What next for the IUBMB Trainee Initiative?

The IUBMB Trainee Initiative continues to grow and reach trainees all over the world. On this Q&A post we find out what drives them and what their plans are. We also get details of their next online event, on 25th October; do not miss it!
What next for the IUBMB Trainee Initiative?
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Why and how was the IUBMB Trainee Initiative first set up?

We think there is a general need to actively include early-career researchers in active roles within scientific societies and unions, something that Alexandra Newton (current IUBMB President) encouraged and spearheaded. Alexandra invited us to participate in the Trainee Initiative (TI); we then set up the team, had our first online meeting, and selected a Chair (Elysè Fisher) and a Co-Chair (Osvaldo Contreras). We quickly established our terms of reference, and started to coordinate our first steps, goals and mission. Not long after, we organized our first webinar. Since then, things have developed positively well and we are now a team of 20 members from all over the globe.

We would like to note that we have had a lot of help from IUBMB leadership and others, including from FEBS and from IUBMB-affiliated journals like Trends in Biochemical Sciences. We thank Fiona Veira-McTiernan of the FEBS Communication Team for her commitment to helping raise our voice and representation via the FEBS Network. We are also grateful to Sannie Culbertson, Editor-in-Chief of Trends in Biochemical Sciences, for recently highlighting our vision and ideas in TrendsTalk, which is an interview-style article.

How important are organizational support and funding to carry out your objectives?

Organisational support is vital to our objectives and activities. We are incredibly grateful to IUBMB, which has given us considerable support in setting up; this importantly includes visibility and validation of our TI. We are also supported in management and conceptualisation from IUBMB.

Do you work with the regional Federations and National Societies, or mainly through IUBMB?

It depends on the geographical region. In some areas, there is more collective work with Federations (e.g., FEBS). For most other geographical areas, we represent IUBMB. However, we have previously contacted different Federations and Societies to collaborate on various activities and initiatives, which has increased our global networks. Nonetheless, this is still a work in progress.

How much autonomy do you have?

We have complete autonomy in our general operations, but as an IUBMB initiative, we depend on IUBMB to exist. As such, we adhere to IUBMB's mission, body, practices, and policies; however, we also have our terms of reference.

How do you reach out to trainees all over the world?

We first started using our own 'small' and close networks. Soon after, we created an active social media life on Twitter and Instagram to generate more spark, and extend the reach of our messages and activities. We currently have nearly 500 followers on Twitter and almost 450 followers on Instagram. We also use our networks from all the regions we represent worldwide and work with IUBMB adherent member societies to engage and reach out to trainees worldwide. Trainees can also keep up-to-date with our events and learn about opportunities by joining the “Friends of the IUBMB Trainee Initiative” mailing list.

How do you coordinate your work and internal communication at the TI?

As our initiative is still in its early stages, we mainly communicate via Slack, Zoom and email, as needed. We look forward to getting to know each other face-to-face and growing the TI further in the future.

What have you learnt from the activities you have delivered?

Because we are early-career researchers running the IUBMB TI, ranging from undergraduates to Masters, PhD students, and Postdocs, we have established and incorporated many experiences and academic levels. We have learnt how to collaborate within the Initiative, reach out for help, develop active social media networks and platforms, and deliver multiple tasks and activities, together with learning from every social post, comments from other trainees and internal discussions.  Thus, we constantly learn and challenge our views to provide a rich environment for trainees. This allows us to nurture ourselves as we participate as members of the TI.

What activities do you think show the most promise for a global audience of trainees? Or do you think local, customised activities are preferable?

We think both have their pros and cons. Global issues and problems generally exist and impact locally, and vice versa. We have hosted or supported four major international events at a global-like scale, tackling different and distinct aspects of research, science culture, and sustainable practices. We first hosted an event about protein modeling, then a webinar highlighting the growing potential of African bioinformatics and, last but not least, an entering roadmap for graduate school and PhD programs. We also supported an event about green practices hosted by Green Laboratory Work through recruitment and advertising. We have had a great blend and lineup of speakers and facilitators in all these events, and they have been very successful. We are looking forward to our upcoming event: a webinar on 25th October discussing open access publishing and preprints in the biomolecular sciences.

IUBMB TI webinar: Advancing Access: Open Access Publishing & Preprints in the Biomolecular Sciences

We think the main obstacle in terms of a global scale is to carry on activities that could happen simultaneously from New Zealand to Hawaii. Timetables and hour differences are our main obstacles when reaching global audiences, so we try to provide access to recordings of our events whenever possible.

How will you identify the needs of trainees from different countries and regions?

That is a great question! Our passion is to help others, but we are not entirely sure how or if we are clearly identifying trainees’ needs. Thus, we constantly ask ourselves the same question. We think because our Trainee Initiative is composed of about 20 members with all kinds of backgrounds and experiences, we are capable of successfully identifying several needs from different groups, of countries and regions. That is why a fundamental cornerstone in our mission is to run initiatives for trainees (them) by trainees (us). However, we are constantly criticizing ourselves, our work and our activities to align with IUBMB's mission and objectives and our own goals and vision.

What would an ideal and fully active TI look like, if everything was possible?

The aim of the IUBMB Trainee initiative is to provide opportunities for emerging researchers of all levels. An ideal and fully active TI will continually provide resources and opportunities for educational, technical, and professional development. Through our events, we aim to support all levels of trainees in biochemistry and molecular biology. We hope to expand on what we have begun by facilitating more networking and direct resource sharing between trainees. One example we’ve discussed and are developing is a platform for trainees to edit and review each other’s work.

What do you think are going to be your biggest challenges?

I think we will face several challenges in the mid and long run. Creating positive change is one of them, and we are currently working on it. Another challenge is to survive as a Trainee Initiative in the long run and correctly adapt to future challenges related to our group composition, leadership and drive. We cannot forget we run as volunteers and we still do not know each other face-to-face. Another mid-term challenge would be to continue growing and developing as a team, as well as our skills. It would be amazing to get to know each other face-to-face, and we believe that should invigorate even more our commitment and involvement with the IUBMB Trainee Initiative.

Do you want to send a message to trainees?

We want to encourage them to pursue their dreams and ambitions in science while being kind and respectful as they work towards their goals. We also encourage them to organize, share their experiences, and forge collaborations. Building friendship and trust are essential elements of any scientific activity. We also want to let them know that there is a whole world out there and, in case they need guidance, they just need to ask for it. Having said that, we are here to hear their needs and aspirations, and we keep our contacts open in case they need some help. Even if we cannot help with something, we can contact someone to respond to their requests. Thus, we are early-career researchers that work for early-career researchers and beyond.

Anything else?

Although we all are passionate scientists, we recognize that an essential part of personal success is pursuing interests outside of work. Some IUBMB TI Leadership Committee members enjoy participating in creative activities related to their research topics and hobbies like cooking, reading, hiking, surfing, among others. We recognise to importance of disconnecting, recharging and bringing a fresh mind to our personal and scientific inquiries. Mental health matters!

Post contributors:

  • Osvaldo Contreras
  • Brianna Bibel
  • Hannah Pletcher
  • Zainab Rafat

Photo by Desola Lanre-Ologun on Unsplash 

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