tech manufacturing employees” to “engaging citizens in research, thus helping increase public understanding of science and the scientific process itself” (1). In this context, researchers are more and more under pressure to promote their research not only to the scientific community by the traditional peer-reviewed articles, but to the whole society.

The European funding bodies emphasize the need for more and better science communication. The European Research Council has a guide for grant holders, in which communicating research has an important role (LINK). According to the ERC guidelines, for an ERC grant holder, “to carry out ambitious research is a goal, [but] to get relevant exposure and make the fruit of your work broadly available, outreach activities are a must” (2).

Outreach and communication are also outlined as a priority on the prestigious Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions (MSCA), under which “funded beneficiaries are also required to undertake public outreach activities to bridge the gap between science and society, raising awareness of the impact of researchers’ work on citizens’ daily lives” (3). The Guide for Applicants (4) as well as the Guidelines on Outreach and Communication Activities of the MSCA (5) under H2020 highlight that fellows are expected to “engage in outreach activities” in order “to create awareness among the general public of the research work performed and its implications for citizens and society”.

The main public funding agencies in Ireland all have programs which specifically contain mentions to outreach, dissemination and communication of the research being funded.

For instance, the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Strategic Plan Agenda 2020 highlights that “science and technology play an increasingly important role in addressing the economic, social and environmental problems faced by the world today” and “that role needs the support and active engagement of the public who fund the work and are the ultimate beneficiaries of it.” To achieve this, SFI “supports and develops the education and outreach STEM sector in Ireland by investing in developing and extending capacity in this area and also exploring and encouraging novel means of public engagement and communications” (6).

In a similar manner, the Irish Research Council promotes its own outreach program to promote Irish science and let the public know about the research they fund. Under the slogan “Love Irish Research”, the IRC sponsors a “wide-ranging programme, engaging researchers at all career stages and across all disciplines, is planned, including regional and institutional showcase events, competitions and awards, a specific Decade of Centenaries programme and monthly research themes.” The use of the hashtag #LoveIrishResearch in social networks is an example on how two communicate research and connect their main actors using new technologies. The program aims are described as “to help the public to understand the work of researchers and to realise the potential for careers working in research, to help people to connect with those conducting research, to discover what motivates these researchers and to hear about their discoveries.” (7)

Here at NICB, we have extensive experience in, and commitment to, education and outreach activities in the community which are related to STEM. In the last year, we have promoted and been part of initiatives to promote the science made in the centre as well as the partners, which take part in the numerous collaborative projects we are involved with. Additionally to those activities oriented to the new generation of STEM students, such as the one featured in this post, several NICB staff members participated in a DCU Faculty of Health and Science video project named “So you want to be a scientist", oriented to Career Guidance teachers working in post-primary schools in Ireland, with the purpose of raising awareness among school children that there are many different types of science/scientist.

In addition, NICB staff are very active in communicating their research in public media platforms (e.g.: Irish Independent, Irish Times, Silicon Republic, among others!)

 

REFERENCES:

  1. Cited from NSF Website – https://www.nsf.gov/od/oia/special/broaderimpacts/
  2. ERC - Communicating your research
  3. Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions: Pocket guide
  4. H2020 Program - Guide for Applicants -Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Individual Fellowships (IF)
  5. Outreach and Communication Activities in the MSCA under Horizon 2020
  6. Cited from SFI Website – http://www.sfi.ie/discover-science-engineering-dse/
  7. Cited from IRC Website – http://www.research.ie/event/2016-01-28/irish-times-research-ireland%E2%80%99s-greatest-challenges

ricRicardo Valdés-Bango Curell
Marie-Curie PhD fellow at NICB, Dublin City University
eCHO Systems International Training Network (ITN)

My research focuses on the investigation of genetic switches, endogenous or exogenous, for controlled transgene expression in CHO cells. My final aim is to develop potential applications of these synthetic genetic elements in an industrial context. I am funded by an Early-Stage Researcher Marie Skłodowska-Curie action from the European Comission, as part of the  Innovative Training Network eCHO-systems,

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