Ettal as the starting point of the Academy of Immunology
In this report, we summarize the sequence of events which started with the foundation of the Spring School on immunology in Ettal 18 years ago and eventually developed into what is now called the “Academy of Immunology” of the German Society for Immunology (DGfI).
For many years, the DGfI organized a small scientific meeting each spring, separate from its main annual scientific event in autumn. Importantly, the “spring meeting” was dedicated to early career immunologists and was meant to provide them with an opportunity to show and discuss their data among each other. In contrast, the meeting in autumn, was dominated by established researchers and was – and still is – quite competitive, so not really a platform for exposing young immunologists. However, there was a frustrating aspect of these spring meetings: Regularly, the spring meeting organizers complained that there was very low attendance of established immunologists. Thus, early career immunologists attending the spring meeting did not get noticed by established researchers and did not get feedback on their projects either. For four consecutive years, the board members of the German society for Immunology decided to give the spring meeting another „last chance“. The situation did not improve and in 2003, the traditional spring meeting was terminated by the society. At that time, Andreas Radbruch and Michael Lohoff met prior to the general assembly and discussed the idea to establish a type of meeting which was specifically dedicated to our young members, but would bring together early career and established scientists. Both were fascinated by the idea to found an event in Germany similar to the established school for immunology in Ionian Village in Greece, but with more flexibility in a changing set of the faculty of established scientists. Michael presented the idea in the assembly and he and Andreas were granted the permission to pursue the concept further.
Andreas and Michael selected an organizing team, covering different expertises and local immunology hotspots, basic and clinical immunology, and immunotechnology. A questionnaire was sent to immunology institutes in Ger-many to get insight into what topics would be of interest for the students, and what kind of format of the meeting would be feasible. In several meetings thereafter, the newly formed team worked on a structure for the school. A perfect location for the school was identified by Michael: Cloister Ettal in Bavaria, close to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. It was a great environment, providing a relaxing atmosphere, no competing social events, and a good infrastructure for teaching, housing and the schools own social activities, at a reasonable price.
Originally, the school was supposed to move around in Germany, but Ettal turned out to be such a perfect locality, that those plans were abandoned quickly. Over the years, new members joined the organizing team, old members left, to take up new challenges. Of note, Bettina Happel became deeply involved in the organization of the new autumn school (see below) which was founded at a later stage. For many years now, the team has been stable and the members have become close friends who take the yearly visit in Ettal as a great privilege. And while originally the school was devoted exclusively to early career scientist of German institutes, it now also hosts two students from Japan, two from China and three chosen from applicants sent by the IUIS.
Due to space limitations, the school could only host 55 students, which was considered reasonable also with respect to a more personal contact between teachers and students. So, it was quite a surprise when the first school was advertised that there were many more applications than places available, and the team had to select their top candidates. Andreas and Michael made a first selection which was confirmed – or modified – by the other team members. The criteria for selection were: a) obvious interest of the candidate as measured by the quality of her/his application, b) no rejection of the only candidate from a given city, c) advantage for students who were towards the end of their doctoral thesis, and might have no possibility to attend in the following year, d) advantage for applicants “coming back”, e.g. from maternal leave, in order to memorize their knowledge, e) advantage for applicants from institutes with smaller budgets, f) rejection of one candidate if another from the same group was accepted. The basic outlay of the school was 55 early career scientists and about 25 established scientists as faculty. The faculty was including the organizers and an ever changing set of immunologists from all over Germany, with about 5 international guests.
The overall schedule of the school is today still very similar to the initial one. During the years, Bettina Happel and later Melanie Wolf, and Tanja Durez have developed an unbeatable expertise in smoothing and solving all possible pitfalls from the start, to all types of unexpected events in Ettal. The school lasts 6 days, from Sunday to Friday, and starts with a personal introduction of the participants. This procedure was better developed in recent years by Friederike Berberich-Siebelt which now includes a 1-minute presentation in which each student is expected to introduce her/his institute and the topic of their thesis. After a break, this introduction is followed by a keynote lecture from a world-famous scientist working in immunology. The rest of the evening is reserved for dinner, leisure, bowling and socializing.
All other days include 5 (4 on Friday) lectures until noon, separated by sufficient time for discussion, and by some extensive breaks. Those breaks are not only important for socializing, but also serve to discuss with the exhibitors, who have become an integral part of the Spring School. Their companies substantially support the School financially, their representatives enjoy the science, and the participants get exposed to the most recent state-of-the-art technologies, ready to use for their projects. In fact, many of the company representatives have a personal tradition to visit the meeting and some come almost as long as the school exists.
In terms of science, a particular topic is framing each day. Traditionally, Bob Jack chairs the first day, devoted to innate immunology. Friederike Berberich-Siebelt is coordinating the second day, which is devoted to adaptive immunology. Wednesday is devoted to cutting-edge technologies relevant for immunology. It is coordinated by Andreas Radbruch and Christine Falk. Hendrik Schulze-Koops coordinates a day on clinical immunology on Thursday. The school finishes on Friday when Michael Lohoff coordinates a session on infection and memory. Lecturers are expected to introduce the overall scientific background of their subject and then smoothly move to their own scientific concepts. In the very end, they are encouraged “to fly into the sky” so that only a few specialists are still able to follow entirely. In the late afternoon of each day, each lecture is recapitulated in a very intense “question and answer” session which has been optimized by Michael over the years: the students form small groups together with one lecturer and after 20 minutes, each lecturer moves to a different group to ensure that the students get the chance to interrogate all of the lecturers.
The time between lectures and Q&A session is used for different activities each day, individual leisure such as hiking through the wonderful landscape, or an organized visit of one of the art museums in the vicinity, or a guided tour through the monastery. The visit to the cloisters distillery and meeting brother Vitalis is the absolute highlight of the school.
Another afternoon is organized by Tanja Durez, with the companies pre-senting their technologies and opportunities of applications. Finally, one afternoon is organized by Christine Falk and Hyun-Dong Chang, who organize a practical session on how to analyse data, e. g. from multiparametric flow cytometry, and avoid the pitfalls which spoil the scientific literature.
Three of the evenings, after dinner, are dedicated to socializing over poster discussions. Traditionally they take place in the quite narrow bowling area downstairs. An opportunity to deeply immerge into the science, enjoy wine and cheese, and chat with each other. The energy the attendants invest to convince colleagues and teachers of the importance of their science, demonstrates the high enthusiasm of the next generation. No time to worry. In the end, two poster prizes are given (provided by Luminex), one by the organizers for the best design and an-other by the students for the best science.
In the initial years, the number of applicants always had been much higher than the available slots. Furthermore, there was a striking heterogeneity in expertise of the applicants, ranging from true beginners, mostly medical students at the onset of their thesis, to experienced PhD students, and even to clinicians with several years of experience as practical doctors. Given the great overall success of the school, the team then decided to suggest to the German Society for Immunology to extend its educational activities. At that time Andreas Radbruch became president of the society and promoted the idea to form an “Academy of Immunology”, consisting of the established Spring School in Ettal, dedicated to advanced young immunologists, a newly to be formed “Autumn School of Immunology” introducing basic concepts of immunology to beginners in the field, and a “Translational School of Immunology” for clinical immunology. Two reputed immunologists known with proven organizatorial skills, Hans-Martin Jäck and Jürgen Wienands, were asked to establish the Autumn School, following the role model of the Spring School. They formed their team. The location was selected using similar criteria as that for Ettal and identified a hotel at the beautiful Bad Schandau, in the former east of Germany. New ideas were tested and eventually established, such as “speed-dating” with the companies – or specific seating allocations during meals. Eventually, the location of the Autumn School was changed to Merseburg, a historic city also in the former east, with the advantage of a big historical lecture hall enabling a higher numbers of participants.
In contrast to Ettal, the original team organizing the Autumn School has changed and is headed now by Sandra Beer-Hammer.
As for Ettal, the success of the autumn meeting was remarkable. The third school of the German Society for Immunology took more time to get established. This so-called “Translational School” was planned to address clinical immunologists. Reinhold Schmidt from Hannover and Stefan Meuer from Heidelberg originally took up the challenge to establish such a school.
The founding organizing team se-lected a hotel resort at Schwielowsee close to Potsdam as location. The school covers an extended weekend, to allow immunologists with clinical duties to attend.
Organizing this school was hampered by the nowadays limited integration of clinical immunologist into the community of the German Society for Immunology. A regrettable development, since advance in immunology is defined by its clinical perspective. The organizing team of the Translational Immunology School is adapting to this problem, e.g. by having joint meetings with the working group on clinical immunology of the DGfI. The organizing team is now headed by Bimba Hoyer and Bodo Grimbacher. When Andreas Radbruch became president of the European Federation of Immunological Societies (EFIS) the school was extended to a European scale and transformed into a joint school of the DGfI and the EFIS.
In addition to the three schools of the DGfI, the “Academy of Immunology” also includes training per person, leading to a several year-long personal education in institutions acknowledged by the DGfI and ended by an examination which then allows successful participants to gain the title “Fachimmunologe”, a topic beyond the scope of this article. The basic concept of the “Academy of Immunology”, starting with the Spring School on Immunology in 2003, was to provide a platform for communication between young and established immunologists, covering a broad range of topics, far be-yond the local expertise present at individual locations. This should promote the career of young immunologists and enhance the overall quality of immunological research. It may have worked out, time will tell, but in any case, it was fun all the way.