A new take on the FOS course ‘Cutting-edge immunology: from chemistry to metabolism’

9 November 2020• NEWSITEM

From the 19th till the 23rd of October, 2020 the lectures of the annual four-week Frontiers of Science (FOS) course on cutting-edge immunology took place. This year though, the setup of the course was completely different from the years prior say both coordinators Arnaud Zaldumbide, associate professor at LUMC’s Cell and Chemical Biology department, and Bruno Guigas, assistant professor at the Department of Parasitology at the LUMC; a setup that proved to be “very rewarding in the end”, says Zaldumbide. And, as Guigas mentions: “Stepping out of our comfort zone really meant fresh blood for the course.”

Ever since 2015, the ‘Cutting-edge immunology: from chemistry to metabolism’ course, as one of the FOS courses for master students Biomedical Sciences and Medicine has been an elective for students of LUMC/Leiden University. The course entails a series of lectures followed by a ten-day practical laboratory internship, in which students have to design and perform a set of experiments. The course further includes a one-week final assignment, during which the students have to develop a research proposal on a specific course-related topic andpresent it to their peers and tutors.  

A new angle

This years’ course, however, had to be rearranged completely. “Obviously due to the challenges we faced because of to the coronavirus, we were unable to offer students practical research projects at the LUMC departments involved in the course and had to think of a completely different approach”, says Guigas, to which he adds: “Instead, we have provided them with a set of data that they’ll work with for their research project in the coming weeks of the course.” Zaldumbide mentions that not being embedded in a research group like one normally would and having to work on divergent types of research projects from home is not just a challenge for the students, but for the tutors as well. “We really had to find projects that can be run from home.”

But where there is challenge, there is also opportunity. “2020 proved to be a breath of fresh air for the course. Arnaud joined the coordinating team, and his input alone already gave us new insights for the course, let alone the opportunities COVID-19 offered us to move forward with the course”, Guigas says, to which Zaldumbide adds: “We had to set up the course online entirely, a transition that went surprisingly well and was very rewarding in the end.” The major opportunity COVID-19 posed was that an online lecture series could be accessible to a broader audience. *

LUMC Global

“Now that we had the opportunity to reach out to a broader audience online, it seemed very logical to explore the possibilities of increasing the visibility of the lecture series. On top of LUMC master students, this year we also opened the course to bachelor, master and PhD students from partner institutions and universities. With the help of Suze Kruisheer, Lead LUMC Global, we also incorporated the course within the LUMC Global Initiative; a strategic programme to further boost (the visibility of) international education and research. We were now able to reach out to many students and actually had to turn application down due to technical limitations. All in all, we were able to have 80 students from partner universities of the LUMC in as many as 11 countries, which was amazing!”, say both Zaldumbide and Guigas. 

Interactivity, flexibility and an unexpected positive in dark times

To facilitate interaction with the students, Zaldumbide and Guigas had to make yet another adjustment to the course. “We implemented a concept of ‘expert sessions’, where students can interact with lecturers to ask questions or expand the discussion on the lecture subjects. We didn’t want the course to strictly focus on sending knowledge to attendees, but also offer them a chance to interact with lecturers and engage with the subjects put forward”, says Guigas.

This approach also meant both lecturers and students had to be flexible. “The lecturers proved to be the driving forces behind our success. Without their positive attitude towards this new setup and their willingness to adjust their lectures to the broader audience, none of this would have been possible. But also the motivation of the students, who have been solely positive about our initiative and have thanked us for everything we have done, contributed greatly to the success of the course. The shift in focus due to COVID-19 proved to be a major positive during these dark times of the pandemic”, says Zaldumbide. 

Next steps

And the future? Zaldumbide and Guigas: “We definitely hope to reach out to an even broader audience. We’ve seen the fruits of our labor this year and the enthusiastic response from both students and partner universities. As long as we can keep the balance between the quality of the content and the active involvement of students, we are all in favor of making this LUMC Global FOS course recurrent, and even wider, allowing more international participants to join and interact with LUMC students and lecturers.”

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