What did I learn from 4 days listening to Nobel laureates?

Although my trip to Germany got postponed until next year, when the 70th Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting is rescheduled to happen, I still got to participate in an online version of the meeting and wow, it did not disappoint. 

Strapped to my office desk for three days, I became enthralled listening to Nobel Laureates talk about the research that earned them the Nobel prize. Their passion, determination and ingenuity was inspiring. Many had dedicated a life time to their craft, motivated by their curiosity and fundamental desire to solve questions in science. These Nobel laureates joined young scientists from around the world in open panel discussions, to debate and converse over the biggest issues facing our world today, COVID-19 and Climate Change. To start off, this was my favourite thing to come from this online meeting, I was able to make connections with scientists around the world, regardless of time zones and technology. Imagine what will unfold at the in-person meeting next year!

I want to touch on some of my favourite moments of this online meeting. Hands down my favourite speaker of the whole event was Professor Frances Arnold, who not only is a boss woman of STEM, but her research on harnessing the power of evolution for enzyme engineering is incredible! I spent the whole talk on the edge of my seat, she was a fantastic science communicator and wonderful human. I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion between Edvard Moser and Erwin Neher where the question was asked, ‘how did they deal with failure in their careers?’ and the response (I think from Edvard) was ‘Don’t prepare for it’. How true is that!

For me, the most important discussion that was had at this meeting was about the politics of climate change, which is a topic dear to my heart. I felt the most powerful statement in this talk was “we are all in this together”. This was said following a discussion regarding how different countries have different climate change priorities, depending on their fossil fuel resources. If countries are plentiful in fossil fuel resources, or they can afford them, they are less likely to look for green alternatives. However, regardless of this, the impacts of continual fossil fuel use will have consequences for us all. ‘We should invest now for future benefit’, it was pointed out that the Covid-19 situation is just a slowed down version of climate change. Scientists provide advice and warning; it falls on deaf ears and then all hell breaks loose. However, ‘worrying about climate change is a luxury’, this was a comment by a young scientist from a developing country. This rang true for me. I am actually very fortunate to be able to worry about climate change because my standard of living affords me to do this. However, the first people impacted by climate change will be those from developing countries. This means we need to be a voice for them! We need to be grateful that climate change is our biggest issue and stand up to advocate for change for the benefit of everyone. 

Was that too intense? Well that’s was exactly how I felt after that talk, fired up to enact change, and so did a lot of other young scientists judging by the chat feed. Did I mention that? We were able to chat to everyone through an online platform that ran concurrently to the presentations. This was a fantastic event with such topical discussions, including a panel session about women in science. One thing that struck me is that two of the female Nobel prize winners mentioned their parent’s support was one of the main reasons they were able to succeed in science. Having support and being encouraged to believe in yourself makes all the difference. My whole academic journey has been supported by my parents both financially and emotionally. I have always considered myself one of the lucky ones due to this, but this discussion really opened my eyes to just how important this really is. I feel lucky in all regards after this online event, luck to have the parents I do, lucky for the country I live in and lucky to have had the opportunity to participate in the Lindau Nobel Online Science Days

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