In 2018, Lev Silberstein, an assistant professor at the University of Washington, and Eric Pietras, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado, embarked on a project that they hope will last throughout their careers. Looking to build a community of similar-minded research friends, they created an annual meeting that they dubbed “the G-20.” Beginning in 2018, Drs. Silberstein and Pietras invited as many as 20 early-career researchers for an in-person roundtable lab meeting. The goal was to get to know one another, share unpublished data in a collaborative setting, and learn from one another’s work. After two years of face-to-face meetings, they transitioned, during the pandemic, to a virtual meeting, and because of this, were able to include European colleagues. The Hematologist recently interviewed Drs. Silberstein and Pietras, hoping their approach could serve as a model for others looking to replicate their undertaking. What follows is an edited version of our discussion.
How did you decide to take on the “G20” project?
Dr. Lev Silberstein: Eric and I had recently become independent investigators. As much as we were relying on our mentors, we also needed to be able to create our own community. This kind of support network could not only help us do good science, but also to support each other and survive in a challenging environment.
I had heard that Dr. Pietras’ mentor, Dr. Emmanuelle Passegué, had already set up a regular collaborator’s meeting. In talking to her, she suggested I set one up myself. I thought, who better to be a part of this than Dr. Pietras, who was trained by Dr. Passegué?
Dr. Eric Pietras: I think science, at its best, is a community enterprise. We often are trained as individuals, and there can be a temptation to be a “lone wolf” in the field. But when becoming independent, you are quickly disabused of that notion and realize that to be successful, you have to rely on others for collaboration, for expertise, and even just for emotional support as you work through the challenges and complexities that occur with independence.
In order to maintain the kind of interactions where people can really spend time learning about each other’s science, socializing, and developing collaborations, you need to have some level of intimacy there. So, we try to keep the size limited [to 20 participants], but at the same time we make sure that the opportunity is available to anybody.
Do you think this style of meeting is one that other professional groups/specialties can easily adopt? What needs to be in place first?
LS: One of the preconditions for these things to work is that participants have to have closely aligned scientific interests so that most time is spent on actually talking about the real questions and concerns that people have, rather than trying to understand each other’s science.
Essentially this is all based on trust, which is challenging because as scientists we are competitive people. Getting there first determines how you progress in your career. But putting that aside and adopting a more collective attitude to say that together we are stronger as a team, and that’s why we can share and discuss the data — that’s a challenge for organizing a meeting like this. Some people declined our invitation to attend because they were worried about being scooped. So it might not appeal to everybody in the community, but we wanted to see how this model could work. And seeing how people can overcome those worries was satisfying.
EP: We have two foundational rules for the meetings: Rule 1 is that everybody participates, and rule 2 is that everybody shows unpublished data. That manifests a situation where everybody has skin in the game, and everybody in showing something new. This decreases the concern that somebody is going to take that information and give it to people who should not know about it because it’s still proprietary to the lab. It’s not real risk in a major sense, but it is a shared set of values, [which] are important for a meeting like this. I think that’s a prerequisite.
The other prerequisite is having dedicated organizers. This is something we do for the sake of our colleagues, ourselves, and our corner of the field. We feel this is an opportunity for the field to grow and for our group of scientists to collaborate. And one has to have a passion for wanting to continue to do that. As anybody who participates in the organizing of the ASH annual meeting would know, it’s not exactly scintillating working out logistics for where a dinner is going to be, where a meeting is going to be held, or whether there is proper A/V support. But for those individuals, seeing colleagues get together to enjoy themselves, share their science, and enrich each other’s scientific and personal lives by developing these connections, there is real reward in that.
My hope is that this is a template for the next generation of people in hematology or in any corner of science to use and develop their own meetings if they feel those preconditions are there.
Dr. Michaelis indicated no relevant conflicts of interest.
Drs. Silberstein and Pietras are happy to share their experience and help any readers who are interested in building a similar peer group in their own field of hematology research. Visit research.fhcrc.org/silberstein/en.html to contact Dr. Silberstein, or follow him on Twitter (@Silberstein_Lab). To reach Dr. Pietras, visit www.pietraslab.org or follow him on Twitter (@pietras_eric).