Tuesday, 20 October 2015

LIMS Fellows – Building the next generation of science leaders (Erika Duan)

The initiation of the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science (LIMS) Fellows society began like any other story of beginnings, with a range of random elements being brought together by engaging forces.

The LIMS Fellows grew from early informal brainstorming meetings to a full-fledged society with a formal constitution and over 50 members in less than a year.

The idea of a society was raised when a large group of LIMS-affiliated postdocs sat together and agreed that a group facilitating more inter-departmental and Institute communication and support was needed.

Strong research institutes are lifted by a central body of talented - often junior - benchside scientists, and an internal community that could initiate and foster this development was ideal.

A group of postdocs volunteered their own skills and experiences and a committee was formed.

LIMS Fellows at their first speed-networking event in June 2015
Photo courtesy of Erika Duan
The founding committee was made up of:

  • general committee members (Lilian Hor, Rommel Mathias, Ivan Poon, Erika Duan, Lesley Cheng and Daniel Langley)
  • event committee members (Thomas Shafee, Rohan Lowe, Pauline Huang and Michael Thomas)
  • a central IT/ design officer (Fung Lay)
  • a treasurer (David Greening)
  • a fundraising officer (Marta Enciso)
  • an Olivia Newton John Cancer Research Institute (ONJCRI)/external liaison officer (Nikola Baschuk) and 
  • a secretary (Jenny Chow).

Many postdocs brought their own experiences from organising other societies and previously representing PhD candidates and Early Career Researchers (ECRs).

The first LIMS Fellows networking event was successfully held in June 2015, bringing together over 30 members (including fellow postdocs from ONJCRI).

A peer-to-peer science and Wikipedia workshop was presented by Thomas Shafee, and monthly morning teas are now held to provide a space for all postdocs to meet.

The first of our career development workshops is scheduled for Wednesday 28 October, organised by Jenny Chow and Ivan Poon. Focusing on transitioning to industry, representatives from Thermo Fisher, GSK, and ONJCRI will present their experiences and insights on the differences between academia and industry and how best to prepare oneself for a possible sector transition.

LIMS Fellows society aims

The LIMS Fellows society is founded on three key, interlinked aims: support, inclusion and growth.

As academia becomes an increasingly competitive place and ECR positions more ephemeral, connecting postdocs to foster collaborations, exchanges of ideas and career development awareness becomes crucial to the health, productivity and morale of any academic organisation.

A collective identity also allows us to connect formally with other postdoctoral and ECR societies at Monash University, University of Melbourne, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and establish ourselves as a fellow institute with many engaged and talented scientists.

The LIMS Fellows society aims to foster support, communication, and career development for all final-stage PhD students and postdocs affiliated with LIMS and our partner institutions (including ONJCRI).

It represents postdoc interests at Institute, College, School, and Departmental levels at La Trobe University, provides information and support so that postdocs can make the most of their time at LIMS, provides communication and networking opportunities and creates a social and intellectual network for postdocs throughout LIMS and the wider University community.

If you're thinking of starting a society

The first thing to do is research whether any societies already exist that can represent you and your group’s needs. Having a larger society can maintain a critical mass of engaged members, which is vital for the longevity of any productive society. Larger societies may also enable access to resources that smaller societies may struggle with.

A larger collective voice can also help promote awareness of topical issues within a larger community and - just like bacterial flora! - diversity can be beneficial for innovation and evolution.

Ongoing funding and budgeting are also critical to sustaining a society, and creative options for industry sponsorship may help boost monetary resources to allow for more ambitious events. These could well increase your society's reach.

Assign individual roles that suit the experience and strengths of your team. For instance, David Greening was the past treasurer for Walter and Eliza Hall Medical Research Institute (Melbourne) and Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (Melbourne), and we are especially indebted to our IT/designs officer and former La Trobe University Biochemistry Society president Dr Fung Lay for the creation of our society logo, society facebook page, constitution, mailing list and email address (just to name a few things!).

Do not underestimate the importance of the soft skills required for the active maintenance of a society. They are crucial for management and operational tasks like writing group emails, creating meeting calendar invites and documenting meeting minutes.

Make use of existing technology platforms to promote or organise events (like Eventbrite, Doodle polls, Facebook and Google groups). The creation of a professional and unique image will help spread awareness of your individual organisation and build its profile.

At the end of the day, a society is only as good as the enthusiasm (and presence) of its participating members.

Navigating the line between events promoter versus spam-like robot may be a daunting task, but creating a committee that can listen to and engage all members is the key!

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Erika Duan is a junior postdoc from the Chen T cell laboratory (Department of Biochemistry and Genetics, LIMS). Her major research interest lies in lung innate immunity, which is central to the development of both acute and chronic inflammatory lung diseases. 

She is a general committee member for the LIMS Fellows society and the Day of Immunology program, an annual public awareness program raising awareness about the roles of the immune system in human health.

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