Scientific life at the Institut Pasteur: lab retreat to foster team spirit

Feb ,16 2017

Last November, I participated to the scientific retreat of my unit and I spent three days in a villa, property of the University of Paris, in the hills around Florence in Italy.

The idea behind this retreat was to create a prolific discussion environment regarding all the different scientific topics of the laboratory and consolidate the team working spirit. Indeed, because of the large diversity of the research projects carried on in the lab (encompassing cell biology and immunology of infection, vaccine development or host/commensal interaction), this retreat represented for me another great opportunity to have a global “update” and overview of the ongoing projects of my unit.

However, the organizers (colleagues chosen by my boss) of the retreat decided to change  the “format” of the scientific exchange and they did not ask us to present our work and our data with a standard presentation. They have decided to have a more open-ended discussion of broad questions surrounding our fields. We were asked to make a question, specific or broad, on our research topic or not, regarding a new technique or technology that could change the field or, in other words, any question that could raise other questions and open interesting discussions for the group.

Our questions were divided in 3 sessions: Immunity, Microbiota and Shigella and other pathogens. Since I am studying Klebsiella, my session was the third one. During the first day of the retreat, in a big round table, we started to read our questions and discuss them. I enjoyed a lot this “format” and the scientific exchange that came up. We addressed or not some intriguing questions as:
- what is the best for a pathogen: to adapt its strategy to each cell it encounters or to act the same way whichever the cell is?
- what is the best in vitro model for your biological question? How and why do you choose this model?
- can cell lines be considered sufficient vs primary cells?
- could, for instance, the environment induce modifications in expression of bacterial structures and/or metabolites that are not visible in vitro?

Also, in the other sessions, we tried to discuss very broad topics like the future of antibiotics or think if vaccines are still useful in developed countries or if we are close to a world without vaccine. There were also some more specific and technical questions from the daily lab life.

I also really appreciated the “democratic” aspect of those discussions since all of us, students or post-docs, senior researchers or PIs, could take part of the conversation in every moment without any fear in asking a “stupid” question or making comments or express opinions.

The result: the scientific discussions were really fruitful and we took notes and everyone shared their expertise and gave suggestions for future projects. A real success!

Moreover, one morning was dedicated to only PhD students and post-docs. We were six PhD students and we presented our work and our issues or difficulties of the project only in front of the post-docs, with the advantage to speak “freely”, without the PIs pressure. It was really helpful and illuminating.

And last but not least….We were in Italy!

The art and history of Florence, the italian aperitivo, a glass of wine, delicious food and our lab is ready for other prolific scientific adventures all together!