In a small conference hall in the centre of Beijing, 31 Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences (CAMS) and Peking Union Medical College (PUMC) postgraduate students convened for five days of intense training for our inaugural Summer School. The event immersed the students into a packed programme of research skills training, technical workshops, and lectures.
From Oxford, a team of seven researcher scientists made the long journey: Professor Geoffrey Smith (Sir William Dunn School of pathology and COI Principal Investigator), Professor Benedikt Kessler (Centre for Medicines Discovery, Target Discovery Institute, and COI Principal Investigator), Dr Ricardo Fernandes (COI Principal Investigator & Director of Training), Dr Adan Pinto-Fernandez (COI Principal Investigator & Career Development Fellow), Dr Victoria Junghans (COI Researcher), Dr Caitlin O’Brien-Ball (COI Researcher) and Ms Shulan Yang (Lister summer student with Geoffrey Smith and University of Edinburgh undergraduate). They were supported by the COI Training Programmes Coordinator, Dr Dannielle Wellington, and COI Scientific Coordinator, Dr Beibei Wang, who organised the programme.
The event was opened by CAMS Vice President Jianwei Wang who discussed the importance of events like this for collaboration and co-operation across the two countries. “I hope that the students will make full use of this learning opportunity, actively participate in interactive exchanges, learn about cutting-edge international developments, enhance their international horizons, and help their career development.”
COI Director of Training, and academic lead for the Summer School, Dr Ricardo Fernandes encouraged the students to "make the most of this opportunity. Engage, ask questions and talk to us as much as you can!"
One of the aims of the Summer School was to expose the students to a more relaxed, active learning environment that they may not have encountered in their previous studies. To achieve this, we jumped right in and ended the orientation session with a game designed to make the students interact with each other and the Oxford Team. The aim of the game was to move sweets from one bowl to another using chopsticks. This brought a lot of energy into the room and across the week this energy and student interaction continued to grow.
At the start of the week the students were shy to speak out and interact with the Oxford team in public. But by the end of the week, the difference was astounding. Helped along the way by more interactive games and tasks, the students relaxed into the informal atmosphere, and found that within this safe space they were not afraid to ask questions, voice their opinions and even debate with one another in front of the group.
The programme consisted of scientific workshops and lectures delivered by a group of the Oxford Team. The first of these was on the theme of ‘Protein Engineering’ and led by Dr Ricardo Fernandes with support from Dr Victoria Junghans and Dr Caitlin O’Brien-Ball. This area was new to many of the students but through the clear and interesting delivery many students said that they learnt a lot. Read more about the Fernandes group here.
Next up Professor Benedikt Kessler and Dr Adan Pinto-Fernandez had the tricky task of explaining ‘Proteomics & Ubiquitomics’ to the class of novices in this field. They walked the students through the steps of analysis, introducing them to programmes and software that was freely available to them along the way. Read more about the Pinto-Fernandez group here.
Finally, Professor Geoffrey Smith and Ms Shulan Yang talked to the students about ‘Viruses’, from explaining what a virus is, to how the immune system defends against them and how viruses fight back. This session was particularly exciting to the students as it gave them the opportunity to hear about a study published in Nature that very week!
To strengthen their research skills, Dr Dannielle Wellington led the students through workshops on critical thinking, communication and presentation skills, and academic writing, providing useful advice and tips on what to do and, perhaps more importantly, what not to do. The students found these sessions to be very useful, providing invaluable tips and improving their skills.
The final session of the summer school was a panel discussion, led by Dannielle, on ‘The Publishing Game’. Taking the students through the process of writing and publishing a scientific journal article from start to finish with input, advice and anecdotes from Geoff, Benedikt & Ricardo along the way. Many students said that this was their favourite session as they got to hear real stories and experiences.
Each student also had the opportunity to deliver a three-minute flash talk, highlighting their research interests or background. This gave them an excellent opportunity to practice their newly acquired presentation skills, and an opportunity to receive personal feedback on their presentations.
One unexpected but encouraging outcome from the week was the sense of collegiality and friendship that was present in the room by the end. While the majority started the week as strangers, they ended it with new friends and connections from across the CAMS sites.
When asked for one word to sum up the Summer School, the response was overwhelmingly positive. With the great feedback and encouragement from the students we hope that this will be the first of many CAMS PUMC – Oxford Summer Schools.