Following the social solitary confinement caused by COVID-19, Judith Mandl, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Physiology, and her colleague Irah King, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology, saw an opportunity to reinvigorate a sense of community through a new in-person, cross-departmental seminar series.

The “Emerging Topics in Health (EToH): Systems Immunology” seminar series began hosting talks in January 2023. The seminars showcase top-tier scientists who are thinking about big picture questions relevant to a broad audience. “When the selection committee for the seminar series started short-listing possible guest speakers, we were really looking at the best and brightest from around the world in emerging biomedical research,” says Prof. King. While this year’s central theme is systems immunology, participants can expect talks to span multiple disciplines that view infection and disease through a holistic lens. “We don’t want to examine the immune system exclusively in a vacuum, but rather how it interacts with all different types of tissues,” notes Prof. King. As implied by its name, systems immunology will also include topics from the frontiers of big datasets and high-throughput sequencing. Moreover, the “systems immunology” theme will continue until the end of 2023. After that, Prof. King and Prof. Mandl hope to continue the series with a new theme each year based on community input.

“The interdisciplinary nature of the seminar, bringing together people across diseases and disciplines is hugely valuable,” says Amanda Lund, PhD, the series’ second guest speaker and an Associate Professor in the Departments of Dermatology and Pathology at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine. “It forced me as a speaker to think about how I translate our interests, expertise, and tools to the audience and suggest implications for what we do across disease states. It was also a great opportunity to meet with and discuss our work with diverse faculty and come away with interesting insights to take back to the lab.”

The larger mission of the seminar series is to forge a sense of community in biomedical science at McGill. To fulfill this goal, each seminar is followed by a 5 à 7 cocktail hour at a nearby pub where students and faculty from different departments can network with the guest speaker and each other. “The 5 à 7 is an amazing opportunity for trainees to meet exciting speakers from other universities and have a chance to share a meal, interact with them, and ask questions ranging from something specific like, ‘I have this problem in my lab, how can I fix it?’ to larger questions like, ‘where do you think the field is going?’ or ‘what was your career trajectory?’” says Professor Mandl.

EToH 5 à 7 at the Brass Door Pub on February 15, 2023
Photo by Irah King

“I think that the 5 à 7 and the opportunity for informal discussions after the seminar add a really important casual element that allows for more nuanced discussions about the science, follow-up on intriguing ideas that intersect fields, and opportunities for career and professional development conversations,” says Prof. Lund. “We all have moved through different paths to get where we are, and these scientific and professional journeys are important for trainees to have access to.”

The seminars currently take place every second week until May 2023 and are a collaborative initiative of the McGill University Departments of Microbiology & Immunology, Physiology, and Human Genetics as well as the Rosalind and Morris Goodman Cancer Institute, the McGill University Research Centre on Complex Traits (MRCCT), and the McGill Interdisciplinary Initiative in Infection and Immunity (MI4).

Professor King and Professor Mandl note that the seminar series was made possible with funding support from Samantha Gruenheid, PhD, Chair of the Department of Microbiology & Immunology, John White, PhD, Chair of the Department of Physiology, as well as other supporters across the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.

The EToH team invites you to join them for a 5 à 7!

After each seminar, anyone is welcome to join the seminar team and guest speaker at the Brass Door Pub, 2171 Crescent Street, from 5 PM to 7 PM for fun and engaging discussions. For more information and to see the schedule, visit the SBMS events channel.