Mathematical Oncology

The Society of Mathematical Biology Annual Meeting 2022

A participant's summary

Written by Gosia Weh - October 04, 2022

It is 10:32 am on a beautiful morning on September 26th, 2022 – it's an excellent time to write about the one and only Society of Mathematical Biology annual meeting! Frankly, I am still wrapping my head around the events of last week*, yet I hope to provide a faithful description of the meeting and convince you to attend the next year's meeting (July 16-21 2023 in Columbus, Ohio).

The Society for Mathematical Biology (SMB) is an organization uniting researchers at all stages of their careers who are passionate about the interplay between mathematics and biology. As both mathematics and biology appear in many different forms and shapes, the members of the society have many, many specific interests and ideas that, once exchanged, discussed, and tested, turn into a beautiful science advancing humanity. Making this magic happen is the main aim of the SMB annual meeting.

How does it happen? There are, of course, plenty of talks, symposia, and poster sessions… these alone would not be as effective, as when combined with the opportunities for mentoring, networking, and educational panels. The opportunities for mentoring and networking are critical, and their importance can be summarized in the famous quote of Darwin: “in the long history of humankind (...) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed”. The SMB annual meeting allows for the recognition of the most outstanding research and provides many educational opportunities for all members, thereby inspiring and developing the most excellent future scientists in the field of mathematical biology.

This year's SMB annual meeting was organized jointly with ECMTB** and took place in beautiful Heidelberg, Germany. As tweeted by ECMTB2022, the organization united 640 on-site and 100 online participants, hosted over 250 posters, held six excellent plenary speakers with varying interests and held over 50 mini-symposia and 120 contributed talks. These united the work of scientists from 11 different subgroups, from Mathematical Oncology and Methods Development to Education. Given this amount and variety of formal sessions, everybody could something form themselves, and meet researchers with similar interests. Finally, the huge diversity of topics also provided an easy opportunity to explore topics out of one's comfort zone – something that I love to do from time to time, and would strongly recommend to everybody!

Continuing this more personal tone, I strongly believe that a scientist should recognize the results of their research not as fully original, but as the evolution of many intellectual contributions that originate from exchanging ideas with others. This can only happen if one researcher can connect with others, and explains why a great amount of time was dedicated to mentoring lunches and poster sessions (which, btw, went over time because so many people were extremely engaged in their poster presentations – well-done everybody!). Many new connections could also be established and strengthened by social events, such as excursions on Wednesday afternoons, and informal post-conference dinners and drinks. There were four excursions to choose from, e.g., touring the old town or visiting the Heidelberg castle. All of them were entertaining, well-organized, and provided the opportunity to meet and greet many great researchers outside of one's field.

Many of this year's SMB annual meeting participants were trainees - students, Ph.D. candidates, and Postdocs. Their burning questions about the current and future states of their careers could have been addressed by the mentoring lunches and an early-career workshop. Furthermore, the important, yet complex topic of diversity and equity in mathematical biology education was addressed in a separate panel discussion. As an immigrant and a mathematician myself, I am quite happy to see these conversations happening.

Nevertheless, this is a Math Oncology blog post – so what does this event mean to us, Math Oncology people?

Firstly, you should know that the current president of the SMB is Heiko Enderling, and the previous president was Sandy Anderson - and if you are in the mathematical oncology group, yet do not know who these people are, then you have some serious homework to do. Having such a strong representation from our group suggests the high importance of our research, and the recognition of the members of our group strong, smart, and inspiring.

Next, because our research is extremely interdisciplinary, and covers many biological scales – from molecules to groups of patients – our research naturally intersects many other SMB subgroups. This means that we can and should participate in other SMB groups to advance mathematical oncology research. Thus, the SMB annual meeting allows us to establish some exciting, yet not obvious collaborations.

Last, but absolutely not least, the Mathematical Oncology community wouldn't be the same without our culture and efforts put to promote our interdisciplinary research, such as IMO workshop (remember to register - link and info here!). Many of us extend our friendships beyond official collaborations, and we work hard to promote a healthy, and inclusive work environment. This, not only the importance of our research might be the reason why we remain so excited about our science. After all, the only thing better than excellent science is creating excellent science with people you like (and sometimes beer).

To summarize: whether you're a tenure-track researcher or an undergraduate student, it doesn't matter–you should attend the SMB annual meeting. It's good for you! We look forward to seeing you in Ohio next July!

* As it shall be argued below, this conference was strongly associated with a reduced amount of sleep/night and increased alcohol consumption, which might have contributed to partial memory loss.

** European Conference on Mathematical and Theoretical Biology – pretty much the same as SMB annual meeting, just in EU and organized by ESMTB, the European Society of Mathematical and Theoretical Biology. See their website here and mark the calendar for their next event in Toledo, Spain from 15-19 July 2024.
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