Not every academic conference offers the chance to discuss the latest in technological advancements while networking with Nobel laureates. The Global Young Scientists Summit, however, is a chance to do just that. GYSS is an annual gathering in Singapore that brings early-career multidisciplinary researchers from across the world together with field luminaries, Turing Award winners, Fields Medalists, and other leading minds in science and technology.
Attendees of the four-day summit hosted by Singapore’s National Research Foundation can view poster presentations, attend lectures, and gather in small-group sessions. Ten graduate students from the University of Illinois had the opportunity travel across the world to the prestigious conference in January 2023. We talked to them about the experience of traveling to Singapore, learning from scientific luminaries, and attending a multidisciplinary scientific summit.
Flying to Singapore is no small feat. For Ye-Ji Mun, a Ph.D. student in Electrical and Computer Engineering with a focus on human-centered robotics, taking long flights 36 hours across the globe wasn't a chore. "With the company of nine fellow students," she says, "the long journey transformed into an engaging and enjoyable adventure, far from dull or monotonous."
Once they touched down in Singapore, the ten graduate students destined for GYSS took some time to take in the sights, including an outdoor light show. For Colin Lim, a Ph.D. student in Bioengineering, the journey to GYSS was personal: "Travelling to Singapore was very exciting and meant a lot to me…since I was born and grew up in Malaysia. I have not been close to home for [about] five years. It was nice to see some familiar sites."
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Not Your Typical Science Conference
Ye-Ji particularly appreciated opportunities to engage with others at GYSS in more personal settings. "Besides the primary lectures, the conference also organizes small group sessions that attendees can apply for," she said. "These sessions provide a unique opportunity to engage in close discussions with preselected speakers, allowing participants to ask questions and interact more personally." Those personal interactions opened up spaces for mentoring: experts remained present during the conference's closing event, which Ye-Ji thinks offered "a chance to engage in one-on-one conversations with them, enabling more direct communication and connection."
Jongwon Lim, a Ph.D. student in Bioengineering, found the small group sessions with influential scientists like Millennium Technology Prize winner Sir David Klenerman particularly meaningful. “[Kenerman] stressed the importance of having a resilient mindset when pursuing impactful research, emphasizing that research often begins where human knowledge ends, which makes it inherently challenging to tackle. This realization heightened the need for a strong mentality to persist through the challenges…this mindset could not have been nurtured without the opportunity to meet him in person."
Learning from the Best
A highlight of GYSS is hearing talks from preeminent researchers, and this year was no exception. "The lectures were not typical scientific and technical presentations usually seen at scientific conferences," says Colin. "They focused more on the journeys of the presenters and the lessons they learned in pursuing science, which was inspiring." Ye-Ji also enjoyed hearing about the journeys of prominent experts: "Understanding the thought processes and attitudes of these eminent scientists towards their respective fields was a significant learning experience."
For Jongwon, the talks provided an invaluable opportunity to hear advice directed toward scientists at the beginning of their careers. "Attending GYSS is a process of integrating your knowledge and experience with the thoughts and ideas of the speakers, particularly those you are familiar with, as you listen to their lectures…it was very impressive that these busy and distinguished individuals have created content tailored to the younger research generation, giving valuable insights and perspectives to learn from."
What’s In Your Backpack?
The Global Young Scientists Summit is much more than an academic conference. It is a multidisciplinary, cross-cultural opportunity for meaningful connections and professional mentoring. Jongwon took advantage of that opportunity to ask Sir Klenerman about how the expert scientist formed collaborative relationships. Klenerman answered that "the best way is simply to ask." The advice stuck: "After the session," Jongwon said, "I followed his advice and emailed him to become my mentor, and he responded with a yes."
One of the best parts of GYSS is networking with fellow researchers across disciplines. Colin says that "science is so broad that you normally don't have many opportunities when carrying out your Ph.D. research to explore other branches of science that are not related to your project. This summit provides just that opportunity."
Ye-Ji thinks that graduate students across disciplines should consider applying to attend GYSS. For her, the summit "was an invaluable experience that allowed me to establish connections and friendships with a diverse group of young scientists spanning different countries and research domains."
Jongwon has another piece of advice for graduate students considering applying to participate in GYSS: they should think about what they’re bringing back home—and not in terms of souvenirs. "It's worth considering what you can bring on in your backpack on your return flight from Singapore…think about how you can use this new information to make a meaningful impact in your field. Selection as a representative of UIUC entails a responsibility to create a greater impact on society upon return."
The 2022 GYSS attendees extend their thanks for the opportunity to travel to Singapore. For more information about the Global Young Scientists Summit and the Graduate College’s GYSS Travel Grant program, visit the GYSS listing in the Fellowship Finder database. The Graduate College manages the campus selection process as well as travel logistics for GYSS, and funding is provided jointly by the Graduate College, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation, and the Grainger College of Engineering.