Last August I was lucky enough to spend a week in Seili, an island off the south-west coast of Finland, close to the main island of Nauvo (Nagu). It provided a picturesque setting for NordBioMedNet’s second summer school on omics and drug development. NordbiomedNet is a collaborative network within the field of biomedicine connecting the universities of Bergen, Copenhagen, Eastern Finland, Turku and our very own Karolinska Institute. Here are just a few highlights from this incredible experience.
The setting: Seili (Själo in Swedish) island
Once a place of no return for lepers and mental patients, the island has now evolved into a haven for researchers and cows alike. It offers unobstructed skies for star-gazers, hidden cliffs with vistas for sunset-admirers and century old churches (complete with sordid pasts) for local history buffs. And a sauna of course! It is also the location of the Archipelago Research Institute which participates in multidisciplinary research of the Baltic Sea.
The program itself: Omics and ethics and business! Oh my!
The summer school program balanced together such topics as omics, bioinformatics, ethics and business. Experts from the different universities were invited along to give us lectures, challenge us with discussions and exercises, and, ultimately, provide us with the material for our main group project: coming up with a theoretical plan for the discovery and preclinical development of a drug.
This all took place within five intensely-active 8am to 8pm days. And I mean intense in the best way possible. I loved every single second of it. One example is an exercise which was scheduled at 17.30 one day, with no end time. We immediately started joking about it lasting all night. As it happened…the joke was on us – we finished at 21.30. Yet, looking back, it also turned out to be one of the best exercises of the week. We were obliged to make quick, informed choices vis a vis omics and bioinformatics tools in order to solve a simulated scientific problem. It was exhausting, it was interactive and it was formative. After this seminar I find myself wondering why most of our education still consists in passively listening to lectures.
Highlight of the highlights: The students
What this week has given me, above all, is the opportunity to meet and forge friendships with like-minded science students from all over Scandinavia. These inspiringly intelligent, decidedly fun-loving and refreshingly open people were the best part of everyday spent on the island. I presented a drug development plan with some and sang to The Spice Girls with others. I debated the ethics of sequencing with all and competed in Mölkky (similar to Swedish kubbe) with most. It was enlightening to share details about our different program experiences, describe our plans (or lack thereof) for the future and laugh at differences in our language and cultures – may it be over korvapuusti (cinnamon buns) or during a hardcore (for a non-scandinavian like me at least) sauna session.
So thank you to all the organisers, teachers, tutors and students for making this incredible week possible. And last but not least, I would like to thank the Finnish sun for shining so brightly every day…and giving me my worst sunburn of the summer :p