Eight years ago, microscopist and training coordinator Chris Guérin (VIB-UGent Center for Inflammation Research) set up the VIB Summer School. The founding father’s impending retirement makes it the right time to both put him in the spotlight and celebrate the birthday of his brainchild.

Our heads of the VIB Bioimaging Cores in Ghent and Leuven Saskia Lippens (VIB-UGent Bioimaging Core) and Sebastian Munck (VIB-KU Leuven Bioimaging Core) are Chris’s ‘partners in crime’ since the first edition of the VIB Summer School. In honor of their companion and his hard work, they look back on the history and give us a forward glance on the future of this highly regarded international training program.

What was the trigger for the first edition of the VIB Summer School?

Sebastian: “Back in 2010, very few training courses in microscopy had found their way to the European continent. However, as Chris had already coorganized courses like this in the UK – and, as such, was aware of their added value – he decided to expand the offer into Flanders and Europe by initiating the VIB Summer School.”

Saskia: “In doing so, Chris tackled a common problem within institutions and universities. During their studies, young scientists gain plenty of theoretical knowledge, but they sometimes remain lacking when it comes to hands-on, foundational research skills. This is also true for microscopy, which is essential to modern science.”

Why the choice of one full week of training instead of one-day courses or workshops?

Saskia: “In attending a 5-day course, participants gain an in-depth understanding of the subjects we address, and acquire the profound microscopy skills they need to conduct their research. A shorter training event wouldn’t be enough to achieve a similar result.”

Sebastian: “Besides, the goal of our audience is to push the limits of research, which they won’t attain by watching 2-minute YouTube videos. We start at the very base level of microscopy, and over the course of the week, guide them all the way to high-level, cutting-edge use.”

For whom is the Summer School aimed for?

Sebastian: “Even though we welcome participants from various backgrounds, we target scientists just starting their careers. PhD students, for example, usually lack training opportunities. In offering them expertise, mentoring and consulting, we provide them with a tailor-made solution. Our ultimate aim is to facilitate and improve their research.”

Saskia: “Also noteworthy is the fact that our audience consists of both VIB colleagues and members of other – sometimes international – institutions. This is also true for the teachers in the Summer School.”

What does the program look like?

Saskia: “On the first days, we explore the theoretical side of the subject we’ll be working on and they already begin to do some exercises. In the middle of the week, we divide them into groups of four, moving from one microscope to another and they get hands-on expertise during practical workshops. As such, they attend a different microscopy training course every two hours. Data analysis is reserved for the last day. You can probably tell that the Summer School really focuses on experimental research.”

How did the Summer School develop over the years?

Sebastian: “We started with a one-year framework, but due to the heavy workload involved, we gradually moved towards a bi-annual program: ever since the Summer School began attracting international participants, organizing it has required a lot more effort. However, the first edition, involved VIB members only.”

What is the importance of the Summer School for VIB?

Sebastian: “We’ve managed to generate international visibility for VIB in organizing the Summer School. We entered into competition with globally established training events and ended up being one of them.”

Saskia: “The Summer School enables us both to demonstrate the expertise VIB has acquired in the field of microscopy and to network with members of other expert institutes.”

Can you give us a sneak peek at the future of the VIB Summer School

Sebastian: “Since data analysis is becoming ever more crucial for research, we will definitely focus more on it in the future. We already incorporate it into the program, but a one-day course proves insufficient. Moreover, new technologies come with new topics, so innovation is always on our agenda – a mission Chris often emphasized and for which he deserves a shout-out.”

Saskia: “No matter how the program evolves in the coming years, I’m sure Chris will always be involved in the Summer School. Next year, for example, he will be the main lecturer. Moreover, at every edition thereafter, he will be our guest of honor.”

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