Being regarded as one of "tomorrow's bioleaders" is a welcome incentive for the participants in a program called BioVision.Nxt. Ninety-three PhD students, postdocs, and MBAs were selected for this "next generation" program, part of the international life sciences forum BioVision 2005. BioVision.Nxt seeks to enhance interactions between the rising stars in life science -- on both the technical and the business side -- and to integrate their concerns and expectations within BioVision 2005 via a full-day program preceding the regular BioVision 2005 event.
Selecting future bioleaders
Candidates for Biovision.Nxt were selected on the strength of their CVs, using criteria prepared by program director Abigail Gemo in consultation with several young researchers associations. During these consultations, Philipp Angerer, former chairman of the Young European Biotech Network, ( YEBN) proposed demonstrated leadership and communication skills be considered, in addition to traditional criteria like publications and geography. "The organisation was looking for the bioleaders of the future," he says, "rather than just good scientists." Gemo agreed, and these criteria were added to the list of criteria used to select the meeting's participants.
Program director Gemo recognises the importance of having young scientists meet each other and exchange experiences. "If you do your research in your own corner of the world, "it all remains sterile." With the help of organisations for young researchers including as Science's Next Wave, the World Academy of Young Scientists ( WAYS), and the YEBN, Gemo pulled together workshops with international speakers on commercialising science, funding, and career paths. "The debates and dialogues were absolutely brilliant," Gemo says.
One aspect of BioVision.Nxt that makes it different from most scientific conferences and professional-development events was the diversity of the participants. "What you don't see in other events," says Gaëll Mainguy, president of WAYS, "is such an amount of heterogeneity." One example is Chen Levin, Director of Finance at Bioline Innovations in Jerusalem, Israel, who was selected to represent young business people -- MBA recipients. Levin liked the organizer's idea combining MD, PhD, MBA recipients in a single event, and sees opportunities for her own professional development. "I came to this event to meet the future opinion leaders in life sciences," she says, "before they become too famous." Angerer agrees. "It really broadens their perspective," he says.
One reason for running BioVision.Nxt directly before BioVision 2005 was to prepare the young bioleaders to integrate themselves fully into the main event. Gemo, in particular, had a secret wish that they would participate in discussions, challenge the experts, and otherwise assert themselves into BioVision 2005. All participants in BioVision.Nxt got free access to the whole BioVision program, and the .Nxt meeting introduced the young scientists and MBAs to the issues that would be discussed during the rest of the week. Then, after that first day, it was up to them to go out and make themselves heard.
So how did they do? Unsurprisingly, in this respect the event fell short of Gemo's secret hopes. Real, intimidating barriers -- like young scientists' relative lack of experience and expertise, not to mention the crowd of scientists swarming around the speakers after a scientific session -- stood in the way, sometimes literally. "At your age, how can you possibly compete?" Gemo wonders.
Yet further steps can be taken, Gemo believes, that will further facilitate the desired integration. Inviting young scientists to participate in discussion panels and presentations -- during the main meeting -- would be a good first step in that direction. She eventually envisions a programme where, for example, the Nobel Laureates take turns with the BioVision.Nxt talents in presenting their work. "You'd have to really select and interview them," Gemo admits, and this would take effort and time -- more, perhaps, than the BioVision.Nxt currently can provide.
More of this?
Gemo and the participants look back at BioVision.Nxt as a good initiative, but see room for improvement. Angerer, Mainguy, and Levin all agree that young bioleaders -- both scientists and business people -- should get more opportunities to meet each other, as well as to mingle with the hot-shots in their field. "If you stay in the lab," Mainguy says, "you can only be as innovative as yourself." So Gemo will push the initiative forward, with the help of the next generation of Angerers, Mainguys, and Levins.
To Gemo, for BioVision.Nxt as for scientific careers, the point of arrival is less interesting than the journey -- a journey that will, she hopes, include a stop-off at Biovision.Nxt, at least for many future bioleaders. "It's as if you were sailing;" she says, "it's catching that wind that will get you there."