South Africa shines at Lindau

A week of intense discussion, socialising and learning has come to an end at Lindau with a day spent at the garden island of Mainau on Lake Constance. Home to Countess Bettina Bernadotte, President of the Council for the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, Mainau is a plant-lover’s paradise, with beautiful sculpted gardens, a butterfly park and numerous water features. The delegates listened to a panel discussion on ‘Living in the post-truth era’, before spending hours picnicking beneath towering trees and wandering the utopian island. On the boat home to Lindau on Friday evening, South African delegates shared their sadness that the conference was over, but left inspired and full of new ideas.

sa delegates shine

South African delegates Bianca Verlinden (left) and Shireen Mentor (centre) making connections at the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. Image credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings.

“I have a notebook filled with life lessons learned at Lindau,” says Bianca Verlinden of the University of Pretoria. “My main take-home messages: Go where the science takes you, be open-minded so that you can see the surprising discoveries, and it isn’t about where you publish but what you publish. Choose quality over glamour when you share you story.”

South African delegates represented their country well, with several participating in events and panels during the week of academic meetings. Verlinden presented her work to Nobel Laureates Peter C. Doherty & Rolf Martin Zinkernagel as part of a Master Class. She was also invited to research events at the Max Planck Institute in Munich after the Lindau Meeting is complete.

“The Master Class gave me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to share my story with 2 Nobel Laureates and 70 brilliant young scientists,” she says. “I got fantastic feedback from the NL on how to present my scientific message effectively, and both groups asked challenging questions that will improve the impact of my study and guide future research.”

Edith Phalane of North West University sat on a panel discussing ‘Health Innovation in Africa: The Way Forward. “We don’t have these conversations in Africa,” she said of the panel discussions. “I was given an opportunity to raise my voice, to share ways I have been working in healthcare access through education and prevention, and in advocating researchers to engage.”

Phalane is grasping the opportunities she got at Lindau with both hands, with plans to establish new organisations, and write papers on African health cooperation with fellow Lindau delegates. “Professor Elizabeth Blackburn’s call for global science is close to my heart,” she says. “With my colleague and fellow Lindau delegate Blessing Ahiante, we want to start an organisation to globalise science in terms of our work on cardiovascular disease, advocating for Lindau delegates and researchers from other institutions to go to their own remote areas with the message of science.”

She and other African delegates have also established an informal network to work on papers discussing African cooperation in Health Innovation, with a particular focus on policy and public health.

Shireen Mentor of the University of the Western Cape displayed an academic poster as well as presenting her poster in just two minutes, during a Poster Flash Session. She will be attending post-meeting research events at the Max Planck Institute in Tubingen, Baden-Württemburg.

Beyond these formal engagements, they were active in many conversations with fellow researchers from around the world, and hungrily absorbed advice and wisdom from the Nobel Laureates. At an informal dinner, Keith Ncube of the University of Pretoria made a meaningful connection with Professor Michael Levitt through their shared work on cancer. Many also participated in video sessions with science comedian Brian Malow, which were live-streamed and can be found on the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting Facebook page.

Regardless of the type of engagement, the South African delegates return home changed, grown, transformed by this once-on-a-lifetime experience, and carrying experiences that will shape their future careers and lives.

“Lindau surpassed all my expectations,” says Dr Eileen Thomas of Stellenbosch University. “I’m leaving inspired and with a clearer idea of how to carve out my own career path and ensure that science translates by giving back to my community and country.”

The ASSAf delegates at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting are Blessing Ahiante (North-West University (NWU)), Shireen Mentor (University of Western Cape), Edith Phalane (NWU), Zimkhitha Soji (University of Fort Hare), Dr Eileen Thomas (Stellenbosch University), and Dr Bianca Verlinden (University of Pretoria).

Written by Paul Kennedy, ScienceLink