Spot on: the computational genomics summer school

“Outstanding faculty… Amazingly well organized… Great people doing very good work… Extremely interesting, even and especially for a wet-lab biologist” – the participants only had superlatives when describing the 3rd International MDC-BIMSB Summer School, taking place at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) from 18th until 24th of October.

This time, the yearly Summer School was all about “Computational Genomics”. 20 participants chosen from 65 applications spent seven very intense days learning hands-on programming in R, statistics, NGS applications and Chip-seq/RNA-seq data analysis as well as working with multiple genomics data sets.

“It’s been inspiring, I’m glad I chose this course”, said Olga Safronova who traveled all the way from Japan. Olga is not a bioinformatician herself, but works with bioinformaticians and bioinformatics data. The course has helped her to better understand how these data is generated and also inspired her to new directions for her research. “I’m taking plenty of homework with me”, she concluded.

Patrick Lang from University of North Carolina (2nd from right) with other participants of the workshop. Picture: Grietje Krabbe/MDC

Also Patrick Lang, from University of North Carolina, USA, was enthusiastic about the course. He came to the MDC after careful market research – none of the competing computational genomics courses had the faculty, the topic selection, the price and yes – the location! – to match the MDC-BIMSB summer school. Did the course meet his expectations? “Yes, fully! I learned a lot and met interesting people, great scientists. I see this course not just as a learning experience, but also as a beginning of future collaborations.”

Already existing collaborations, namely with Nikolaus Rajewsky, brought Nicholas Socci, one of the lecturers, to Berlin. “This is the first time I’m teaching at this level, and because of the combination of people and the outstanding organization it is astonishingly easy”, he said. “Moreover, I’m learning a lot myself.”

Altuna Akalin, a group leader at the Berlin Institute of Medical Systems Biology (BIMSB) an institute of the MDC and head of the bioinformatics technology platform, organized the Summer School. Financial support came from the Charité Foundation, after a proposal by Bernd Dörken, Andreas Herrmann, Alexander Bockmayr, Christine Sers, Christof Schütte and Nikolaus Rajewsky.

In conclusion, the summer school was a roaring success with only one down-side – due to the space constraints it was not possible to accommodate internal candidates. However, Altuna already has a solution: “We are repeating the course, in a similar setting, for MDC and BIMSB students and employees in the beginning of 2016”. Will there be another international Summer School? “Most definitely! Biology and medicine depend more and more on high-throughput methods with each experiment generating huge datasets. The skills needed for processing and analyzing such datasets are a discipline in itself, but it is crucial that all scientists conducting high-throughput experiments understand how the analyses are done. Also the BMBF, that is the Federal Ministry of Education and Research recognizes the importance of scientists learning these skills and provides funding for our next workshop, in the late summer of 2016”.

Indeed, judging from the amount of applications, there is a demand out there. Here at the MDC/BIMSB we have the expertise as well as the capacities to organize such courses. The motivation is not necessarily purely altruistic –courses like the summer school attract leading and emerging talents from around the world, building a community and allowing us to showcase our science through first hand, in-depth interactions. Courses like the summer school are a benchmarking and branding process for our institution, further strengthening our position in the scientific community and definitely of great value for our research.

For more information on the Summer School’s program and on the research in Altunas Akalins lab, please visit the BIMSB pages.