Fantastic Showcase of Postdoctoral Research in the Czech Republic

To celebrate International Postdoc Appreciation Week (held during the 3rd week of September), postdocs at CEITEC Masaryk University hosted the 1st Annual CEITEC Postdoc Retreat. Postdocs from all CEITEC and other regional research institutes were invited to Zamek Krtiny on Monday 16th September for an overnight stay, with a packed program for postdocs to get to know each other and their research.  

In his opening address, Markus Detenhofer (Director of CEITEC) spoke about passion and freedom in the pursuit of knowledge, likening researchers to the explorers of old travelling into the great unknown. Marcus acknowledged the challenge of isolation that scientific researchers face when they enter a world of knowledge so deep that there are only a few people who can understand alongside them. To counter this, he asked postdocs to ‘zoom out’ of their research, to get a perspective that makes them better able to understand the impact of their work and take action. Marcus is also likely to be invited back next year after he was overheard commenting during the opening address that the organising committee was “a very handsome group”. 

Jiri Nantl, Director of CEITEC MU, reflected on the position CEITEC holds as one of the leading research institutes in the country. He remarked that as the end of the sustainability support under which CEITEC has established nears, CEITEC is privileged to go forward with “the issue before us no longer sustainability, it is excellence”. Jiri also encouraged some healthy competition, reinforcing the goal of Masaryk University's new rector to be the leading university in the Czech Republic by 2020, and asking CEITEC to be the difference that “beats Prague at the national scientific game”. 

Participants from six institutes across an impressive range of research fields presented their work. Postdoctoral researchers in Brno are using state-of-the-art technology to - look at viruses that can control algal blooms, 3D print electronic devices with improved activity that can be used for wearable electronics, assemble new materials which are inspired by the structure of natural materials such as wood or bone, develop web tools for researchers to find out how well certain proteins can transport ligands, discover how some people can naturally develop resistance to malaria, test nanofibers for their use in tissue engineering, use exosomes for the early detection of cancer by blood tests, understand how plants evolve into species such as wild and cultivated crops, use natural molecules to assemble organised structures that can be used as drug carriers, make new porous materials that can be used for example in gold isolation, develop specialised microscopes that can visualise magnetization, understand the causes of DNA damage that leads to cancer, change the way light interacts with matter using nanostructures, understand how plant DNA is organised to enable cell division and growth, use transition metal dichalcogenides in 3D printed electrodes to convert water to electricity for clean energy, use simulations to understand the conditions that cause aggregation of proteins that cause Alzheimer’s disease, use centrifugal spinning to create biopolymeric naofibre materials for regenerative medicine, investigate how certain proteins in our cells switch partners to give protection from thermal stress, and investigate how some genes in our body can be ‘cancelled out’ even when they are turned on.  No wonder Brno has a reputation as one of the best university cities!

An Open Science Workshop hosted by CEITEC Masaryk University included guest presenters Catherine Casserly (Member of the Advisory Council for the National Science Foundation, USA) and Oddgeir Tveiten (Director of Future Learning Lab, Norway). They discussed how universities and research institutions can adapt to the explosion of information and technology that is taking place in the world. Particularly, how can they use this newfound ‘shareability’ to improve lives? Do publicly funded universities have a responsibility to make knowledge in the form of courses, textbooks, and other teaching resources freely available to everyone? Likewise, should scientific research be published in a format that is free and available for anyone to access? Should they go even further and share scientific results transparently in real-time, for others to review and build upon, and share alike? Thanks to technology it’s now possible to ask these previously philosophical questions, as the change is already happening worldwide. 

A highlight of the retreat was talked by invited speakers. Giancarlo Forte (ICRC, St Anne’s University Hospital) entertained postdocs with a lesson in ‘what not to do’ in scientific research. Giancarlo’s talk ‘Research Ethics’ included the colourful lesson of Li Jia ‘the research fraud olympian’, on how to get the most research papers out of one single experiment. He also cautioned people to watch out for research groups that don’t encourage transparency, such as that of the infamous Piero Anversa at Harvard Medical School,  whose falsification of data led to $10 million dollars having to be repaid to the National Institute of Health. 

Prof. Agniezska Szumna (Polish Academy of Sciences) presented her research on self-assembling biocompatible materials for regenerative medicine. Agnieska included valuable insight into how her personal and professional experiences have impacted each other and some ‘rules’ for finding a work-life balance in a successful research career. Her best piece of advice, she says, is to learn when to say ‘No’. 

The postdocs very full schedule also included speed networking (‘kind of like speed dating, but with science’ - participant MD), remarkably passionate round table discussions and evening drinks (with congratulations due to team ‘Wildcats’ for taking first place in The Quiz), a workshop for postdocs on how to pursue their career goals (hosted by Anida Krajina, CEITEC Masaryk University Grants Office), and a hike to Výpustek cave in the Moravian Karst (including a tour of its secret command post for the Czechoslovak People's Army). 

The 1st Annual CEITEC Postdoc Retreat was a fantastic showcase of postdoctoral research in the Czech Republic. The retreat was possible thanks to its sponsors Lachner, Donau Lab, Biovendor, Eppendorf, and The Region of South Moravia.  All postdocs are encouraged to attend the 2nd CEITEC Postdoc retreat in September 2020.