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Microbiology in the city of arts and sciences

This year saw the biggest Federation of European Microbiological Societies (FEMS) Congress to date, with almost 2,700 delegates from 85 countries, including Australia, North America, and South Korea gathering in Valencia, Spain. Not only was it the biggest, it was also the most engaged; over 3,000 abstracts were submitted, over 220 delegates received FEMS Congress Grants to be able to attend, and nearly 250 speakers were invited to share their research and their passion for microbiology. Throughout the five days, 75 inspiring sessions and workshops took place, ranging from antimicrobial resistance to fermentation microbiology, from science education and communication to climate change…

FEMS Lwoff Award lecture 

Every two years, FEMS awards either an individual or a group the FEMS-Lwoff Award. Named in honour of the first FEMS president, Professor André M. Lwoff, it represents an outstanding service to microbiology in Europe, and candidates are nominated by their peers. This year’s winner was Professor Jeff Errington, Director of the Centre for Bacterial Cell Biology at Newcastle University. His award-lecture took place as part of the Congress’ opening ceremony, focusing on cell wall deficient bacteria and their potential role in infectious diseases and in the environment.

Scientific publication explained

Another regular slot in the FEMS Congress programme is the scientific publishing workshop, chaired by Professor Jim Prosser, Board Member (Publications Manager) for the FEMS Journals. This year he was joined by Pathogens and Disease Editor-in-Chief Patrik Bavoil, and senior publisher from OUP, Matthew Pacey. Specifically aimed at early career microbiologists, the talk covered the publishing process from submission to online publication, top tips, and what not to do. Some that particularly resonated with the audience included:

  • “The science we do is only as good as the words we use to report it.”
  • “There is a reason why there is a ‘re’ in research: repeat, reproduce, reconsider, restart…”
  • “When rejected or asked to revise your manuscript, be humble, polite, and objective. Do not assume the reviewers or editors are: stupid, wrong, biased, competitors, or your enemies.”
  • “Speed is everything at the proofing stage. You will usually have about three days to respond to proofs!”
  • “Increasingly, the most successful researchers are those that self-promote.”

Antimicrobial resistance

With several symposia based on the topic of AMR, it was a key theme of the Congress. Elta Smith, research leader at RAND Europe, made a particular impression with her statistics in the workshop on ‘AMR Strategy – Future Challenges for Policymaking’: we’re facing the possibility of one death every three seconds by 2050 due to Antimicrobial Resistance. Roy Kishony’s talk was also provocative, as he used video to demonstrate how bacteria can adapt to survive and thrive when encountering increasingly strong antimicrobial agents.

Education – Engage your public
One of the more unique areas of the FEMS Congress was their stream of education-based symposia, workshops, and poster exhibitions, supported by the Professional Development section of FEMS Microbiology Letters. These focused on how best to communicate research to others, whether they are academic peers, students, or the general public, and focused not only on presentation and communication techniques, but also on the effect this could have on the future of microbiology in schools, universities, and in policy decisions. Brainchild of Joanna Verran, Education representative on the FEMS Board of Directors, the ‘Engage your public’ workshop covered a range of topics, ending with a guest presentation competition between eight early career scientists. FEMS Letters editor, Laura Bowater, gave guidelines on how to present research in an engaging, thought-provoking way, by asking a series of key questions:

  • Why does what you’re saying matter to the audience?
  • If you’re talking about a particular problem, what are the benefits of solving that problem?
  • How can you provide a simple message about a complex topic, without losing important information along the way?

James Redfern’s talk on how to introduce microbiology into various stages of education also asked questions of the audience, his innovative use of the interactive survey tool ‘Kahoot’ demonstrating how small changes can make a big difference in encouraging children, teenagers, and even adults, to engage more with science. FEMS is also excited to announce that James is working as  Guest Editor on an upcoming thematic series on ‘Mapping the Microbiology Community’ soon to be published in FEMS Microbiology Letters.

40 years of microbiological milestones

The Letters lounge was one of the key areas in which to socialise and network at the Congress. Consistently full, lounge visitors could be seen discussing their science at tables, on sofas, or relaxing on beanbags. It was the perfect location for FEMS to highlight their community-based approach to publishing. Over the course of the five days, delegates added their own milestones to the 40-year timeline of highlights and facts. Contributions ranged from the date of first published papers and fun facts about past Editors-in-Chief, to when delegates first decided microbiology was the field for them.

This year’s FEMS Congress was an outstanding success, bringing together microbiologists from across a multitude of fields, encouraging discussion, learning, and co-operation. Already, we can look ahead to the 2019 Congress in Glasgow, and know that it promises to be even bigger and better!

Featured image credit: Feria Valencia. Used with Permission of Author.

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