This year the ECTS PhD training course was held in Koos Vorrinkhuis, Lage Vuursche, the Netherlands, close to Amsterdam, on 1-4 September. Astrid Bakker and Willem Lems were the local organizers and they prepared, together with Nuria Guanabens and Gudrun Stenbeck, the 12th year ECTS course with enthusiasm. The event devoted to the PhD students, offering them science and networking in a friendly and calm atmosphere, was very successful.
During the opening-session Astrid and Willem told about the three educational topics for the meeting: a) the lectures were all scheduled for 45 minutes, which opened up enough time for the PhD students to ask questions to the speakers; b) interaction was of course also possible during lunch and dinner sessions, and during the two debates; c) finally, because we had the opinion that the ECTS-PhD course should be more than just a 4 days meeting, we initiated a mini-abstract competition for the PhD students (described more in detail later).
The programme included scientific topics, most of them discussed from two sites: the basic and the clinic. This double approach offered a global vision of topics such as bone quality and fracture, bone mechanics, rare bone diseases, osteoimmunology, genetics and anabolic therapies. Similar to previous years, an overview on bone cells and clinical aspects of osteoporosis was provided at the beginning of the 4-day course. This year the keynote lecture was on the interaction between the skeleton and the nervous system.
Unique for this course was the debate: after an introduction-lecture by Astrid Bakker and Annegreet Vlug, about the do’s and don’ts during a debate, two debates were organised: a clinical debate by Prof Piet Geusens and Prof Bente Langdahl, (“should we stop investigations on antiresorptives”) and a preclinical debate on the same topic between Gudrun Stenbeck and Miep Helfrich. In contrast to usual debates, the speakers only had 5 minutes time to make their point, while the majority of time was for the students to bring in their ideas and discuss with the experts. All four experts did a wonderful job, by both giving a very clear introduction and by their openness in the lively discussion with the PhD students .
An important part of the course was focused on working on soft skills. A workshop on public engagement, among other more technical but also useful workshops, were focused on expert tips on how to optimize graphs or how to get an abstract selected for an oral presentation. In these workshops, students had fun and actively participated and interacted among them and with the experts.
Another highlight of the event was the “speed mentoring” activity on the first day. Students interacted in small groups with the teachers, raising their concerns and trying to learn concrete aspects of the scientific experience of the seniors. Also, throughout the course, students presented their PhD projects in a few minutes, followed by a discussion in which the other students and teachers participated. Last but not least, teachers and students had a great time walking through beautiful forests and sharing experience.
The organisers have the opinion, that the PhD-course should not only be a 4 days meeting, but the start of longterm contact with ECTS and/or its members (in analogy to the annual meeting). Therefore, we organised a competition, small groups of 2-3 students should choose a topic around the 15 presentations by the experts, and submit a miniabstract (max 500 words, one table) to ECTS . The winning abstract are invited to write a full paper in Huble. We have the philosophy that the endproduct, the miniabstract, is important, but the way towards the miniabstract with interaction between 2-3 PhD students is even more important. We are not sure that our proposal for activities after the meeting will be the best, it can be modified in later years, but we are convinced that this could be a good start for more longterm contact between PhD students, who are in fact ECTS members of the future.
We hope all students met the main goals of the ETCS course: to promote the knowledge about physiology and pathology of bone and calcium metabolism; to promote the knowledge about methods in bone research, and to network between European PhD students in the bone field.