The 2nd MANNA Summer School – our very first Virtual Event

By 29th September 2020 News

The 2nd MANNA Summer School in Essential Management skills and Media Communication, which should have taken place in Dubrovnik (Croatia), was instead held virtually on Zoom from the 21st to the 25th of September due to the pandemic situation – with the first 2 days opened also to external students.

Despite all the challenges that arranging a virtual event can have, the Summer School was truly a success. Organised by the University of Glasgow (Mark McLaughlin, David Eckersall and Dave Iglesias) and by the University of Zagreb (Vladimir Mrjlak), the school covered various topics, ranging from OMICs analyses, media communication, to public engagement, and future career perspective of the ESRs in an industrial environment.

The Summer School was divided in three sessions: the first one related to an OMICs part, the second part related to the Communication, and the last one (limited to MANNA partners) focussed on the advancement of the MANNA project and its future.

Let’s now dive into the various day and activities that were carried out in the 2nd MANNA Summer School.

The first day

The opening of the event saw David Eckersall giving a warm welcome to all the participants while explaining what will be covered during the School. Then, the OMICs session rapidly started with the first talk of Prof. Philip Whitfield entitled ‘The big picture: getting the most from metabolomics data,’ in which he explained the workflows of a metabolomics study, the challenges of the statistical analyses and tried to give some advice to the ESRs involved in similar studies. The second talk of the day was entitled ‘Multi-omics studies and data integration,’ and was carried out by Dr. Anita Hrovatic. In her presentation, she explained the importance of system biology, and the need that scientist nowadays have to try to connect the various OMICs techniques (genomics, proteomics, transcriptomics, and metabolomics) into a single integrated system. The third and last speech of the session, ‘Metagenomics: mining results from the data mountain,’ was done by Dr. David McGuinnes. In his presentation, he talked about the importance of Next Generation sequencing and the difficulties to handle its large quantity of data. He focussed also on the importance of studying the microbiota and gave some precious insights into the analyses of these kind of data. At the end of the session, a very productive and interactive Q&A session was held, with both the PIs and the ESRs  asking relevant questions for their projects, trying to figure out which methods explained could have been the most useful and significant in their approach. After a well deserved lunch break, the afternoon session resumed with a management meeting of the PIs and the external evaluation board of the MANNA.

The Second day

The 2nd day of the school was entitled ‘Communication, reaching a wider audience beyond the scientific community’ and it was focussed both from an academic point of view, but also from a commercial point of view, thanks to the participation of our partners.

The morning session opened with the presentation of Prof. Lee Innes, entitled ‘Communication: reaching a wider audience beyond the scientific community,’ in which she presented the importance of public engagement and how to have an impact on the stakeholders and on the general public. She gave some examples on her activities and underlined the importance of the target audience and how to communicate well our findings. The second talk entitled ‘Publishing in peer-reviewed scientific journals,’ was done by Prof. Ingrid Miller and it focussed on the structure of a journal and how the procedure of accepting and publishing a paper works. She explained the role of the editors, the reviewers, and then she gave to the ESRs some do’s and don’ts in order to have papers accepted.  An energetic Q&A session followed, and again it was interesting seeing the interest both from the ESRs and the PIs in this topic which is still not very consider in the scientific world, but nowadays is certainly having more impact. The session restarted for the last talk of the morning, with Ruben Riosa (ESR 5) and Rafaela Furioso Ferreira (ESR 6) who presented the dissemination activities and the public engagement that the MANNA has carried out since the beginning of the project. The presentation was highly appreciated  with complements from the audience on the effectiveness of the  MANNA dissemination committee in the communication of the programme results and achievements.

The afternoon session restarted with a precious contribution from our communication partner, the SPRIM group, represented by Dr. Laura Primavesi, who gave a presentation entitled ‘Dissemination from a commercial perspective’ in which she explained the structure of a dissemination plan, the tools in the hands of a communication company and she gave some suggestions to the ESRs to improve their online presence and their communicative skills, highly important nowadays. Following this presentation, we went back from an academic point of view and Prof. André Almeida gave a talk entitled ‘Communicating proteomics results to the public, referees and editors: the good, the bad and the ugly,’ in which he explained the tricks and the various do’s and don’ts when it comes to proteomics publications, and when having to deal with referees and editors, the most feared persons by the authors of a scientific paper. A highly informative Q&A session followed and again it was nice to see such a great participation from all the people involved in the Summer School.

David Eckersall at the end of the sessions thanked all the non-MANNA participants for their presence and invited them to join us in the next Summer School, which will likely take place in April next year in Bonn.

The last three days were in fact exclusively dedicated to the MANNA framework.

The third day

This day was focussed exclusively on the ESRs’ projects development. In fact, each PhD student reported in 30 minutes their progresses in the last year and presented their most important results up to date, explaining also what would come up next and how the pandemic has delayed their project. The day was long, but very rewarding with the outcome of the students’ presentations and especially the external evaluation board was impressed by the quality of the MANNA programme and by the great job that has been carried out to limit the impact of the Covid-19.

The fourth day

This was certainly the most complicated day to organise; in fact, the morning session was created to increase the interaction between the ESRs and the industrial partner involved in our project. The outcome of this session was fantastic. The whole session ended up being a very extended Q&A session moderated by Fabrizio Ceciliani, in which ESRs and industrial partners interacted. Many questions were asked from the students, and valuable answers were given to them, which will surely help them decide what will be best for them in their future career.

The afternoon session was informative for the ESRs, as it covered the rules for their doctorate thesis, credits requirements, and how the defense of their PhD will be carried out in the case of this special double doctoral degree. It was certainly important for the students to get more insights and be reminded of what they will need to do in order to fulfil all the requirements from their host institutions and finish their doctorate programme in the best way possible.

The last day

The final and very intense day started with an interesting morning session, in which Dr. Mike Salter and Rosie Kaur (both working at AB Agri, our industrial partner), gave us some fascinating insights into the industrial world. They explained to the ESRs which are the possibilities of working in a company, which are the differences of an industrial environment compared to the academia, and they gave some precious examples of career advancement in AB Agri. The following Q&A session saw a very enthusiastic participation from the ESRs, curious to know what to expect from the ‘real world’ once their PhD is finished.

The afternoon session was covered by the management meeting of the programme and with a final round of table with all the PIs and ESRs involved and giving their feedback on the school, chaired, once again, by our coordinator David Eckersall.

Virtual, but still successful

Certainly, it wasn’t the Summer School that we were planning in late Autumn in Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik would have been surely a better location to meet and discuss the science and explore new directions over coffee or a chilled beer in the evening, while at the same time being able to enjoy the Mediterranean weather. However, due to the very well-known circumstances of the pandemic, this was the only way to successfully organise the school without having major delays and keep the MANNA network strong and interactive. In the end, we can clearly affirm that it was a success!

It wasn’t an easy week, spent constantly in front of a screen, however, thanks to the participation of all our partners and the active participations of both ESRs and PIs we were able to enjoy every single day and to deliver a summer school with great speakers, who certainly contributed in the growth of our students.

To conclude, we would like to thank again all the speakers who agreed to join us in this new virtual adventure and the organisers of the Summer School.


Written by Ruben Riosa