From local to international: how Young Immunologists are connecting across Europe

The number of associations created by young immunologists for young immunologists has seen steady growth over the past five years [1]. These groups are composed of bachelor, master and PhD students, together with postdocs and early career PIs. They provide their members with the opportunity to discuss and address problems commonly faced by early career researchers, as well as exchanging everything from job postings to laboratory protocols. Additionally, these groups are often formally established associations, providing the leadership team, and the wider membership community, with experience creating, organising and working in a team. These are all important skills for junior immunologists to develop, wherever their careers may take them. During the unprecedented upheaval caused by the Corona pandemic, these associations have come to the fore as a means for generating invaluable connections between junior researchers. 
The German Young Immunologists (YI) were established in 2016 at the annual German Society of Immunology (DGfI) conference in Hamburg [2]. A dedicated group of junior researchers enthusiastically took up the challenge after senior DGfI members suggested that younger members could benefit from being more connected. This move within the community to establish an early career-focussed association highlighted how the DGfI valued its more junior members. With this support, an interim group of junior researchers invested a lot of hard work to set up the framework for the YI. The first official board elections took place in 2017, with a term of two years. Some of the initial challenges faced by the group were to figure out their identity and to define their goals. They also had to become more visible, in order to expand their membership reach. For Kilian Schober, board member from 2017–2021, being able to extend his network and become fully integrated into a professional community was one of the highlights. Another highlight was the feeling of making a difference for other young immunologists, in particular by organising and supporting childcare at the annual DGfI conference. Being appreciated by more senior col-leagues for the hard work and innovations was also rewarding. The support of the German Society for Immunology was instrumental in getting this idea up and running. Combined with the drive and initiative of the young researchers who made up the first board (2017–2019), the groundwork was set to grow and expand upon the YI idea.
Independently, Young Immunologist groups were also formed in Italy (SIICA Junior Faculty, established in 2017) [3] and in Austria (Next Generation Immunologists, established in 2019). The unique challenges faced by junior researchers, as well as the importance of a strong personal network, justified the creation of these groups. During the 2018 European Congress of Immunology (ECI) in Amsterdam, the existing YI groups connected to organise a social evening for the younger researchers. There was further exchange during the 2019 joint meeting of the DGfI and SIICA in Munich [2]. Events, including an early career researcher scientific session, discussion panels and a social evening, were co-organised by the respective junior groups to facilitate connections between the two societies. 
The second board of the DGfI Young Immunologists (2019–2021) were eager to continue the work of their predecessors, when the Corona pandemic began. While this made some of the planned tasks more difficult, the move to an online world was also an opportunity. Previously, it had been suggested that more countries could benefit from dedicated Young Immunologist groups and that a Europe-wide initiative could be beneficial [1]. The European Federation of Immunological Societies (EFIS) is an umbrella organisation that unites and represents the interests of 35 immunological societies [4]. Therefore, the EFIS board was approached about starting a “Young” EFIS group that would connect junior representatives across Europe. This initiative started within the German YI, in particular from Santiago Costas (YI board member 2019–2021), who led the idea from the beginning. For Santi, his previous experience working in different societies showed how a European-level community could be beneficial to researchers. But it was actually a close call that he became involved in the YI to begin with. After seeing the deadline for applications for board membership had been extended, and having found extra time to apply due to a problematic experiment, he was then elected to the board. In subsequent meetings with the EFIS board, Santi was able to show the strength of the idea and gained the support of EFIS to initiate a taskforce to lead Young EFIS. 
Young EFIS (yEFIS) has since taken off (Figure 1). 

Representatives were assembled from countries across Europe, to meet regularly and decide the direction of the group. Bylaws were drafted, working groups created, a social media presence established, and monthly newsletters produced. The network has since grown to over 550 registered members (Nov. 2021). The first elections were held in August 2021 for the new leadership board, resulting in the election of a Spokesperson (Rami Bechara, France), Vice-Spokesperson (Nat Bennett Saidu, Norway) and Treasurer (Myriam Nabhan, Ireland). During the virtual ECI in September 2021, yEFIS made their debut with a strong presence. yEFIS representatives hosted a career panel, exploring non-academic careers, that attracted over 700 viewers. Whilst a co-chaired seminar with the European Journal of Immunology focussed on tips for a successful academic career. The attendance at these events highlighted the interest in, and relevance, of providing targeted career advice for junior immunologists. At the national level, at least eight additional young immunologist groups have been set up since yEFIS formed, with more in the process [5, 6]. These groups have learnt from each other's experiences and have been supported by their connection to yEFIS and the broader network.
Despite the success of yEFIS, the initiation was not without its challenges. Balancing multiple interests and trying to keep many different people satisfied is a universal challenge in such situations. EFIS provided a lot of support and guidance for the initial team, however, many things still had to be learnt from trial and error. On a personal level, Santi describes the challenge of not becoming too involved in every aspect of the yEFIS, learning to take a step back and also to delegate and trust in the abilities of others. This leads on to the most rewarding aspects of setting up yEFIS: to see teams working independently, the establishment of many new national YI groups, and attendance of young immunologists from across Europe at the yEFIS seminars. In addition, the strong connections made with team members from all over Europe and the sense of community are invaluable rewards from this effort. 
In the German YI, there is again a period of transition. As the second board steps back, the recently elected third board of the German YI (2021–2023) will continue to grow and develop the YI with fresh ideas [Figure 2].

The new board members come from both Germany and abroad and cover a range of junior immunologist positions. Sabrina B. Bennstein (Postdoc, Düsseldorf) was selected to be Spokesperson and Tal Pecht (Postdoc, Bonn) was selected as Vice-Spokesperson. The other board members are Katharina Bomans (Postdoc, Heidelberg), Laila Kulsvehagen (PhD student, Basel), Lorenz Kretschmer (Physician scientist, München), Christos Nikolaou (Senior Research Scientist, Berlin) and Lucas Seccim Ribeiro (Postdoc, Bonn). 
For new board member Christos, prior engagement with his PhD graduate school in Berlin was the motivation to become an active part of the YI. As an international researcher in Germany, this support was immensely helpful at both a personal and professional level. His passion for immunology also provided motivation to share this knowledge with the wider community, and he hopes that being part of the YI will allow him to expand communication efforts but, most importantly, begin building a functional and honest culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion in immunology research groups. His advice to other young immunologists is to engage and become an active member of the community. Firstly, because this is how changes can come about for improving conditions for early career researchers. Secondly, because the community can foster scientific exchange and strengthen academic solidarity in times when one can otherwise feel alone in their specific situation.
In contrast, Sabrina had participated in meetings organised by the previous YI board and became interested in the cause of the YIs. This led her to become a YI representative for the NK cell Working Group of the DGfI in January 2021. Her reasons for joining the YI board were to make an impact and contribute to society. She has learnt that open communication of how one feels during difficult situations is essential. The first step in practising this philosophy is evident in her recent opinion article, where she writes openly about challenges arising from her unusual CV [7]. Sabrina advises an open communication style to other young scientists. She would also like to support junior members who feel their CV is ‘not-straightforward' as these diverse career paths bring unique insights and skills to the immunology community. She is very happy to work together with the new board members and closely with yEFIS to strengthen the YIs on a national and international level. 
The new board members are excited to begin working on their own ideas for the future of the YI. These include increasing the social media presence, by building on the success of the Twitter account established by the second YI board, the current YI board has already increased their followers from 646 to 787, since September 2021. The new YI board is also working on a LinkedIn profile, to increase visibility and networking opportunities for their members.  In addition, they are working on events for the next in-person DGfI meeting, as well as a survey for young immunologists, targeting both DGFI members as well as non-members to identify career issues. In particular, they would like to understand the needs of YIs that have arisen from the current pandemic situation, in addition to the needs under normal conditions. To address this issue, the board is putting together a survey to gain a better understanding of individuals’ needs and the status quo academic working conditions of young immunologists to understand whether and how they could be improved. Similar anonymous surveys providing valuable information have been successfully carried out and published ( for doctoral researchers of Germany’s non-university research organizations to discuss the future of science – its working conditions, career perspectives and impact on society. It is of high importance to present reliable statistics which back up positions thus answers from the entire YI community will be sought, in order to gain a comprehensive understanding, tailored to young immunologists. These results will enable the new YI board to focus more closely on members’ interests and plan future activities, such as seminars, so stay tuned for further updates. 
The next meeting of the DGfI is planned for 2022 in Hannover. Preparations are already underway from the new board to make sure that the YI will have a strong presence. This will be a great opportunity for young immunologists to meet not only the new board, but also other members of the association. The DGfI-YI currently has 352 members (Nov. 2021), which the new board hopes to increase during their tenure. The YI, as well as yEFIS, are always happy to hear from the wider community, whether it’s to offer suggestions, share an idea or news about publications or awards. You can find all the contact details listed below, and registration is possible via the respective websites.

Contact details and registration

DGfI-Young Immunologists


Ellen McAllister
2nd DGfI-YI board;
yEFIS Communications Coordinator
Christos Nikolaou
3rd DGfI-YI board;
Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin
Sabrina B. Bennstein
3rd DGfI-YI Spokesperson,
Institute for Transplantation Diagnostics and Cell Therapeutics,
Heinrich-Heine University Düsseldorf
Anne Hahn
2nd DGfI-YI Board;
yEFIS-EJI Coordinator
Aus der Rubrik