More than Mozart! – A trip to Vienna and the European Congress of Immunology

In early September 2015 we, two PhD students from Beatrix Schumak’s lab at the Institute of Medical Microbiology, Immunology and Parasitology, headed south to our neighboring country Austria. Our destination was the Austria Center Vienna where we attended the 4th European Congress of Immunology. Due to flight schedules we got lucky and had two days to see the beautiful city of Vienna before the conference started. We saw some of the city’s famous sights, including the Schönbrunn Palace and the St. Stephen’s Cathedral. When we got the conference program we realized that it was a good decision to visit the city early on because there were hardly any breaks after the scientific program had started.

Orchestra at Opening Ceremony (© J. Kuepper)

The conference started with a big surprise: The organizing team had invited a full orchestra to the opening ceremony which performed short extracts from Mozart’s music live on stage. After this fabulous start all participants were invited to a welcome reception with typical Austrian food and wine and some more live music where we met some very nice fellow Belgian PhD students.

The next morning we arrived early to put up our posters in the exhibition area before the scientific program started. The congress schedule was overwhelming: In almost all time slots eight sessions ran in parallel and we had a very broad spectrum of topics to choose from. The topics ranged from very basic immunology sessions on “Innate Immunity” to more specific ones like “Extrinsic and Intrinsic Control of Positive / Negative T Cell Selection” but also a lot of clinical immunology and immunotherapy was covered. Like good PhD students we had already studied the program the night before and when the day started we had a full schedule with different topics. As we both work on immune responses in the development of cerebral malaria, we were most interested in presentations about immunology in parasitic diseases, especially malaria, where the newest discovery of a promising vaccine was an obvious hot topic. As parasitic diseases were rather underrepresented, we also focused on different topics like cytotoxic T cells, cross-presenting dendritic cells or type I interferons which we are investigating in our model of experimental cerebral malaria. Our plans worked well in the beginning but after some time we realized that it was impossible to attend every single session. Finally, we took the advice of a senior scientist to relax a bit in this overstimulating surrounding and spend some time to meet new people and digest all the new information.

Welcome Reception, Janina Kuepper (middle) and Patricia Korir (2nd from right) with fellow Belgian PhD students (© Foto Sulzer)

For us our poster presentation was a personal highlight. The poster areas were enormous with a total of around 2,000 posters displayed over the course of three days in a large exhibition area. There were guided poster walks by session chairs to evaluate all the posters and to find prize worthy posters but also enough time to discuss the results with fellow researchers. Our personal highlight was a poster visit by a Professor from the Netherlands who also works in malaria immunology and has published several papers relevant to our work. We enjoyed a very friendly and fruitful discussion in which he also offered some collaboration and also a Plasmodium strain from his institute.

The other days were similar, with a lot of interesting talks and presentations and outstanding keynote lectures, like the one of Luke O`Neill on inflammasomes. Furthermore we had a lot of posters to discover and a million of pens to collect from all those company booth’s who competed with little presents and discounts to attract our attention.

The evenings were full of social events for networking and fun. We attended the so called “Bright Sparks Pub Crawl” which was a pub evening for small groups of young researchers. The organizing Viennese students / young post-docs had chosen a small place with a good variety of organic food and drinks, where we chatted with other “bright sparks” in a relaxing atmosphere. No wonder this event was envied by the older scientists who I overheard asking for a similar event for the more established researchers.

These 4 days went by rather fast but on the last day we also noticed how exhausting the opulence of science was: the last sessions were harder to follow and in the end we were happy when the conference was over, as we already had an enormous amount of new thoughts that needed time to be digested. We left Vienna with our thoughts running around a fantastic first international conference and our stomach full with the famous Viennese Schnitzel.

All in all we were very happy that we got the chance to visit this international conference and recommend this experience to all PhD students.


Authors: Patricia Korir and Janina Küpper