Venue: Jacqueline du Pre Music Building, St Hilda’s College, Oxford OX4 1DY, UK
Date: 12 noon on Tuesday 5th Sept to 2pm on Wed 6th Sept
The British ‘summer’ was in full raining force on the 5th September 2017, but no one allowed this to dampen their spirits for the VALIDATE 1st Annual Meeting at St Hilda’s College, Oxford, UK. This was a fantastic opportunity for our members all to meet face-to-face, many of us for the first time, and we were all going to take advantage of this useful and interesting opportunity! With 38 delegates from five countries present (UK, India, Brazil, Thailand, and Uganda) there were plenty of people from a wide range of research areas and institutes to meet, which was a great representation from across the Network for our first meeting.
The Annual Meeting started with the chance to catch up with other members of the Network over a buffet lunch before Prof Helen McShane, the VALIDATE Network Director (University of Oxford), kicked off the meeting in the main Auditorium, with a brief welcome to our members. She went on to explain VALIDATE in detail – our focus, expected outputs, and vision – giving everyone a chance to more fully understand what VALIDATE aims to do over its initial MRC-funded three years. An overview of our membership numbers and names revealed that we have already grown by 18 members, 3 institutes, and 1 LMIC country since our original MRC application, which was great news in such a short time. Helen highlighted that the Network is currently slightly TB-researcher dominant, something that perhaps reflects disease burden and the funding available for each pathogen worldwide. This is something that we would like to remedy as VALIDATE grows, and members were asked to mention VALIDATE to their collaborators and research group members (especially post-docs and students) and encourage them to join the Network.
Dr Martin Broadstock next gave a brief introduction to VALIDATE from the MRC's perspective, putting the GCRF Networks into context and clarifying the Research Council expectations. This was followed by a 15 minute overview of each pathogen, the partners involved in that area, and the challenges and opportunities in each field, with the aim of sparking new collaboration and cross-pathogen synergy ideas within the Network members. Prof Jo Prior from dstl kicked off with Burkholderia pseudomallei, Prof Mitali Chatterjee from IPGMER next covered Leishmania, and Prof Helen McShane followed with TB. Prof Tracy Hussell from University of Manchester presented cross-pathogen members and research, and Associate Prof Helen Fletcher from LSHTM went through ideas from our Social Scientists. These ‘introductions’ formed a great foundation for members to find out about the VALIDATE pathogens outside their normal research area and gave rise to animated cross-pathogen and cross-discipline discussions across the next two days.
A highly efficient group photo and quick caffeine refill later, and we were into the first Networking session. The ‘speed dating’ statement in the agenda had had some members worried, but the session proved very successful. Everyone was up on their feet, running around to each station to introduce themselves to different people, and everyone got to meet everyone else and hear a brief tantalising one minute snippet about their research and career path. This event very nicely broke the ice and led to easy discussions over drinks and dinner later on as we all now felt we knew each other and could easily find mutual topics and ideas to talk about and deliberate over. It also sowed the seeds of several new collaborations, which was very exciting.
Fully energised from meeting everybody, it was back to our seats for our three industry partners, Prof Andrzej Kierzek from Certara, Dr Ian Durrant from Oxford Immunotec Ltd, and Prof Mark Coles of SimOmics, to give a short overview of what they bring to the Network, and what they hope to get from being part of VALIDATE. Then Network Manager, Samantha Vermaak, gave a detailed overview of all the opportunities for VALIDATE members, clarifying the various funding calls, the upcoming mentoring scheme, and highlighting VALIDATE’s numerous communication channels. Finally, Associate Prof Helen Fletcher closed the day with a call to arms for Workshop ideas – and then we all headed over to the drinks reception and dinner, thoroughly enjoyed by everyone and filled with buzzing conversation.
Day 2 saw Associate Prof Helen Fletcher, Prof Susie Dunachie and Dr Karin Seifert each presenting an exemplar Pump-Priming grant project idea to the VALIDATE Dragons’ Den. Dragons Prof Jo Prior, Dr Rajko Reljic (SGUL), and Prof Helen McShane grilled each project, illustrating what the Network Management Board will be looking for in VALIDATE grant calls. The session was fun and interesting, as well as insightful – and a couple of the projects came out with additional collaborators, offered stored samples, and refined ideas as the audience joined in the questioning and suggestions.
A quick coffee break and we were into the second Networking session – a pump-priming project brainstorming session, first with delegates grouped by pathogen and then with everyone reshuffled for cross-pathogen and cross-discipline discussions. Some great ideas came out of this session, so we look forward to lots of exciting Pump-Priming grant applications when the call opens later this month!
A final wrap up was followed by a last opportunity to exchange ideas and contact details over lunch before delegates headed home. The Annual Meeting was a fantastic opportunity to meet and network with other VALIDATE members, form new collaborations, spark new research ideas, and have animated discussions about the research field we’re all interested in throughout the two days. There was an energetic buzz throughout the event, so a huge thank you to all our members who joined the VALIDATE first annual meeting and made it a fantastic kick-off to our work together.
“Just wanted to say a big thank you for the conference last week, was genuinely really interesting and inspiring”
“Pleased to be involved - feels like a very positive/exciting network to be part of”
Report by Samantha Vermaak
Professional photos by John Cairns