The four full days of cutting-edge molecular life science research on display in Nice this week mark the seventh and last ELSO congress. The organisation will fuse at the end of 2008 with EMBO, which promotes excellence in the molecular life sciences in Europe through its numerous programmes, activities and publications that recognise and foster talented scientists.
This incorporation of ELSO into EMBO not only sets the stage for The EMBO Meeting, a new annual life science conference beginning in Amsterdam in 2009, but also consolidates the commitment of EMBO to the broad community of European life science researchers.
For the past ten years, ELSO has filled an unoccupied niche in the European molecular life science scene. Modelled on the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB), the organisation has brought a 'grass-roots' membership of individual scientists from Europe and across the world to a large international congress on European soil. The ELSO meetings are now an established event in the diaries of many life scientists, attracting over 1000 participants, 600 poster presentations, one of the largest exhibition halls in Europe for life science companies and, crucially, a line-up of keynote lecturers, plenary session speakers, minisymposia and subgroup meetings of a quality that rivals any in the field. The meetings are a magnet, especially, for PhD students and postdocs, who comprise over half the participants.
This year's congress is a watershed for ELSO as its co-organisation of the meeting with EMBO heralds ELSO's fusion at the end of 2008 with this most prestigious and influential of European life science structures. "ELSO has achieved its main goal of creating a successful international life science meeting in Europe," says Kai Simons, ELSO's President. "We now need a structure that is more sustainable to carry the meeting forward into a new era."
ELSO has always operated on a shoestring with no permanent staff and little structure, making it difficult to expand in the way that the ASCB, for example, has been able to. EMBO is a prestigious organisation with a worldwide reputation. It has the headquarters and staff to run an international congress that should attract several thousand researchers to a European venue each year. Whereas ELSO has been obliged to focus mostly on its 'core' remit of cell and developmental biology, EMBO has the influence and the capacity to address the entire field of molecular life sciences in a large annual event. The EMBO Meeting will be a showcase for European research, a place for researchers to network, an opportunity for careers training and advice, a forum to debate science policy, and a visible flagship bringing the most exciting science to the public's attention.
"The EMBO Meeting represents the very fabric of what EMBO is about - recognising and fostering talented scientists, disseminating knowledge and ideas and stimulating cooperation across borders," says Hermann Bujard, EMBO Executive Director. "We welcome ELSO into EMBO and look forward to building upon the foundations of ELSO's work in the European life sciences community."
Not only are ELSO and EMBO co-organising this year's meeting in Nice, but the two organisations have also frequently worked together, within the European Life Science Forum (ELSF) and the Initiative for Science in Europe (ISE), towards shared goals concerning science policy. "There are so many E-organisations these days - ELSO, EMBO, ELSF, EPSO, ESF, EMBL - enough to confuse the scientists and totally bamboozle the politicians! It is a good time to rationalise and consolidate at least some of these disparate efforts," says Carol Featherstone, who represents ELSO in science policy discussions.
ELSO members are individual grass-roots researchers, whereas EMBO is essentially an academy whose more-than-1300 members each year nominate and elect new EMBO Members based on their proven excellence in research. Like ELSO, however, EMBO aims to aid and represent the wider community of researchers: it offers lab management and leadership courses, originally designed for EMBO Young Investigators, to all scientists, and the EMBO Science & Society Programme facilitates communication between scientists and the general public. EMBO is one of the key lobbyists in European science policy, arguing over the past few years for research funding through the European Research Council and for better support for research infrastructures.
ELSO has taken an important lead in developing ways to promote young scientists' careers. Through its Career Development Committee, it has collated a set of web pages providing useful information and links about everything from international PhD programmes to funding sources and mentoring advice. Not least, it has created a fully searchable database of expert women in the life sciences, with the goal of increasing the visibility of Europe's many talented women scientists. The database currently has over 450 entries and is an extremely useful resource for organisations looking to identify expert women scientists to serve on review boards, committees, etc. as well as female speakers and job candidates. In addition, at the ELSO meeting, there are several career events including a mentoring lunch and a session on careers outside academia that bring added value and interest to the meeting, especially for young researchers.
The ELSO 2008 programme includes Keynote Lectures on Saturday evening, 30 August, by Professors Pascale Cossart and Jürg Tschopp, the winners this year of the Louis Jeantet Prize for Medicine. Further details of the scientific programme, career development and Science & Society events are available on ELSO's web site.
On-site registration for the congress will take place from 09:00 on Saturday 30 August at the Nice Acropolis, 1 Esplanade Kennedy, 06300 Nice, France.
Suzanne Beveridge | idw
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