In 2019, nearly 100 people came together to explore what it would mean to build community and collaboration among microbiome and microbial sciences researchers at Illinois. Four years later, the community includes nearly 400 members engaging and collaborating in exciting ways. While the Microbial Systems Initiative (MSI) team fosters collaboration and networking, participation from Illinois researchers and trainees created this community. As the academic year wraps up, we reflect on the programming and events that brought us together.
Monthly Coffee Hours and Microbe Mondays were organized in response to requests for informal events that stimulate collaboration and foster a vibrant MSI community. The MSI Coffee Hour offered a relaxed setting for members of the microbial systems research community to connect and exchange ideas. Microbe Mondays, monthly lunches featuring brief research presentations from faculty and trainees, became one of MSI’s most well-attended programs, with more than 160 researchers and trainees from across campus participating throughout the academic year. The presentations represented more than 8 units across campus. The willingness of the presenters to share their expertise and insights with the community allowed researchers from across campus to engage in discussions on topics such as food systems and safety and the epidemiology of enteric pathogens.
Faculty and trainees continue to participate in MSI writing groups. These groups have provided researchers with protected writing time and accountability in a casual, collegial, and virtual space. Through these writing groups, participants have the opportunity to advance their writing projects, receive constructive feedback, and build connections. Read More about how writing groups can help you meet your research goals.
MSI continues to collaborate with the Cancer Center at Illinois through the Cancer and Microbes Working Group led by Professors Sayee Anakk and Shannon Sirk. The group gathered in the fall for a Cancer & Microbes networking event and research showcase. Researchers gave presentations to update the group on their collaborative projects and trainees shared their research during a poster session. The working group will continue in the fall with regular meetings and a networking event.
As part of our priority to provide research, educational, and professional development opportunities for trainees, MSI supports the Microbial Early-Career Researchers Association (MicroERA). Led by President Elizabeth Brandley and the executive board, MicroERA hosted social events and professional development activities throughout the academic year. The Faculty Q & A series, which offered trainees the opportunity to interface with faculty and ask questions related to their research interests, career goals, and other academic and professional topics, was a key highlight this year. Faculty members Jacob Allen and Michael Miller provided insights into their research experiences and offered advice on topics such as publishing, presenting at conferences, and navigating the job market. MIcroERA also organized a Science Communication Workshop featuring Professors Asma Hatoum-Aslan and Sirk offering practical tips on oral and poster presentations and answering trainee questions ahead of the Research Symposium.
The 3rd Annual MicroERA Research Symposium was held at the Campus Instructional Facility and featured a keynote from Northwestern Professor Arthur Prindle as well as 35 poster and lightning talk presenters. Among many excellent presentations, Benjamin Levine, a PhD student in Professor Brett Loman’s lab in the Division of Nutritional Sciences, was awarded Best Lightning Talk, and Shannon Sirk’s Bioengineering PhD student, Mark Tarabey, was awarded Best Poster. Award-winning trainees received a certificate and gift card. The student-led committee looks forward to planning next year’s symposium. Trainees interested in making decisions for next year are encouraged to email MicroERA.
Another important way MSI unites the microbial systems research community is through a monthly newsletter, which serves to highlight microbial systems researchers’ achievements and promote events and opportunities. MSI aims to foster greater understanding and collaboration among colleagues in the microbial sciences, ultimately enhancing multidisciplinary research and educational opportunities on our campus through Researcher Spotlights, highlighting researchers and trainees this year. If you are interested in being featured in an upcoming researcher spotlight, email Sara Ressing.
In January, MSI celebrated the achievements of new faculty who joined campus as part of the 2020 cluster hire facilitated by the leadership team. These faculty have reenergized the microbial systems community and continue to be a vital component of the future development and expansion of MSI. Read more about how these new faculty have contributed to our community’s growth and success.
The MSI team has supported a diverse range of activities aimed at advancing research and collaboration. The MSI team looks forward to continuing this work in partnership with the microbial systems research community, making even greater strides in strengthening Illinois’ robust profile in microbial sciences research and education. Next year, the Microbial Multiverse Symposium will showcase Illinois faculty and researchers from across the country. Registration is now open for the symposium on September 14-16, 2023.
The Microbial Systems Initiative has thrived and flourished over the past year because of the active participation of the MSI community. The numerous events and programs organized by MSI have not only fostered collaboration and networking but have also provided invaluable opportunities for research partnerships, community building, and professional development for trainees.