By: Franziska Bröker, Miriam Rateike, and Renée Hartig

It is early January, rainy season, and research questions are looming in the air: How has mining the Central African Copper Belt impacted soil bacterial populations? How do  fungi influence one of Zambia’s most important agricultural products – peanuts? From preparing a proposal to pitching a poster, students at the University of Zambia researched such questions during the Collaborative Science Symposium 2020. This week-long training program introduced natural science undergraduates and graduates to accessible research methods, scientific soft skills, and a network of international mentors, empowering young scientists to move their careers forward.

For this purpose, six researchers from the Max Planck Society (Germany) and Temple University (PA, USA) teamed up to travel to Lusaka, Zambia’s buzzing capital. Prepared for the expected, and excited for the unexpected, the Symposium team expressed the shared motivation to educate and learn. The University of Zambia was the first in the country to open its doors in 1966, and today welcomes you with its motto in big print: Service and Excellence. A mission not only reflected on the campus gates but also in the symposium.

Overlooking palm trees, a group of 30 students took hold of a journey through the layers of the scientific method. Teams conceived of research projects, building on material from morning lectures in which we touched on topics including literature review, experimental design, statistics and machine learning. Symposium participants demonstrated a profound ability to absorb the information presented in the lectures as they assembled it into coherent research proposals, posters, and elevator pitches. During afternoon sessions, we offered hands-on training in computer programming, public speaking, and scientific writing. These one-on-one practicals also laid the foundations for cultural exchange and future mentoring.

It was already the second year that the Collaborative Science Symposium materialized in Zambia after its launch by Dr. Renée Hartig, together with the non-profit organization TReND in Africa, in early 2019. TReND aims to address the lack of human, material and financial resources hindering research proficiency on the African continent. Symposium workshop topics, such as research ethics and fairness in machine learning, sparked discussions on the impact and responsibilities of scientists. It also had us think about questions like how to promote online resources at universities with limited internet access. In short, the symposium proved to be a truly bidirectional learning experience that opened new intellectual territory to all. We encouraged participants to pursue their scientific ambitions and returned home with a much broader horizon ourselves.

Service and Excellence in higher education. That is what we witnessed at the Collaborative Science Symposium. High agility revealed a scientific maturity and commitment to knowledge. We met brilliant young scientists that brought tremendous hard work and motivation to the classroom. The students’ agility revealed a scientific maturity and commitment to knowledge that was inspiring. We look forward to replicating such enthusiasm for science again next year. Until then, friendships and mentorships that were developed are maintained remotely – a symposium that doesn’t end with the last talk.

Within two years, the Collaborative Science Symposium has gained support from the Max Planck Society, Tübingen University, University of California Los Angeles, University of Central Florida and Temple University. We explicitly thank the Max Planck Society for their financial support and their trust in us to effectively turn resources into useful knowledge, sustainable relationships, and lasting impressions.

The Collaborative Science Symposium 2020 was held by Dr. Renée Hartig (TReND Course Coordinator) and Franziska Bröker, Max Planck Institute of Cybernetics, Anastasia Lado and Miriam Rateike, Max Planck Institute of Intelligent Systems, both in Tübingen, Germany and Professors Kevin Arcenaux and Valentina Parma, from Temple University, Philadelphia, USA.

If anyone is interested in this program and feels that they would like to take part at some point, please do reach out! Just send an email to science.symposium19@gmail.com expressing your interest and an effort will be made to incorporate your ambitions for the next journey.