On July 26-27, the Polish-U.S. Fulbright Commission organized the very first BioLAB Program Alumni Symposium that took place at the Warsaw University of Technology’s Chemical Technology Building. This event would not have been possible without the support of our partners: Faculty of Chemistry, Warsaw University of Technology, and Polonium Foundation; patrons: Ministry of Science and Higher Education, and Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange (NAWA); and sponsors: University of Virginia, University of Chicago, Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, University of Texas Southewestern Medical Center, Captor Therapeutics and Polish-U.S. Fulbright Commission.
The first BioLAB Alumni Symposium was made possible thanks to the hard work of Patrycja Donaburska (Polish-U.S. Fulbright Commission) and the Program alumni: Agnieszka Gawda, Joanna Chemielewska, Ewa Sitarz, Emilia Wasiak and Jakub Kucharczyk, who administered and coordinated preparations for the event. It brought together over 80 alumni – from the Program “pioneers” who received their internships more than 19 years ago, to graduates, who just recently returned from the U.S. The Symposium opened with remarks by Justyna Janiszewska, Executive Director of the Polish-U.S. Fulbright Commission, Prof. Władysław Wieczorek, Dean of the Warsaw University of Technology’s Faculty of Chemistry, and the event’s special guests: Prof. Zygmunt Derewenda who founded the BioLAB Program at the University of Virginia in 2000, as well as the heads of the Program’s satellite locations: Dr. Umesh Deshmukh, Professor at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, Dr. Tony Kossiakoff, Professor at the University of Chicago, and Dr. Jose Rizo-Rey, Professor at the University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Center. Without their research experience, engagement, as well as financial, and administrative support of their respective institutions, the Program would simply not exist.
Formerly known as The Visiting Research Graduate Traineeship Program (VRGTP), BioLAB Program is a one-year internship opportunity for students from Polish universities to conduct research at one of four American institutions: the University of Virginia, the University of Chicago, the University of Texas: Southwestern Medical Center, and the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. Since BioLAB’s inception in 2000, more than 300 Polish grantees have had a chance to gain valuable professional experience in an American research lab, and work with experienced mentors on innovative projects in the field of biological sciences. The Polish-U.S. Fulbright Commission has administered the BioLAB Program since 2014.
The two-day Alumni Symposium comprised presentations, workshops, panel discussions, a poster session, and plenty of networking opportunities. Apart from sharing their experiences with navigating cultural differences during their stay in the U.S., the participants discussed different ways in which the BioLAB Program has allowed them to advance their own career developments, and made a significant impact on their professional and personal lives. These included both a chance to engage in exciting research initiatives, as well as meeting interesting and like-minded people willing to continue the collaboration even at the close of the internship.
The symposium also offered several workshop opportunities such as “Visual Communication of Science”, “Practical Approaches to Storytelling” and “How To Write a Good Grant”. During these workshops, the participants learned how to share their research findings with the outside world in an approachable and engaging way, whether in the form of presentations, public lectures, and/or in writing. In particular, they had a chance to think about the technical aspects of delivering a successful and informative presentation to an audience that is not well-familiar with the intricacies of a given field.
What made this Alumni Symposium particularly heart-warming were all the personal stories told by many BioLAB Program’s graduates that resonated so well with others. For in its almost two decades of existence, the Program has managed to connect its participants in ways they would otherwise have never imagined. From meeting devoted mentors, who took ambitious, and hard-working young researchers under their wings, guided them in new directions, and encouraged them to challenge their own limitations, to establishing many research collaborations, making new friends, and even meeting their significant others, the BioLAB Program has locked all these individuals into a vibrant, and pulsating web – the BioLab community.
This first BioLAB Alumni Symposium was a chance for this community to come together, share their milestones, challenges, and dreams, as well as meet new people. Though bidding farewell to all our wonderful attendees left us all teary, we can only hope that the good-byes will not last long, and that we will be able to organize more similar events in the years to come.